Passing Thoughts

Last night, my after-dinner walk brought me through the forest up to the hilltop. At this time of year it’s a transition getting used to the earlier darkness and learning to hear the sounds of the night. But it’s also the time when the hilltop view sparkles with lights as the city opens up, becoming a magical tapestry of distant reflections. Overhead ragged clouds play striptease with the universe and the half moon radiates her silvery charms. I stand there drinking it all in, letting my mind settle and letting go of all my small thoughts and distractions until it’s just me and the universe. I sense a presence and turn around. There, in the dusky shadows is a family of deer, pausing for a moment to look at the same lights. Eventually they melt into the dark and I make my way downhill.

 

 

Tubing on the Cowichan River

 

I reach the ramp to the dock and walk down it, not paying too much attention to the handful of teens waiting there. My tube, which was once bright red, has faded closer to orange but still holds my breath of two summers past when I last inflated it. I place it on the dock beside the ladder and climb into the water to wet myself down. At this time of year, late August, the water is warm enough not to shock but to soothe, even on this slightly overcast and cooler day. It’s a sensual frisson that gets my nerves tingling though, so I waste no time in grabbing the tube from the dock and placing it just so, while I move into position, and lean back into it as I shove off from the dock. A little wiggle of adjustment and there I am, trailing hands and feet in the river, floating in my tube. The current is slow so I paddle out into the centre of the current, looking at the weir that marks the transition from lake to river. This year has been a dry one and I’ve heard that they’ll be raising it to store more water soon enough. Now, the lake is low and the river lower, making it a challenge for fish, for tubers like me, and threatening the mill downstream with imminent closure if they can’t maintain the water flow.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about. I’m remembering my friends Manjeet and Janice who graciously walked with me partway along the trail that runs into town from their place, until they had to turn back as they were expecting a call. I’m thinking about the growth of the town of Lake Cowichan that I’ve seen over the years, as businesses go bankrupt or are born. I walked past the new library on the way here, smiling at the thought of the excavated dirt from the site ending up at my friends’ place for a landscaping project. I paddle along, watching the riverside homes and wondering about the lives lived and love shared in them. The water is clear and I can see the bottom except in the deepest pools. Although I’m enjoying the river, the slightly cool temperature and high clouds have kept the usual crowds down and I’m virtually alone on my journey this afternoon.

Of course, nobody is ever really alone. My restless mind chatters internally, I hear the sounds of people on shore, the splashes of children swimming and the drone of traffic in the distance. Insects fly. Birds swoop close to the water to catch them.

I let the sensuous pleasure of the water distract me, luxuriating as I feel the water flow through and around me. The Cowichan River is extraordinarily clean at its source, made from snowmelt and raindrops in a valley at the edge of the continent, at the edge of the world. I keep paddling, using my arms as oars with a sporadic power ten to speed me along, then drifting, occasionally letting the tube turn in a circle so I can get my bearings. The first footbridge comes and goes quickly and by now I’ve adjusted to the water temperature so that the wet just feels like heavy air on my extremities. Up ahead there’s the larger bridge where the road through town passes. Last time I was here, boys were jumping off it but now with the lower water levels they aren’t taking any chances, at least not at this moment. A few other tubers wallow in back eddies, drinking beers, but I continue to press on, moving through the big wide pool, passing the floating garbage buckets which always make me smile for some reason. It takes a while but eventually the first of the rapids appears. I spin the tube around and face this obstacle head on. I draw a bead on what seems to be the deepest part of the current and squeeze past a few rounded boulders that don’t quite break the surface. The riffle of the waves sends splashes of water up and onto me as I speed my way around this bend in the river. Now the houses thin out, and more trees bring more birds to listen to and observe. The ravens are noisy today, as are the Stellar Jays. Turquoise and sapphire clothed dragonflies dart across the surface, at times seeming to draft along in my wake. More rapids up ahead grab my attention and I hustle to move into a better position. Stroke, stroke and whoosh, down I go through the sluice box of river rocks into the next pool. From here it’s easy to see the mountains that line the valley. I notice the cutblocks logged decades ago and the new growth coming in. Along the top ridges, a few clearcuts register, spilling over from the next valley where Mother Nature is as bare as you’d expect after a visit to a Brazilian wax parlour. Bald isn’t sexy I think, and spend a few minutes ruminating on our obsession with skin and hair, while I splash and kick with my feet which are wearing ridiculous looking but practical foot gloves in place of the watershoes I once used. I enjoy the absence of music and talk and listen to the rhythm of the riverwater tumbling over the rocks, the birdcalls overhead and the hum of the crickets. Up ahead there are a few other tubers that I’m catching up with as they stretch out their time here. I know I can always come back and besides, I need to travel another half hour at least from the usual pullout spot at Little Beach. Now there are another set of rapids to contend with and I follow the general advice to stay left, managing to avoid either getting tipped out, or even worse, puncturing this vulnerable craft. For a second I remember coracles and other basic boats from other lifetimes as I continue my hedonistic drift downstream. I use my feet to kick off from a boulder that looms up in the green water and continue down through towering hallways of hemlocks and firs, bigleaf maples and cedars. The green spikes of golden irises line the side of the river. In some places the banks have given way and tipped themselves into the river, along with the burden of whatever trees were reaching up to the sky overhead. Now they have been turned into weapons, sweepers that threaten to scuttle me or stab me below the surface. This section of the river requires concentration, as I’ve learned on previous trips, and I paddle and plan, selecting each angle I take with care. I think about Manjeet and Janice’s friendship and the times I’ve spent here on the river with them, and feel a bittersweet tug as I remember the impending sale of their house. The river pulls me along, past the splash of a river otter sliding off the bank across from me. Another swimming hole appears, where supple children swim unfettered by concrete edges and lane markers, desultorily watched by dozing parents. A dog barks as I drift by. More rapids and I read the river carefully, looking for telltale markers that help me get by the rocks. The tube splashes down the river as I navigate, using my hands to manoeuvre past the stony obstacles. I thank the creator for the absence of other dangers; there are no crocodiles, alligators or caymans here, the fish are innocuous and even the snakes aren’t poisonous. Of course, on shore it’s another matter, what with the bears, cougars, elk and deer all of which have their own risks for humans. The sun is fading into the west and the shadows spill across the river. Trees tilt at impossible angles out from the shore, leaning like it’s getting close to last call. Hold on, I think as I slide by, don’t let the weight of that butterfly tip the scale today. Up ahead, Little Beach comes into view, with its long, deep swimming hole dotted with kids swimming and jumping with the eternal enthusiasm of innocence. I continue past the pullout, as some folks look at me askance, as if to say, “that way lies monsters”. The most immediate of which is the shallow river, causing me to develop a crablike hop and lift technique until I’m able to float freely. From here I am much more alone, as the houses become less frequent and the birds more so. Eagles are soaring overhead, woodpeckers are tapping into stumps for meals of insects and just a few feet off the water a heron cruises upstream. I hear the rumble of the next drop in elevation before I see it and manage to luck out on the path I choose, slipping as easily between the rocks as I did when the river was a foot higher. I float along, finding peace and tranquillity as I forget my troubles and cares. The river washes and absolves, cleansing my worries and leaving me with love and gratitude as I pass the boathouse turned artist’s studio, not too far upstream from my destination. Now it’s my turn to go slow, letting the river drag me along, until up ahead I see the familiar landmarks of my destination. As I leave the river, I pause, sending a prayer downstream with each drop I shake off. Later, I’ll drive home over the infamous Malahat Highway but for now I look out at the river, listen to the sound of creation and give thanks for this day.

 

 

 

 

 

Tonight, as is my custom, I went for an after-dinner walk in the park behind my house. Those of you who have walked the hill with me will recall the viewpoint closest to my place, just a few minutes into the park. It’s a rocky outcropping facing west, with a few farms in the foreground and a series of hills and mountains in the distance. One of my neighbours calls it “the watchtower” and it’s an apt name, since it’s a far-seeing kind of place. Tonight however, the wind was blowing in my face so I moved to the other side of the watchtower and as I was gazing into the trees, something white caught my attention, across the vale from where I sat. I mentally filed it away to check into later.

 

I went back down to the main trail and started removing one of the notices I’d put up about this morning’s successful broom pull. Of course success can be measured lots of ways and since I have sometimes been all alone on these kind of events, anytime I get more than one other volunteer I’m pleased. Today there were seven of us and we were able to pull out quite a lot of broom, some daphne and of course the blackberries got trimmed back. So by any measure it was a successful effort.

 

One of the regular dog walkers came by and stopped for a chat, talking about her dogs, the great wildflower season we’ve had and of course the nefarious scotch broom. I carried on, enjoying the evening amidst the trees while feathered arpeggios filled in the spaces between the branches. I took down and folded up a couple more notices, then went to the top of the hill. The view from there is stunning, it’s a big sky kind of place where anywhere in the world is just over the horizon. After drinking in my fill, I turned around and started for home, but remembered that I needed to check out the mysterious flashes of white I’d noticed earlier.

 

I clambered over to where I thought it should be and sure enough, as I hopped up a rocky ridge I quickly discovered the cause. A couple of three ring binders and some duo-tangs had been emptied out of a year’s worth of homework and tests, an ignorant display of childish rage against authority. I hummed a few bars of “School’s Out” and surveyed the damage. Pages were everywhere, scattered in the tall grass, stuck in the branches and roots of the gnarly oaks, and resting precariously on fernlaced rocky slopes. It was getting late and I thought about leaving it until tomorrow but quickly realized it would only get worse with each puff of wind. I set to work, corralling page after page of schoolwork and piling them up in a cleft in the rocks.

 

I admit to being more than a little angry – as I worked I cursed the ignorant miscreant who had caused the mess. But I tried to get out from under the anger, trying to imagine the terrible forces that might have driven someone to do this. Using my walking stick I was able to get nearly all of the papers gathered up. It was too much for me to carry, I realized. I also noticed some charred papers on the ground and thought about how easy it would be for some idiot to start a fire with this much paper around. I grumbled under my breath and set off for home to get a garbage bag. I was still carrying a lot of resentment and general pissed-offedness, but as I walked through the forest I realized that instead of being angry I should be happy. After all, I was able to take action to clean it up. If I hadn’t come along, I thought, this could have turned out a lot worse than it’s going to. So I slipped indoors, grabbed a garbage bag and went swiftly back into the park feeling a lot better than I had just a few minutes earlier when I’d been swearing a blue streak as I gathered up papers. By the time I got there the light was fading but it was good enough for my purpose. I filled the bag and then set off back home, reflecting on the motivations that spur us into action. Turning a negative into a positive was a compelling motive for me tonight.

 

 

 

 

Of all the things I’m privileged with, one of my favourites is being able to go on nighttime Shinrin-yoku  walks in the hilltop park behind my house.  Armed only with a flashlight I walk the darkened hallways of swaying trees, listening to arpeggios played upon their upper branches.

I walk by myself but I’m not alone, I’m here with each fir and oak, with the forest understory with its many tiny insect and bird kingdoms, and I’m with the morphing clouds that race across the sky, ambered by the city that spills its way towards this hilltop redoubt. I listen to the song the wind is singing and I look at the scimitar pureness of a new moon.   I give thanks for a moment of standing on a rocky outcrop at the edge of a city watching its lights and the sky overhead, feeling the wind surge around me and feeling at peace.

 

 

Merry Christmas everyone.  Thank you for all the kind thoughts you have sent my way over the past year, it really meant a lot to me recovering from surgery.  Every day is a gift.  I find that everywhere I look there is beauty, although sometimes it takes a special moment to find the divine in the mundane.

Best wishes and hugs to all.

Truck Parade

Here in Victoria, one of the more curious Christmas traditions has got to be the annual truck parade.  The local trucking industry gets together and has a parade of festively decorated trucks crawl along one of the main roads out of town to one of the suburbs where they are part of a charity event.  Along the way, the drivers keep up an incessant honking of horns, mostly of the basso profundo variety, punctuated by the odd siren or two.

Tonight, my after dinner walk started with a close encounter with a raccoon, who quickly shimmied up a tree to stare at me eye to eye. Interspecies communication is perplexing sometimes, as it was tonight, so I rambled on. Soon enough the silence was broken by the distant cacophony of the trucks.  The noise the horns produce can be described as charmingly obnoxious, kind of annoying but at the same time endearing, in a folksy kind of way.

Like most of the northern hemisphere we are experiencing cold weather but tonight the clear skies more than made up for the frosty temperature.  The night sky was absolutely stunning, considering that the hill rests at the edge of a modestly sized provincial capitol. Tonight the stars shone bright against the void, only slightly dimmed by a not quite quarter moon and the carpet of lights that defines the urban environment. Hilltop views at night are awesome wherever you are. Here on the edge of the Pacific Ocean we also have the benefit of having some of the cleanest air on the planet, which adds to the overall experience. I digress.

So I was at one of my favourite vantage points, staring out past the lights of the city, looking over the horizon to people I care about and places I love and places I’ve never seen, looking up at the sky at a swirl of starlight and I pondered the antiquity of each twinkle. All the while the truck drivers pounded their horns, blasting random bursts of sonic energy or leaning on a note like a tightfisted preacher.

It was sort of annoying and distracting but I tried to let it roll through me and over me.  I looked into the archive of creation, the distant stars and galaxies and whatever lies beyond and the honking of the horns prompted me to understand that all those distant lights from long ago must have been accompanied by epic noise.  Those tiny lights all represent enormous explosions of energy and matter and somewhere those sounds still reverberate. At that moment I was able to transcend my annoyance with the intrusion of honking horns by using them as proxies for the symphony that accompanied the creation of those distant lights. For a moment, a brief moment, I heard the music of the spheres.

Another Meeting

I have been to my fair share of meetings over the years, some dull and boring, some stressful and in far too many cases they’ve concluded with me being assigned some new work. The monthly community hall board meetings are not like that at all and I have really come to enjoy them. Part of my enthusiasm is due to my role as vice-president which is by far the easiest position on practically any committee and certainly is for this one. I don’t have to chair the meeting, take minutes or report out on some activity.  All I do is show up and participate, which is a real treat.

Another thing is that the board members are all longtime residents of the community and comfortable enough with each other to joke a little, share some gentle banter and move the agenda along at good clip.  Some of the items tonight included thank you cards from the two recipients of student bursaries from last month and another bursary approved tonight. The lady in charge of hall rentals brought up a proposal to allow the non-profit urban gardening group to use the hall for free when they are holding workshops over at Rex Welland Park on heritage apples and mason bees and things of that nature. Approved.  Then we heard about the great leaf theft.  Most of the city gets leaves picked up by these trucks that have big suction hoses so all you have to do is pile them along the edge of the sidewalk or street.  Our municipality is different and requires residents to bag up their leaves in specially approved bags. Someone volunteered to rake the leaves which was great but they didn’t know about the bag requirement so the leaves didn’t get picked up.  And since last weekend the annual Craft Fair was on it became an issue. So the gentleman in charge of hall and grounds maintenance got the special bags from across town and bagged them all up and called someone at the municipal hall who said they’d get a crew out in the morning.  In the meantime, one of the volunteers for the weekly bingo saw the bagged leaves and thought they’d be great for mulch for his garden.  He called Joyce, the president, and since she was unaware of the other activity she gave him permission to take the leaves.  So the next morning the hall and grounds guy got a call asking where the heck were the bags of leaves!

Another item discussed was the new front stairs and hand railings which everyone is happy about. It took close to a year since we first started talking about doing something to fix the crumbling old ones but it is satisfying to see ideas come to fruition.  We decided to restore the annual funding of the local food bank back to the usual level, after a financial bind last year caused us to have to cut it back. Approved.  And we finished up talking about the Christmas party for kids in December.

I walked home in the chilly autumn night, warmed by the glow of community spirit I had come from.

Thank You

I’d like to take a moment to say thank you to my readers.  I have some very faithful visitors to this site and I am humbled by your interest and support.  For those of you who also write I apologize for not visiting your sites as much as I should.  Again, thanks for reading what I write.

Surgery Day

Today I am having heart surgery to replace my aortic valve. For the past while I’ve been writing poems that allude to this and the stages I’ve been going through along the way.  I’m sure some folks are thinking that it’s kind of odd to write poetry about a health issue but I don’t believe poetry should just be confined to themes of love and beauty.  There seems to be a pervasive fear to discuss and write about our human frailties so I see this as an opportunity to explode this shibboleth through poetic self-expression.

I am blessed to be living in a country that has a public health system, where I am able to access excellent care for almost no cost.  I have every confidence in the medical staff at the Royal Jubilee Hospital here in Victoria and I’ll be attempting to take notes and continue to write through my convalescence.

Thank you for all the warm wishes,

Love to all,

David

Upcoming surgery

I am writing to let you know that I have been diagnosed with a heart condition called aortic stenosis, which means my aortic valve isn’t functioning properly.  As a result, I’ll be undergoing surgery on July 22nd  to replace the faulty valve with a mechanical one.  I’ll be in hospital for about a week and full recovery takes about three months.

It’s likely that this was something I was born with and has gradually worsened over the years.  I haven’t experienced any symptoms and if my family physician hadn’t noticed a heart murmur and sent me for tests, the first sign of the disease may well have been a massive heart attack. Ironically, I have never felt better after losing so much weight over the past year or so, moving to a raw/vegan diet and exercising on an almost daily basis.

As much as I know that there will be pain and inconvenience involved through this process I am looking at it as a positive experience that will help to keep me around for many years to come. So rather than keeping quiet about it I’ve decided to let everyone know what I’m going through.

Love,

David

Volunteerism

One of my volunteer activities involves co-chairing the Impact Council for the United Way of Greater Victoria.  The Impact Council is made up volunteers from funding agencies such as various levels of government, private foundations, financial institutions and the community at large.  We review funding applications and do some mid-term site visits and participate in ongoing monitoring and evaluations of the funded programs.  This evening myself and the other co-chair made our recommendations to the Board for this year’s funding allocations, which were accepted without change.  I am happy to be a part of this effort to ameliorate the challenges faced by so many and I am rewarded by the warm glow of social relevance I am feeling now.

As a poet, I enjoy using cosmic metaphors.  I am not a scientist however and I recognize that it’s important to stay current with physics and cosmology and so I was thrilled to attend a brilliant lecture this evening.

Landsdowne Public LectureWednesday, April 3rd at 7:00 pm in the Bob Wright Centre, Room A104Professor Carlos Frenk (Durham University)Will present a lecture entitled “Everything from nothing, or how our universe was made”Cosmology confronts some of the most fundamental questions in the whole of science. How and when did our universe begin? What is it made of?  How did galaxies and other structures form?  There has been enormous progress in the past few decades towards answering these questions. For example, recent observations have established that our universe contains an unexpected mix of components: ordinary atoms, exotic dark matter and a new form of energy called dark energy. Gigantic surveys of galaxies reveal how the universe is structured.
Large supercomputer simulations recreate the evolution of the universe and provide the means to relate processes occuring near the beginning with observations of the universe today. A coherent picture of cosmic evolution, going back to a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, is beginning to emerge. However, fundamental issues, like the identity of the dark matter and the nature of the dark energy, remain unresolved.

Sometimes my words are transitory and ephemeral, quickly disappearing into faint memory.  Sometimes my words have little meaning beyond the personal and do not do anything practical.  This afternoon I stood before the Committee of the Whole, as the town council is called, to support the grant application I had written on behalf of the Strawberry Vale Community Hall to rebuild the front steps. Now my words will be written in stone, so to speak, since the grant was approved. This evening happens to be the monthly meeting of the board where I will pass along the good news.

This makes me happy.

Welcome Poems

The Victoria Spoken Word Festival takes place this week and I’m doing some volunteer driving, picking up out-of-town poets at the airport and driving them to where they need to go.  I mentioned this to a friend of mine and they asked if I would be writing them welcome poems.  I hadn’t thought of it before but decided to do just that.  I made signs for each one, using paper plates, with the poet’s name on one side and one of the poems on the other.  Most of the festival takes place at the Intrepid Theatre here in Victoria.

 

Word Dancer

Word dancer take flight

Grand jete across the stage

Or tango close to explicit

We will follow your lead

Intrepidly

 

Speak

The power of words isn’t fully realized

Until you breathe life into them

Static page bound words are nailed in place

Speak them to set them free

Between

Between fear and fearlessness

Are universes of untold stories

In the margins between dark and light

Consciousness carves a trail

Paper Boats

Float words like paper boats

Made from yesterday’s newspaper

Stories that carried marvelwords carried away

Gutterbound into a new memory

Math

As far as elementary school arithmetic went, I was pretty good.  It was all pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. Once I got to high school things changed, quickly and for the worse. Arithmetic morphed into mathematics and it was as if I was mathlexic or otherwise impaired.  Teacher after teacher tried to instill quadratic equations and arcane formulas into me, and I’d plead with them to tell me what the point was.  What’s the meaning of these clusters of numbers and greek letters and squiggles I’d ask and they’d cuff me on the head and hiss at me to just memorize the equations.  For me, I just didn’t get it.  I couldn’t make any sense of what they were going on about.

Eventually I scraped through with the minimum requirements to graduate from high school and quickly confirmed my suspicions that one could get along just fine in the real world without ever coming into contact with mathematics.  Arithmetic came in handy, but nothing fancy seemed to be needed.

Some years went by and I found myself at university nearing completion of an undergraduate degree.  There were some bothersome mandatory courses I needed, a science that turned out to be a really fun apocalyptic vision of disaster with lots of movies but I struggled to find something in the Mathematics Department.  Eventually I lucked into the perfect course, the History of Mathematics.  We didn’t have to do any math at all it turned out, we just learned the answers to all those questions I had been asking back in high school, like what the heck is a quadratic equation good for and who invented anyway?  It was really a great course and I have always since thought there should be a high school version.

I have never felt any inclination to do anything at all mathematically but at least now I understand its usefulness, if not for me directly than certainly indirectly all over the place.  Wherever something has been engineered, someone or other was puzzling out all sorts of weird computations during its development. The late Lister Sinclair hosted several radio shows on the CBC Radio one of which was Ideas.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to explore arcane mathematical theories with the leading academics of the day and I enjoyed picking up esoteric mathematical trivia.

http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2012/06/08/play/

Valentine Bouquet of Ten Poems

 

 

I Will

I will unbitter your heart with honeyed words

I will unsour the taste that lingers in your mouth

Through my pure and gentle kisses

I will restore your trust and unbreak the broken

I will heal your soul

With loving ministrations of tenderness

I will give you strength and tranquility

I will support your struggles

I will guard your back

Against all comers

I will unbitter your heart

I will make you new again

David Trudel  © 2012

Emotions

Emotions can be dangerous and risky for anyone

But a poet’s emotions are the very wellspring

Of creativity and art

Brightly hued maelstroms of passion

We tend to go off the deep end of the pool

We don’t just fall in love

We do swan dives off that cliff in Acapulco

Where you have to time your leap

Waves crashing over the rocks

Or set high altitude records leaping from the edge of outer space

That’s a long way to fall

But one hell of a ride along the way

Even negative emotions like fear or anger

That philosophically you know aren’t valid

Based as they are on false assumptions

Or an incorrect assessment of the data

Sweep you up and tumble you around

Some kind of hardwired impulse drive inside your mind

Pushing every wrong button there is to push

And in the centre of your consciousness

Its like you’ve been paralyzed with some Amazonian poison

Just like in action movies

You watch it all unfold and you can’t move or even speak

You can’t unpush the buttons

So you ride it out

A thundering ride on a barely broken meanspirited bronco

Heading for the Grand Canyon

Where he’ll try to buck you off

Emotions can be dangerous

But exhilarating, too

Thrilling your senses to full alert

Mere stories made epic

Common currency made precious

So I’ll enjoy that ride

Even though I’m terrified

Some risks are worth the trouble

Some rewards are genuine

David Trudel  © 2012

Circular Moment

The future will take care of itself

Because it already has

There is only one now

Here

This moment

Philosophers and scientists agree

That times true nature is not linear

But circular

Past, present and future co-existing

Now

So I will say/say/said

I love you

I love you circularly; past, present and future

Multi-dimensionally

Cosmically

Beyond conformance with local norms

Confounding expectations

Disregarding nervous arbiters of false reality

Slipping through perceived constraints

Of mortal paradigms

Reaching celestial heights

And within this love

Discover the divine

David Trudel   ©  2012

Juiced

Maybe we’re apples and oranges

Maybe that’s okay

I’ll peel your skin

With just one touch you core me

We aren’t afraid of being cut-ups

Sliced and diced

Lets get juiced together

Pulverizing any walls and divisions

Reduced to essential elements

Blended to sweet froth

Recombined

Smoothed

Stirred

Poured out as one

Together

Atoms commingling

In a loving cup

David Trudel    ©  2012

Early Blossoms

You dreamt me awake

I didn’t bother to dream

But I was bothered

Not dreaming

Looking for the first blossom

Worried about frost

A change in the weather

Dreaming

Awash in blossoms

Not bothered at all

No longer dreaming

Watching blossoms

Delicately

Later, I’ll dream

Of you

David Trudel   © 2013

Curves

Ideals are always hard to live up to

Our mainstream ideal of womanhood is a false construct

Dreamt up by gay fashion designers in Paris, London and Rome

Who like the skinny hips of adolescent boys better than voluptuous curves

So they starve the girls into scraped and angled versions of an unreachable vision

And photoshop the images into Barbie doll perfection

Leaving countless women in despair

Because they have hips that are real

Shapes that are round

Soft curves that flow

Breasts that function and nurture and don’t just titillate

So let’s celebrate the curves of real women

Who aren’t molded in plastic

And whose reality needs no airbrushing

Because real women are eternally ideal

Strongly soft

David Trudel  © 2013

Word Job

I give good word

At least that’s what I’ve heard

I fondle dangling participles

Use my tongue to unleash

A torrent

Caress alliterative consonants

Go down on vowels

I give good word

Firmly

Gently

Sensually

In the dark of night

Touching each adjective and noun

Playfully

Teasing you with false starts

Drawing closer to a crescendo

Pleasuring your mind

Getting you off

On thoughts

Made flesh through words

I swallow it all

Giving word

How was it for you?

David Trudel      © 2012

Toes

She paints each toenail glossy red

Creating ruby jewels in extreme

Even now, midwinter

When there’ll be no open-toed sandals to display these charms

She tells herself it’s for me

But deep inside she knows it’s for him

The one she waits for

The man who will look into her eyes

And see through heavy winter shoes to say I love your toes

Who will cradle each foot in his hands

Raise the high arched instep to his lips to kiss

While fingering each bright carapace with tender care

Playing digital delights on a journey that begins with a single step

And continues follicle by follicle to map her world

Exploring beyond boundaries into eternity

Then returning to treasure troved toes

To nibble and caress

And she anticipates the frisson of his tongue gliding over polished toes

The pull of his mouth

Warm enough to melt lonely lacquered layers

Curling her toes dangerously

Until the polish runs like lava

An eruption, a release

Foundational intimacy

Toe to toe

David Trudel   © 2013

Love’s Language

 

They say French is the language of love

But it’s inadequate for us

We create our own language

Written in golden flames

Of spontaneous combustion

When our smoldering passion is fueled

We speak in tongues

And with our tongues we write poetry

On each others skin

Spoken word in raw extreme

Our language is fluid, slippery

Soft as a feather brushing a naked thigh

Sharp as teeth tugging on swollen flesh

We spread applebutter erogenously

On the blank pages of untanned skin

Organic appetizers before the mains

We speak a language of sighs and silences

Of breaths inhaled

Our punctuation is done with looks and touches

Ours is a complex grammar

That brooks no shorthand

But longs for the shortstrokes of a conclusion

Our language is incendiary

Evaporating in the heat of our love

Leaving a faint trace of smoke in the air

Burnt passion etched into each look

David Trudel  © 2012

Quantum Love

Quantum physics explains a lot about love

Wave theory certainly applies

As starbright breakers roll over us

Souls swept up in a tidal rush

The heat of our affection

Obeys the law of thermal equilibrium

And the principle of equipartition

Cosmic inflation of feelings occur

The big bang

Leads the way

To unification

So when the quantum of my love collides with yours

Meltdown

Is inevitable

David Trudel  © 2012

This afternoon I took a class called Finding the Poem in Your Heart’s Garden.  During the class I wrote four poems which I’ll share with you, even though they are a little rough and incomplete.  I always have difficulty working to external prompts and within strict guidelines, so these types of poems never feel quite legitimate to me, rather more like back alley bastards.  But let’s digress!

First, for a little background, here’s the course outline.

“Finding The Poem In Your Heart’s Garden

TAWC2981

Everyone, no matter what their skill level can learn to write a poem, and will leave with at least 5 poems to plant into their lives and into the lives of others.

Topics:

What makes a poem? How you can pick a poem out of your experience and turn it into a delight How you can write poems for other How to become a poet or becoming a better one

Facilitator: Wendy Morton has published five books of poetry and a memoir. She believes that poetry is the shortest distance between two hearts! She is the recipient of the Spirit Bear Award, the Golden Beret Award and is an honorary citizen of Victoria. She is sponsored by Fairmont Hotels, AbeBooks and Prairie Naturals Vitamins and was WestJet’s Poet of the Skies, and Chrysler’s Poet of the Road. She believes we are all poets at heart.

Length: 3 hours Date: Sat, Feb 9, 2013 Time: 1pm – 4pm”

And here, below, is some promotional verbiage from the Royal Roads University website.  It really is a fabulous location, and Hatley Castle has been used in dozens of feature films and TV shows over the years.

“The Royal Roads University campus sprawls over 260 hectares of lush parkland, where you will find walking, hiking, and biking trails, magnificent examples of the west coast’s flora and fauna, gorgeous views of the Juan de Fuca straight with the majestic Olympic mountain range in the background, a stunning Japanese garden, and a castle built for one of Vancouver Island’s most recognized coal barons. And that’s just what you’ll see when you get here. Once you start getting around campus, you’ll also discover the breadth and depth of the education we provide and the opportunities a degree can bring to your personal and professional world.”

And here is a much more complete bio for Wendy:

“Wendy Morton’s first book of poetry, Private Eye, was published in 2001. She knew she had to find some way to turn her poetry into currency. She had once been stopped by a cop for speeding, read him a poem and escaped a ticket. She was thus convinced of the power of poetry.

One day she called up WestJet Airlines, suggested she read poems for the passengers and write poems for them in exchange for flights. After some enthusiastic urging, they said yes, and so she became WestJet’s Poet of the Skies. She has turned her poems into the currency that has provided her with a PT Cruiser from DaimlerChrylser, luxurious hotel rooms from The Fairmont Hotels, vitamins from Prairie Naturals, a digital camera from Fujifilm. She is also sponsored by Green Beaver skin care products and AbeBooks. Her poem “If I had a name like Rosie Fernanez” appears on the label of Southbrook Vinyards Cabernet Merlot as part of their Poetica series. The queen, in Alice in Wonderland, says to Alice, “Why, when I was your age, I imagined 6 impossible things before breakfast.” Wendy imagined that poets all across Canada could commit “random acts of poetry” on strangers: read them a poem and give them a book.

In 2004 , 27 poets across Canada did just that with the sponsorship of abebooks, and National Random Acts of Poetry Week was born. It is a project of the Victoria READ Society. In 2005, there were 27 in Canada and 9 in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland committing Random Acts of Poetry. In 2006, with the sponsorship of The Canada Council for the Arts, 39 poets across Canada were involved, bringing poetry the streets of their cities, to anyone who crossed their path. They also presented poetry in ESL and Adult Literacy Classes across Canada. In 2007, 37 poets across Canada are again committing Random Acts of Poetry in their cities, with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. In 2008, 25 poets across Canada committed Random Acts of Poetry and presented poetry in middle school classes, ESL classes and adult literacy classes. They left in those classes copies of We Can Say This, a book of poetry of middle school students, including many poems of First Nations students. This book was produced with the support of the TD Financial Group.

She has four other books of poetry. Undercover and Shadowcatcher, published by Ekstasis Editions; Gumshoe and What Were Their Dreams: Valleys of Hope and Pain. Canada’s History, a book of photo/poems, published by Black Moss Press. She has been an insurance investigator for 27 years.

Her memoir, 6 Impossible Things Before Breakfast was published in 2006 by emdash press. It outlines her journey from private eye to poet to WestJet’s Poet of the Skies, DaimlerChrysler’s Poet of the Road and how she took poetry public across Canada. Her memoir is her journey into believing the impossible, and making the impossible come true for any dreamer.

The first exercise was to write a ten line poem with each line starting with “I am”. We weren’t allowed to use feelings, but were told to keep it to concrete nouns.  Here is my effort:

I am a guardian of forests and meadows

I am a snapped fedora

I am fingers on a keyboard

I am a lone voice in a rabble

I am connective tissue

I am shapeshifter

I am stardust reassembled

I am alone in the crowd

I am a tuning fork vibrating

I am a window

It was good to see everyone getting into it and warmed up for the rest of the class. There were about ten of us in the class so it did take some time to go around the room and read all poems. Next up was an unusual exercise.  We were given a truly exorable, supremely awful poem as an example and then told to salvage something from its wreckage.  I’ll spare you the original poem, and give you my attempt:

Moonlight beckons through windows

Smoothed by raindrops

In the shadow of Hinoki trees

Breezed branches salute solitude

Dawn approaches

The next exercise was really a lot of fun.  First Wendy laid out dozens and dozens of photos and had us all choose an image.  Then we had to write ten lines inspired by the image and then reassemble the ten lines into a Pantoum format.  While I have read pantoums, and heard them being read, I have never written one myself.  The image I chose was a black and white photo from the early 20th century, of a New York City street scene.  It’s a sidewalk with a lot of detail, stores and people and things.  But the people are all very static, talking to one another, grouped together on stairways or in front of store windows.  It’s a sidewalk with hardly any walking.  What caught my eye was the group of young children clustered in the foreground. They are from about four years old to maybe eight, mixed gender and race, and they are all happily playing together without a care in the world.

Here is my first pantoum:

We are an unnamed team

We are a window walking

We are the pot, melted

We are a found playground

We are a window walking

We are a theatre, rounded up

We are a found playground

We are tattered shirts

We are a theatre, rounded up

We are skinned knees scabbing

We are tattered shirts

We are marble eyed pennies

We are skinned knees scabbing

We are a gutter boat

We are marble eyed pennies

We are sidewalk standers

We are a gutter boat

We are the pot, melted

We are sidewalk standers

We are an unnamed team

The final exercise involved a random distribution of catalogues and then being given a much less rigid instruction to write a poem from the catalogue.  Here is mine:

Winter catalogue

A beacon for what’s real, perhaps

Somewhere else

Where winter is more than a ski trip

Requiring fleeced everything

In my reality I’d overheat

Wearing downfilled clothes in layers

But catalogues target clichés

Like a northern winter

Where quilted warmth entices smiles

From chilled adventurers

Who need bundling in bright colours

To get from car to front door

While I’m okay in last year’s thin drab comfort

I don’t need

New!

Luxurious warmth!

In this northern Eden which is unfrozen

And snow is only found in pictures

In a Land’s End catalogue

I really enjoyed the class and of course there was lot more going on than just these exercises.  I learnt a lot and it was fun doing so.

Local cable show features Spoken Word

A couple of weeks ago, the local cable channel sent a camera to the Solstice Café to catch Spoken Word in action.  It’s a nice piece and I manage to get a word in, briefly.  Here’s the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=33ggDMstBwE

If the link doesn’t work, try searching for “Tongues of Fire – Shaw TV Victoria” on YouTube.

I readily admit to being pretty self indulgent with my poetry the past few months.  I do write other words sometimes that aren’t quite so self-centered and some of those can make me feel socially relevant.  Today I submitted a grant application to the town hall asking for funds to restore the front steps at the community hall.  If all goes well, my words will be made concrete. (groan!!!!)

Spoken Word

Click on the link for a video of me doing some Spoken Word.  At my daughter’s wedding reception, no less!
https://www.dropbox.com/s/81dhc1zt3gowi5s/chess%20.mov

Planet Earth Poetry at Moka House

I have to say it’s getting to be a lot of fun going to poetry nights and reading at the open mic.  Each of the different venues has its own flavor and style, not to mention differences in quality of the sound systems and that sort of thing.  Tonight I was in a good mood and when it was my turn started with some banter about how I had written a piece about ten days ago that I thought would work well here, given that it is a coffeehouse, my poem Coffee, which recounts my love affair with that beverage.  However, I told the audience, I realized you might not like the ending, so of course I gave them the last few words:

“Love ends

Even for coffee

Grounds for divorce”

(Good natured groans ensued)

Then I mentioned that I had written another brilliant poem just a few days ago that I had planned on reading, which I waved in the air, like Craig Ferguson, and said that I wasn’t going to read it at all and referred folks to my blog if they wanted to read it. Then I set up Words by saying that I had just written this poem this morning and that it really isn’t meant to be autobiographical but just grew out of thinking about the phrase that repeats throughout:

 

Words

We had words

Big words

Words with sharp consonants

And barbed hooks that tear the soft flesh out of your throat

Words that fly out of your mouth and circle overhead like seagulls

Who feast on binscraps and bombard sidewalkers with unwelcome splats

Words

We had words

Eye popping vein throbbing temperature rising words

Words that ricochet against the walls of your closed mind

Like the deathlead heat of a thousand rounds

We had words

Words that are furyflung and meant to wound

Words that don’t listen for responses

Carpet bombs that blow any semblance of conversation into smithereens

Words that thrust and parry

Pointed words that slip deep into unarmoured flesh aiming for the heart

We had words all right

But it’s not all

And it certainly isn’t right

Those words were poisoned

Toxic words

Words that initiate chronic conditions

Flesh eating words

Whose wounds grow larger instead of smaller

Never scabbing over with the promise of a new thin skin

But become suppurating angry ulcers

And the only treatment is amputation or exile

So just saying that we had words

Is a little like saying a gang banged rape victim had sex

Those words had us when we had them

Because sometimes words do become flesh

Bleeding, infected, painful and mortified

And if I could take them back I would

And maybe it would have been better to cover my ears

Walk away in retreat

But we had words

David Trudel  ©  2013

This was a fun reading, and I put a lot of spoken word inflection and emphasis and animation into it.  I got some very positive feedback but mostly I felt that I had done the poem justice and was happy with my performance, which isn’t always the case.

my backyard park

I am so thankful I live where I do, beside a tranquil remnant of the original landscape, where I feel safe enough to walk the trails and appreciate the views at any time of day or night.  It’s a Janus park; one side facing the city and the other looking at farms and forest and a range of hills. Of course, there is always some element of risk since branches do fall with great frequency and cougars have been known to visit but overall, it is pretty safe.  As far as the human element goes, the park’s trails are patrolled by the neighboring dog owners, and a few others like myself and it is simply just not used by anyone else. So I am able to wind my way through the looping trails not worrying much about immediate danger, but instead having the luxury to ponder some ideas that may or may not lead to something to write about.

I am reading some Marcus Aurelius today.  He was the Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 A.D. and was one of the great Stoic philosophers.  Here are few passages that particularly resonated for me:

“The perfection of moral character consists in this, in passing every day as the last, and in being neither violently excited nor torpid nor hypocritical.”

“When you are troubled about anything, you have forgotten this, that all things happen according to the universal nature, and that a man’s wrongful act is nothing to you; and further you have forgotten this, that everything that happens always happened so, and will happen so, and now happens so everywhere; forgotten this too, how close is the kinship between a man and the whole human race, for it is a community, not of a little blood or seed, but of intelligence. And you have forgotten this too, that every man’s intelligence is a god, and is an efflux of the deity; and that nothing is a man’s own, but that his child and his body and his very soul came from the deity; that everything is opinion; and lastly that every man lives the present time only, and loses only this.”

“It is in your power to live free from all compulsion and in the greatest tranquility of mind, even if all the world cry out against you as much as they choose, and even if wild beasts tear you limb from limb.”

Walk

I used to have a dog, Rags was his name, who had been rescued from a Mexican street.  He was a wonderful companion, but he had suffered a number of traumas in his youth including a badly broken rear leg that never completely healed, leaving him with a bit of a limp.  More significantly, at least for me as the chief dog walker, was his extreme aversion to pooping in his own yard.  Most dogs do not suffer this affliction and will happily crap all over the lawn or in the flowerbeds or even on the patio just when the guests are about to arrive.  Just ask anyone who has ever owned a labrador retriever!  Rags, however, must have been beaten severely for this behavior, for he would just not go in the yard.  This meant that there was no escape, I was forced to bundle up and take him outside on interminably long walks, even during winter storms, with gale force winds pelting raindrops the size of swallow eggs at us. The walks were made longer by his pickiness – only the right combination of smells and grasses were good enough for him so it might be blocks before I could turn around and start our homeward journey.

For over a decade, I had the responsibility of going out every evening on behalf of Rags, and now that I am living alone and pet free, I continue this habit. This means I get to fully experience the range of weather we get here, from heat to cold, the rain and snow, the long days of summer and the black nights of winter.  Tonight the wind is up and gusting, although at least it isn’t raining much, just a little here and there. Walking the forest trail is always exciting in the wind. My flashlight beam scans ahead to spot blown down branches, which I fling to the side with my walking stick if they are small.  If they are large I throw them as far as I can into the underbrush, or roll them to the side of the trail.  Overhead the firs dance minuets and tangos, murmuring as they sway from side to side.  The wind surges and I glance overhead, nervously casting the beam into the branches above.  Nothing appears to be on the way down or imminently about to, so I continue towards the hilltop, passing the spot where years ago two trees had gotten caught up on each during a storm, trapped in a tangle of trunks and branches, unable to uncouple after some vast orgy.  After that, when the wind got above a certain speed, the rubbing of the trees on each other, some 40 or 50 feet up sounded down below on the trail like cats being strangled or balrogs from the deep. Farther in and further up I go until I achieve the hilltop, where I feel the full force of the wind, no longer sheltered by the lee of the trees. The lights of the city twinkle in the distance and as I walk along the mossy rock, the wind’s wild exuberance forces me to clamp one hand on the Stetson, which is my personal indicator of a strong wind indeed. The roar of the wind adds to the thrill and the charm of this walk.  Big, natural sounds can be just as thrilling to listen to as anything we humans dream up.  For me, listening to the wind in the trees or the surf crash on a rocky shoreline is just as powerful as hearing a symphony or a favorite band.  Those are the sounds of the planet, the genuine article.  Tonight, the wind is blowing hard out of the southeast, which makes me wonder if there is some kind of omen attached to it. If there is, I decide, it’s a good one. After a few moments of getting fully oxygenated and watching clouds whipping by, I retreat and head back the way I came. A few more branches are lying on the homebound stretch of trail so I clear them away, wondering how many more will fall before the next person ventures forth along this path. As I leave the park I look over to the neighbor’s place, to see if Apollo, the Italian collie is out.  Sure enough, he is and with a sharp bark he runs down to the gate, where I wait with his treat.  He knows the drill and sits first and then I give him the dog biscuit I usually carry with me, just in case. I pat his head and turn around. We each head our separate ways, and I go home across the street.

It was another evening of dynamic spoken word at the Solstice Café.  The Vic Slam crew was in fine form and really showcased a range of talents.  There were a few new faces in the crowd and so, while waiting for the performances to begin we talked about TS Eliot and Shakespeare and freestyling and Slam. Then the Slam begins, tonight its seven poets, over two rounds. I won’t attempt to describe them all but they all were great.  Some read, some performed from memory.  Some poets incorporated a lot of movement and theatricality and there were a lot of really touching moments throughout the night.  It was, as usual, loud and boisterous and full of energy.  The applause and table thumping and heckling rolled along, punctuating each golden word. Extremely private thoughts and moments laid bare before everyone, no holds barred, no intimacy too sacred to be revealed, no shadow too dark to be hit with a spotlight. Another evening of poetic hi-test; jet fueled words that lift my mind into orbit.

Every now and then, a new opportunity, a new role, comes along. Tonight I hosted poetry night at The Well for the first time. The Well, for those who don’t know, is a quirky little hybrid place in downtown Victoria, part restaurant, part health food store, part bookstore, art gallery, clothing store, and most importantly, performance space. It is currently transitioning from a commercial venture into a not-for-profit society. Full disclosure:  I’ll be chair of the first Board of directors.

Way more exciting, of course, is the opportunity to be the host of a poetry night in a hotbed of poetry.  You have no idea….

So tonight I led off with:

 

Invocation

Grant me inspiration

Wash me in the river of creativity

Let my eyes see truth

Let me appreciate beauty in all its many forms

Grant me the grace not to hold tight but to give away

Allow peace to enter my heart

Let me give away my love unreservedly

Let me receive love unconditionally

Illuminate my path in the dark of night

Shade my way in the heat of the day

Grant me wisdom borne of struggle

Bring me tranquility in tragedy

Grant me inspiration

Devorah Stohl followed with several very good pieces including a Bill of Rights for poets. Next up was the past Poet Laureate for the City of Victoria Linda Rogers. She read a variety of wonderful pieces as fresh as today’s headlines and still glowing from the vicarious pleasure of Obama’s win. Richard Olafson, publisher and poet, followed with a retrospective look at his poetry from the early years to the present.  Richard charmed us with his time travel return to being twenty years old again, fascinated with the moon.  Finally, the city’s current Poet Laureate, Janet Rogers honored us with her readings.  Janet is not just a poet but an activist, a performance artist, radio personality and so much more.  And later I found out that she used to live just a block or two away but has since moved, pity!

Amin, who operates manages the food operations at The Well, closed with a poem in Bengali which, although we couldn’t understand it, moved us all.

My final offering was:

 

Eruption

Words cascade like flowing lava

Tumbling in a red hot fireglow

Out of a parade of mouths that strain

Implore

Cajole

Inform

Subvert and shock,

Not that anyone here shocks easily,

This room resists tectonic movement

These poems come crammed full of ideas

Concepts

Inner truths

Self-loathing and

Self-love

These words spill out overflowing

Like a broken levee spilling turgid water onto sodden streets

The more the better

Jam packed

Into impossibly long poems read from a single page

And I think that the font must be pretty fucking small

And their eyesight must be damned sharp

For one page to contain this jambalaya of wordfeast

While what I set down on my pages is sparse and spartan

Graphically arranged

Where phrases and words all need their space

And the space between the spaces informs the composition

While these chatterbox beat fiends fly paper kites in the light of the moon

Powered by the breath of a muse

These poems arrive in rhythmic cadences delivered

Naturally as a vaginal birth

Or pulled protesting from the womb in c-sectioned blood

While dilated irises betray the nervousness and fear

That shake fingers clutching just too tightly to a page

These lines explode over our heads like fireworks on a summer night

Briefly illuminating our dark thoughts and secret places

Synapses firing like bullets over Damascus

Punctuated by gentle heckling and raucous rebel yells

Roaring applause

Snapping fingers

Table thumping

While the red hot stream congeals into rock

A rock that will be mined and crushed and used for

Ornamental landscapes

Driveways

Pathways

Recalling the fluid past when rock was molten

Flowing in tongues of fire from the crater into the night

Isn’t it funny how people make declarative statements like “I’m not prejudiced” or “I’m not judgmental” and then they go ahead and make a prejudicial remark or are quick to judgment, based on the socio-cultural norms in which they’re embedded.  It is extremely hard not to be affected by the attitudes of those around us and when an entire culture is based on hardwired rules and standards that self-impose a particular worldview, it is almost impossible to stand apart and see each circumstance or person for what or who they really are.

Is it just me or does anyone feel that there is something missing in the messages of concern regarding the super storm clobbering the eastern seaboard? I’m thinking particularly about the presidential campaign and the issue of climate change. I mean we’ve had wildfires and drought, tornados and floods of biblical proportions over the past few years yet everybody just seems to want to turn a blind eye and cross their fingers and hope it doesn’t happen again.  Isn’t it time that mainstream corporate America, and the powers behind the candidates, finally admit that climate change is indeed real, that weather events like this one are going to become more and more frequent and even more intense in the future. Shouldn’t we be mitigating the worst of the potential risks now, before the very infrastructure of our civilization is damaged or destroyed?

The Belmont Building

I used to work in the Belmont Building, pictured here (thanks to my friend Kathy Garner for the photo).  It was home to the headquarters of the provincial Ministry of Social Services, and I have quite a few memories of it. Here are a couple for your enjoyment.

So there was a woman who was a smoker who worked on the top floor. Unlike some buildings, the executive floor was the 7th and the 8th was just a lot of admin/clerical staff, kind of like an attic garret. Anyway, when they stopped allowing smoking inside the building, she didn’t like going all the way downstairs for a puff. Not being afraid of heights, she started just opening the window, climbing out, and sitting on the ledge you can see in the picture, and having a quiet smoke on her own. One day the Deputy Minister of Education looked out of his window in another building a couple of blocks away and saw her climb out the window. He thought it was a suicide attempt, and called police and of course our DM as well. Well it got really exciting fast for a lot of people! And I don’t think anyone ever tried that again!

A little while after that, I met a tour guide who told me a funny story about the Belmont Building.  He was driving a bus full of mostly German and Dutch tourists who noticed a number of women standing on the sidewalk smoking around 10:00 one morning.  One of the tourists asked quizzically why the prostitutes in Victoria went to work so early in the day.  The guide had to explain that they weren’t hookers really, they were just office workers on a break!

Then there was the time somebody came in on the weekend to do some extra work. They brought their dog, who happened to crap in the stairwell. One of the first people who came in on Monday simply put a box over the offending mess and left a cryptic note to the effect of “don’t move this box or you’ll be sorry”. Well the next person saw it and thought it was a bomb threat. The building was cleared and they called the bomb squad. Then they discovered the bomb squad were all away at CFB Chilliwack (quite a long distance away) on a training exercise. So they fired up one of those aging Sea King helicopters and flew the team back who blew up the box of shit. In the meantime all the nearby coffeeshops did record setting business.

What do you think of this idea:  when you go to a restaurant you are given the option of a private table or a “conversation table”.  With the conversation table, you are seated with random strangers and you can have a great conversation over your meal instead of sitting alone in silence. There is no cost involved, and it could work to the restaurants’ advantage in that it would maximize the available seats.

The Victoria Spoken Word Festival
Objects in Space

FEBRUARY 27-MARCH 3, 2013

The Victoria Spoken Word Festival is an ensemble festival. You’ll be a part of a group of a dozen poets learning, writing and performing together over the week together. And you’ll build a bond that goes far beyond the festival.

This festival takes the ensemble through workshops outside of spoken word to learn new skills and provides you opportunities to perform experimental work. Then, on Saturday, the ensemble has one day with local improviser and poet Dave Morris to write and perform a brand-new, full-length group show to be presented in front of an audience that evening.

Sound challenging? Exciting? Join us.

http://www.victoriaspokenwordfestival.com/

Today was spectacular. The weather was great and and nice and warm for this time of year.  I had enough time to get a Bowflex session in before heading off up the Island Highway to visit my friend Manjeet. I like long drives, listening to tunes blasting out of my rather good stereo, gliding in and out of traffic. And the scenery is quite spectacular.  It’s a windy, twisty highway that starts at the verdant canyon floor, lined by towering cedars, following the course of a small river.  Soon though, it climbs up the hillside wall, clinging to rock walls and plunging precipices. Bald eagles soar on the updrafts, and in the distance you can see other islands in the gray green sea at your feet, below. In an effort to curb the number of highway deaths, the province is installing concrete highway dividers.  This has resulted in much fewer four lane sections so, although its slower, the traffic has become much safer.  After the summit is reached, the landscape goes through some rolling countryside, where the small farms still manage to eke out a living.  What has taken off is the wineries; there are a number of small estates, the land planted in grapes, wine tours, tastings and a whole tourist industry associated with it.  Outside of the town of Duncan where we turn off from the main highway, I pull over at Hill’s Native Crafts, a landmark store around here famous for its Cowichan Sweaters.  I look briefly at the beautiful carvings and masks but quickly head over to the back countertop. There I see a basket full of pouches.  Most are pretty cheesy, stamped with a picture of a moose, or a killer whale, perhaps.  But one or two are different.  Black leather on a black string, the pouch is decorated with six strings of beads at its bottom.  On one side of the pouch a disk of abalone shell has been affixed. Perfect.  Back in the car I take the tag off the pouch and place the small green pebble and the pendulum into the pouch and place it around my neck.  I stop at the vegetarian place in Duncan for a salad and continue through the back roads to the highway to Lake Cowichan.  It’s a nice stretch of highway that was well engineered, pretty much no turnoffs or intersections, and you sail through walls of green forest under the shadow of the mountains that wall the valley.  Up on those slopes, the scars of the cutblocks mar the beauty and remind me that this landscape is all so threatened.  Manjeet has warned me about today’s project.  He is getting something like 100 truckloads of fill delivered for his lower 40, raising the level of the floodplain down the slope from the house.  At first the trucks are coming every 8 minutes, then they slow down as the afternoon wears on.  Just a few days ago, they had a logger over to clear some of the deadwood – it’s a big property and the trees need a fair bit of attention. I did a little prep work for their next work project cleaning it all up in terms of dragging a few branches around and sorting out the bonfire material from the stuff destined for the fireplace.  We had a great visit and had fun watching the dumptrucks – just like two little boys would. The drive home was just as smooth as the drive up.  Finally I had a quick moment to google “divination with pendulums” so over dinner I was able to sort it out.  Basically it can answer yes, no, or maybe to simple direct questions. It can’t be used to pick lottery tickets or for shady financial dealings. Questions about the future are not very reliable – too many variables.  So the first thing to do is to ask the pendulum to show you the sign for each answer. I go up to the park and give it a try. Bingo.  Right before my eyes the pendulum swings three different ways at each request.  I repeat.  Same results.  I replace the pendulum into the pouch and ponder this on my evening walk.  I feel that it has a strong and powerful force about it.  I’ve never had any particular success with psychic abilities before but I’m certainly open to the concept.  Maybe I’m more evolved now.

Summer in Quebec

Back in the spring of 1972 I was casting about for an interesting summer job.  After a while, a possibility presented itself that included some of the prerequisites: a steady paycheck, far from home, an exotic location.  The downside was that I would be back East in distant Quebec and my French language skills were sadly lacking.

You see, my mother’s first cousin Patsy had married a French-Canadian entrepreneur who, after making a small fortune selling venetian blinds, had since acquired a hotel at Lac Beauport, not too far from Quebec City.  Apparently they had room on their staff for another pair of hands and I had a hankering for a summer away from Haney.

So, shortly after school ended for the year, I found my way on board a plane jetting its way across the country.  When you are 16, there is nothing like being all alone on a plane, bound for a summer job some 3,000 miles away from your parents and siblings.  It was going to be great, I thought to myself, and the miles sped by, fuelled by dreams of seductive nights on the lake.

The Chateau Du Lac was a ski resort in winter, although to my western eyes the supposed mountain was barely more than a bunny hill.  My cousins, however were proud of the chairlift that soared several hundred yards up the slope.  The hotel had a restaurant, a pool, a disco and several floors of guestrooms.  Up in the attic were several dozen small rooms for the staff, each holding a bed and a chest of drawers with a couple of shared washrooms at each end of the hall.

The lake was across the road and the Chateau had its own beach with supervised swimming and would rent out leaky canoes and paddle boats and arrange for water skiing opportunities for the guests.  There was also a tennis court and some other buildings.

Anyway, my cousin Bobby was fresh out of the Harvard Business School and was managing the place for his father.  Bobby had some kind of hot car, which I think was a race-tuned gold Duster, a liking for James Brown and American R & B tunes.  A few years later he was to discover his sensitive side and become a leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement but at that point he was strictly a hotelier, with aspirations of becoming the next Conrad Hilton and consequently he had little time for me, his young Anglo cousin.

I was put to work as a janitor and assigned a number of labour intensive tasks.  Soon enough my days settled into a routine of getting up early and grabbing breakfast in the kitchen then doing the garbage collection rounds.  The rest of the staff treated me with rather chilly politeness but were cautious because of my family connection to the Boss, not to mention the language barrier.  I quickly became aware that high school French, as taught in BC, bore little relationship to  “joual”, the slang that was the common currency of the rest of the staff.  So I remained pretty much isolated and the early dreams of romantic liaisons were fading quickly.

I slogged on, hauling garbage, cleaning the pool, digging ditches, and ripping up linoleum floors.  Things were looking grim.

One day, as I laboured stoically on, with hope for romance and gallic adventures rapidly receding, feeling melancholy and coated in grime no doubt, my duties took me past the tennis court.  On this particular day some strange looking characters, none wearing the spiffy white costumes ordinarily seen there, occupied it.  In fact, one fellow seemed to have been Robert Crumb’s model for Fat Freddie of the “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” of underground comics’ fame.  There was another longhaired guy flailing away with abandon and two young ladies wearing tight T-shirts and short shorts.  Needless to say, I lingered at the fence watching their antics with a certain amount of envy and a large amount of teenage lust.  After a moment, I realised that they were shouting in English, even if it was mostly the “pardon my french” variety.

Before long I took advantage of their poor aim to gather up half a dozen tennis balls that had flown over the fence and used the opportunity to introduce myself.  “Cool”, Freddie responded to my offering and after a few pleasantries I discovered that they were from Vancouver and living at the hotel for the summer in a rather dilapidated building known as the Annex.  “Hey”, the tall dark-haired guy with a Fu Manchu moustache said, “why don’t you come over when you get off work, we just had some dynamite Lebanese laid on us at the club last night.”

Things were definitely looking up.

An hour or so later I arrived at the seedy, ramshackle building known as the Annex.  Tucked away under some overhanging trees, and rather the worse for wear, it contained a large living room, a kitchen and a rabbit warren of bedrooms and bathrooms.  The living room was a lot like other rooms I would come to know over the next decade or so; decorated with posters and flags, furnished with old sofas leaking stuffing, ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts and roaches.  The coffee table held a forest of beer bottles and a rickety stand nearby provided space for a record player.  A couple of plastic milk crates overflowed with record albums.

The room was crowded, not just with the erstwhile tennis players, but with a whole tribe of longhaired, wild looking characters.  “Meet the band”, I was told, “this is Cannonball”.  “Far out”, I said and introduced myself.  Somebody passed me a hashpipe and before long the air was blue with fumes.  The stereo cranked out tunes and I soon found out that Cannonball was a rock’n’roll band who had just scored a summer-long gig at a club in Quebec City.

After a while, it was settled that I would come into the city with the band, check out their performance, and help out the roadie (Freddie from above) with some of his tasks.  So I rushed back to the main hotel, grabbed a bite to eat, told my cousin that I’d be going into town with the band from the Annex and then rejoined the group.

We piled into the caravan of rusted beaters and set off for town.  Le Cercle Electrique, as the club was called, was located just off Rue St. Jean in the centre of downtown.  It was actually a converted movie theatre, and as a result was a fabulous night-club.  The dance floor was a large wooden oval plateau in the centre of the house with tiers of tables falling around it down toward the stage.  The projectionist’s booth made for a great sound and lighting command post, including the then de rigeur swirling lightshow and miscellaneous movies playing on the billowing burlap hangings that framed the stage.  The stage was immense, and it is likely that the place had served as some kind of a burlesque house in distant years gone by.  At any rate, the band had the luxury of space, and was able to actually perform, instead of being crammed into a corner on a six-inch platform.

So I was introduced to the bouncers and other staff as part of the entourage and helped to set up for the night.  This involved carrying in a lot of stuff from the cars, making sure the guitars were on the right stands, that mikes were working and in position, that the band had the right clothes and that they had water or other drinks in the expected locations.

Well, time passed quickly and before I knew it the club began to fill up, the canned music got cranked up and the girls grabbed me and set me down at “the band’s table” down in front between the dance floor and the stage.

The lights dimmed and the canned music was canned.  As the lights came up, the band launched into a spirited cover of the Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and I sat enthralled as my new buddies from the Annex emerged as masters of rock’n’roll.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_rDxM6om04

On lead guitar was Jimmy Harmata, looking like a Sicilian pirate (he of the fu manchu) and simply wailing on his Fender Stratocaster.  A veteran of the Vancouver rock scene, Jimmy could make the guitar sing and when he caught the right groove could carry a blues riff with the same effortless joy as a downhill skier making the first run of the day through fresh powder.

On vocals and violin, Henry Small had an energy field about him that carried him up and into the ozone.  He would leap up to the top of the amplifiers, belt out a chorus, appear next at centre stage wielding his fiddle with a mixture of classical technique melded with the soulful truth of Papa John Creech.  Henry’s energy was formidable and simply watching him was exhausting.  Yet while he worked hard, it clearly was a lot more play than work for him and a matter of somehow connecting to a primal source of musical talent that just flowed.

King of the keyboards and pitching in on additional vocals was Al Foreman.  Al was a craftsman and I was to find out that he was responsible for a lot of the band’s original material, if not as a writer, well then as the yardstick that the others measured themselves by.  His ballad, “Travelling” was a great piece of writing.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LabW7JOvjuY

On rhythm guitar was Paul Dean, haloed in a blond Afro and adding depth to the sound that crashed out into the club.  Paul was steady as a rock, and kept the tempo where it was supposed to be, but he was also able to provide a counterpoint to Jimmy’s spirited solos.  He wasn’t averse to taking a turn in the spotlight from time to time and knew a lick or two himself.

Laying down the bass line was Bob Kidd.  He was as smooth as the family’s honey business.  Centre rear of the stage was the domain of Billy MacBeth on drums.  This was the era of the drum solo and any rock drummer worth his salt had to be able to hold the attention of a room full of dancers and Billy was able to conjure up the spirit of the best.  Billy sometimes had a “deer in the headlights” look, as if he had been surprised in the act, but as night followed night it was clear that his steady beat was anything but a surprise.

Cannonball rocked.  They favoured straight ahead rock covers, drawing on bands like the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers (they did an awesome version of “It’s Not My Cross To Bear”), the odd ballad or slow number and they also loaded their sets with quite a few original tunes.

One of the most memorable of these was “Crazy ‘Bout A Blues Guitar” featuring Jimmy wailing away on his axe, and Henry belting out the words “…and if you should happen to see BB King, tell him that I need a transfusion…”  The crowds rolled in night after night all summer long.  What a scene.

http://www.mediafire.com/?1nnnwu00y1m

Some nights, one of the motorcycle gangs would drop by, and in the break between sets or at the end of the night they’d head backstage to the green room and smoke everybody up, leaving behind several days supply of whatever the current product was.  For me, this was icing on the cake, not that I was totally drugged out or anything, but after all I was a child of the times!

Somebody taught the boys a few bars of a Quebecois rock song and they’d use that to close a set, getting an incredible reaction from the crowd.  I was happy to fetch and carry, to be a part of the inner sanctum, and to have a ringside seat at the best show in town.

After the last set, we’d tear down for the night and pack the cars and head back to the Chateau, often stopping at an all-night diner for a bite to eat.  I was getting by on four or five hours of sleep a night but it was all so exciting that I barely noticed.

The afternoons were spent in stoned-out conversation about all the topics of the day, as we listened to records like Paul Butterfield on the turntable, the Velvet Underground, or perhaps even Michael Murphy singing about Geronimo’s Cadillac.  Some of the guys had steady girlfriends, and for the rest it was a steady parade of one-night stands.  I saw more action that summer than any time before or since, some of it even involving me.

To be honest, the drugs were big part of it all, of course.  Now, up until then I was pretty much limited to twisting up a doobie or partaking of the odd gram of hash, stretched out over several days.  These guys of course were getting free drugs so everybody was high all the time.  Not only that, but one day somebody showed up with some mescaline and before I knew it, a technicolor viewfinder descended over my eyes, as I discovered what the psychedelic era was all about.  Of course that would be the night that Billy’s high hat broke and so just as we were peaking, the roadie and I had to take the cymbal next door to where we had seen a mechanic working.  Now, you have to remember we were completely out to lunch and not very coherent, not to mention that he was french and didn’t speak english, but by some miracle we managed to convince the mechanic to get out his welding equipment and repair the damage.  To us it seemed to take hours, but we got back before the end of the next break and Billy was able to flail away once more.

What a summer it was.  The band treated me like a mascot, and we joked around, talked and dreamed the days away.  One thing for sure, I didn’t feel like sixteen years old that summer.

The summer ended as summers do.  I went home to Vancouver, to another year at the dreaded boarding school, where the best I could look forward to was a Friday night at the Medieval Inn, where it was easy to use fake ID to get a jug of sudsy beer.

Cannonball added Jim Kale, formerly of the Guess Who, in place of Bob Kidd and changed their name to Scrubbaloe Caine.  About a year later they were playing at Starvin’ Marvin’s on Broadway in Vancouver and I saw them there.  I piled a carload of friends into the club, had a great time and was able to show off to the home crowd by virtue of the reflected glory.  But although I went backstage at the break, the old times were gone and the memories of that great summer in Quebec were simply memories, as faded as the pictures on a night-club wall in the bright light of day.  We had all moved on.

After a couple of albums, Scrubbaloe Caine broke up and the band members went their separate ways.  Paul Dean went on to great success in Streetheart and then Loverboy.  Henry Small fronted his own band for a time, then joined Prism.  Al Foreman had steady work in Vancouver for a couple of decades, sometimes solo and often as a duo with Jim Byrnes.

I never did hear what happened to the others, but for me it doesn’t really matter.  The memories I have will never get scratched, and every now and then an echo of one those tunes comes back to me and I remember the summer in Quebec, hanging out at the Annex with Cannonball.

Tonight I participated in a global poetry event; 100,000 Poets For Change.  There was something like over 800 events, going on in over 100 cities around the world.

Here’s the link to the main website:  http://www.bigbridge.org/100thousandpoetsforchange/

Here in Victoria the event took place at The Well, which is a quirky place downtown that’s part health food store, part café, part bookstore, part clothing store and perhaps most importantly,a multi-purpose venue for the Arts.  As it turns out, I am part of a group that is helping to turn it into a non-profit society, so it’s become a pretty special place for me.  I was happy to attend the event, which brought together a wide variety of local poets, who did a great job showcasing the many different ways that words are combined to create poetry as well as the many different ways there are to read those poems.  Now I had not bothered to get my name on the list of poets reading since frankly I’ve been having too much fun the past while to bother with working up a piece and was looking forward to another night of being an audience member. At the break however, The Well’s proprietor, Hopeton Anderson gave a pitch for everyone in the audience to support the Indiegogo campaign we’ve launched recently.  Then he mentioned me, since I’ll be heading up the transitional board.  Well, during the break in the proceedings he came over and asked me to plug the campaign when I got up to read.  When Hope found out that I wasn’t on the list, he immediately rectified that situation, much to my dismay, and so a few minutes later, I read my poem “This Line” (posted in my Poetry category a couple of weeks ago).  It’s not quite where I want it to be, but its getting better and it was certainly fun to be part of a global event. Good thing I happened to be carrying a copy of it!

Here is the link to the Indiegogo campaign, please check it out, contribute if you are able to, and share the link with your friends:  http://www.indiegogo.com/thewellvictoria

So tonight I went to a concert at a house in the Fernwood district, (AKA a Haight Ashbury of this day and age).  The house is an example of a recent phenomenon, where homeowners run a series of concerts in very intimate surroundings, advertized over social media.  It’s like a house party with people you’ve hardly ever met before but as friendly as almost any party you can imagine.  The house itself was one of those early 20th century places; a front parlor with a bay window, lots of crown moldings and wainscoting, hardwood floors, and high ceilings. The living room and dining room were stripped of most furniture and filled with chairs, but the party milled into the front hallway and the bathroom and of course the kitchen.

Children wandered about and peered down from the upstairs through old fashioned heating grates in the ceiling.  The performer, J.P. Maurice http://soundcloud.com/jpmaurice

is the son of someone I used to work with, briefly, some years ago.  We reconnected last winter through the United Way and since becoming Face Book friends, I have become a fan of her son and his band, called eponymously, Maurice.  So it was very cool to meet him in such a casual and friendly circumstance.  I was there early and snagged the best, or at least an up close and comfortable seat; end of the first row, with the window ledge on which to prop my bottle of water.  But the prelude was a fun dialogue with J.P. and the other early birds and the host, in the dining room where the piano resides.  Eventually enough people showed up and we got going on what was a fundraiser for The Land Conservancy, http://blog.conservancy.bc.ca/  something J.P. is quite passionate about.  The first half was in the front parlor and I love being about a meter away from the music.  It is so immediate, and when J.P. powers up the vocals, it’s just, well, magical.  Later, after a break we relocated to the dining room and the final set included a great piano accompaniment by someone whose name I forget.  The last two songs included audience participation when a basket of maracas and tambourines and drums was passed around.  I scored one of the better maracas and by the second song was actually on the right beat.  Being Victoria, I met someone I had already met, one of the managers of my local raw food/vegetarian/organic grocery store, Ingredients.  http://ingredientshealthfood.com/    I had, for once, anticipated the sale of cd’s and brought along some cash to pick up the discs, which then needed signing.  That gave me a chance to have another series of conversations with J.P., which was fun.  As I left the house and walked down the front steps, I noticed a few other audience members smoking out on the sidewalk.  I cried out a friendly goodbye and started to walk away, but one of them shouted, “Hey – you are awesome man!”  So loving attention as I do, and constantly in need of positive feedback, I went back and had a great conversation about music and performance and yes, poetry.  Apparently I have such an open face that my enjoyment of the music spilled over into the rest of the audience, and helped to fuel J.P., at least according to them.  So I felt heartened and full, as I walked back up the block to where I’d parked. There is something about music, in particular live acoustic sets that can reach into your soul and shake you to the core.

I was driving cab, back in the day when it was all radio dispatched and flagging, long before digital technology.  In those days the driver and the owner would split the shift’s take 50/50. However there was always the tips and for some drivers, the prospect of trips that wouldn’t be booked. That was all covered under the ambiguous term “side money”, which mainly referred to $$ kept off the sheet.

My friend TJ had picked up one of those grand old Cadillac limos a few months before.  It was a classic Mafia don’s wheels; black and long, rather mysterious and somewhat threatening.  One day he happened to be around when it was time for me to go to the cab stand and report for my shift.

We drove up to the busy headquarters of the cab company and stopped.  I was in the rear seat, wearing my usual cabbie’s outfit of jeans and a leather jacket and a black leather cap.  TJ happened to have on a suit and some headgear that approximated a chauffeur’s cap.  He pulled up, jumped out and ran around the limo to open my door.

I sauntered out to the consternation of the assembled throng of cabbies at shift change.  I walked over to Dick, the dispatcher who ran things, and said, “You know Dick, side money was real good last night, real good.”  “ Car 92 again?” After he picked himself up off the floor he said “Guess so, just get it all on the sheet tonight kid”.

One of the things about regular exercise is that it is a little addictive.  I fortunate enough to have a home gym and find it relatively easy to meet my “5 days out of every 7” rolling target for workouts.  The past few months I’ve been increasing the duration of the workouts, I’ve gotten back into cycling and I’ve have been happily releasing endorphins into my system as a result.  So last week, when I suffered a bursitis attack and had to stop all activity except for slowly hobbling around the place, it was a little like going cold turkey from any other addiction. It wasn’t nearly as bad as tobacco but it contributed to a sense of unease and anxiety that has been bothering me.  Today, after far too long, I was able to get back to the Bow-Flex to work up a sweat and regain a little equanimity while releasing some internal tension.

I grew up thinking that the lawns and landscaping esthetic that is quite standard across North America, and increasingly so globally, was not only normal but was something to be desired. Indeed, I even applied for admission to a graduate degree program in landscape architecture at one point.

My thinking has undergone a sea change however, and now I bemoan the waste of time, money, and natural resources that goes into this artificial attempt to second guess Mother Nature.

Here are some interesting results from a quick search of the Internet:

From Redesigning the American Lawn by F. Herbert Bormann, Diana Balmori, Gordon T. Geballe, Yale University Press, 1993

  • A lawnmower pollutes as much in one hour as does driving an automobile for 45 miles (updated).
  • 30 to 60 percent of urban fresh water is used for watering lawns (depending on city).
  • $5,250,000,000 is spent annually on fossil fuel-derived fertilizers for U.S. lawns.
  • 67,000,000 pounds of synthetic pesticides are used on U.S. lawns.
  • 60,000 to 70,000 severe accidents per year result from lawnmowers.
  • 580,000,000 gallons of gasoline are used for lawnmowers.
  • $25,000,000,000 is spent for the lawn care industry.
  • $700,000,000 is spent for pesticides for U.S. lawns.
  • 20,000,000 acres are planted in residential lawns.

Powered mowers contribute to noise pollution and hearing loss.

The English Burgher Lawn Aestheticby Virginia Scott Jenkins condensed from The Lawn, A History of An American Obsession

The mowed lawn aesthetic originated in the late 18th century from aristocratic France and England. Landscape architect Andre LeNotre designed small lawn areas for the Palace of Versailles. This aesthetic was rapidly adopted by the rich of England, because turf grass grew easily in the English climate of moderate temperatures and frequent rains.

The U.S. colonists also adopted the lawn aesthetic in an attempt to transform the wildness of the new country into the sophistication of the old world. Landscape architects again were at the forefront, and Lancelot Brown created thousands of acres of magnificent parks using lawn turf and trees.

Prior to the middle of the 19th century, U.S. homes were either built fronting up to the street or road, or else with a small fenced front yard consisting of bare ground or garden plots. The middle class did not copy the wealthy lawn aesthetic until after the Civil War, with the stimulus of the new landscape architects leading the way.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the USDA, the U.S. Golf Association, and the Garden Clubs of America jointly spread the front lawn ethic throughout the U.S. [They] held competitions for landscaping and shamed neighbors into compliance by setting strong example.

Can Lawns Kill?
by Colleen Aagesen & Mary Fiscus Condensed From the Heartland Journal

Wildlife specialists, such as Diana Conger of Washington, D.C., call bird poisonings in residential areas lawncare syndrome. Symptoms enumerated by toxicologists include excessive salivation, grand mal seizures, wild flapping and screaming, most often followed by death.

Ward Stone, New York State’s wildlife pathologist, sees more than that in the poisonings. The songbirds act as miners’ canaries for us in detecting the buildup of chemicals that may ultimately threaten humans,” reports Stone.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, lawn use is a significant component of the total pesticide problem. NAS said that although the farmer uses pesticides more widely, the homeowner uses 10 times more per acre than do farmers.

So what’s the alternative?   Wikipedia explains one method this way:

Xeriscaping and xerogardening refers to landscaping and gardening in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. It is promoted in regions that do not have easily accessible, plentiful, or reliable supplies of fresh water, and is gaining acceptance in other areas as climate patterns shift. Although xeriscaping may be an alternative to various types of traditional gardening, it is usually promoted as a substitute for Kentucky bluegrass lawns.

An even better approach is natural landscaping which concentrates on the use of native plants.

From Wikipedia:

Natural landscaping, also called native gardening, is the use of native plants, including trees, shrubs, groundcover, and grasses which are indigenous to the geographic area of the garden.

Benefits

Maintenance

Natural landscaping is adapted to the climate, geography and hydrology and should require no pesticides, fertilizers and watering to maintain, given that native plants have adapted and evolved to local conditions over thousands of years. However, these applications may be necessary for some preventative care of trees and other vegetation in areas of degraded or weedy landscapes.

Native plants suit today’s interest in “low-maintenance” gardening and landscaping, with many species vigorous and hardy and able to survive winter cold and summer heat. Once established, they can flourish without irrigation or fertilization, and are resistant to most pests and diseases.

Many municipalities have quickly recognized the benefits of natural landscaping due to municipal budget constraints and reductions and the general public is now benefiting from the implementation of natural landscaping techniques to save water and create more personal time.

Ecology and habitat

Native plants provide suitable habitat for native species of butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. They provide more variety in gardens by offering myriad alternatives to the over-planted introduced species, cultivars, and invasive species. The indigenous plants have co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes, to form a complex network of relationships. They are the foundation of their native habitats and ecosystems, or natural communities.

Such gardens often benefit from the plants being evolved and habituated to the local climate, pests and herbivores, and soil conditions, and so may require fewer to no soil amendments, irrigation, pesticides, and herbicides for a beautiful, lower maintenance, and more sustainable landscape.

Advantages

  • no fertilization required
  • no additional water
  • more water available for other uses and other people
  • zero to near zero work needed for maintenance
  • no lawn mowing
  • erosion reduced to a minimum
  • natural landscaped plants take full advantage of rainfall
  • when water restrictions are implemented, natural landscaped plants will survive, while more traditional plants may not
  • increased habitat for native flora and fauna
  • where heavily forested, provides shade on homes and businesses saving energy

native plants rarely become invasive

So I was riding my bike along the Galloping Goose trail towards town. At one of the intersections I was slowing down for the red light when I noticed that the cyclist coming up on my left was a Saanich Police officer, and in fact there were a pair of them. I started to say hello but just then this helmetless guy across the intersection jumps the red light and wheels through a gap in traffic right towards us, not noticing the cops until one of them strides forward, motioning him to stop and announcing their presence. “Sometimes it’s just that easy” the other officer says to me and another cyclist who were smiling in amusement at the situation. The light changed to green and we rode on.

We were watching the Super Bowl, a bunch of drunken friends in their mid-twenties.  “Hey” someone said. “Let’s go to a game next year, and not just down the road in Seattle.”  Thus began the planning for the trip to see the Houston Oilers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  That was the era of Franco Harris and Lynn Swann, of Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell, and Terry Bradshaw.  We wound up going to the Thanksgiving Day Thursday Night Special game at the Astrodome, some 10 or eleven months later.

Highlights included Cal getting so loaded that we couldn’t rouse him for the flight down there, the Johnson Space Centre, a hockey game of some note, and the big game itself. At one point we went to a Texas Roadhouse for some steaks.  The waitress came over to get our orders.  When we were done she looked at us real funny and said, “d’y’all mind repeating that with a drawl so’s I kin unnerstan you?” Which we did, and she did.

It’s interesting how many venues there are to experience live music performances.  Stadiums, opera houses, arenas, nightclubs, country fairs, seedy bars, coffeehouses, hotel ballrooms, discos, cafes, restaurants, school gymnasiums, and community halls.  Each location creates a different experience, arena rock is a great spectacle and the excitement of being in a huge crowd is undeniable but for me, the smaller the better. I love it when I’m eye to eye with the performer.  I like house concerts and I love kitchen parties. When you hear  the blues harp kick in behind you, and somebody starts a percussive beat with a shaker over to the side, and the guitar is a few feet away and everyone is singing, that’s when music hits you between the eyes.

Northern alligator lizards are one of the more unusual species that inhabit my local eco-system.  Unfortunately, they are also one of the most elusive so it was with no small measure of excitement that I spotted a tiny little baby lizard this afternoon.  Less than an inch and a half, or three centimeters, the little creature was flitting along the cracks in the driveway as I came back from a walk. It was so small and delicate, and very cute but was probably a tempting treat to some of the other wildlife around.  I hope he or she makes it.

Even though I don’t think it’s a very good paper, I subscribe to the local broadsheet mostly out of force of habit and because I like to have something to read as I’m getting breakfast and waking up.  Eventually I get around to the obituaries, and over the years it has been a very interesting section to peruse.  Sometimes, the notices are heartbreaking and sometimes dramas play out, as was the case when several different survivors wrote vastly different obits for the deceased. A few days back, one of the obits closed by inviting family and friends to a local beach for a release of balloons in memory of the young lady whose life had been cut short.  Balloons which would fall into the ocean or the surrounding islands, or our own island and contribute the degradation of the natural habitat.  What about the great Pacific Garbage Gyre?  I wanted to write a letter to the editor but couldn’t bring myself to cause undue suffering to the folks in question.  Still, it is a provocative issue and one that needs to be much more broadly addressed.

Years ago, in my final year of high school, I discovered the pleasure, the joy, of skipping classes and heading downtown for a day off.  For those that don’t know, I was attending a private school, a la the kind of place Holden Caulfield was at in Catcher In the Rye, and I was certainly on the hunt for authenticity.  A typical excursion might include a few hours at Duthie Books, the premier independent bookstore of Vancouver in those days.  I might stroll over to one of the record stores, and then head over to Robson Street and check out the international newspapers and magazines.  I would wind up in the lobby of the Hotel Vancouver and find a high back winged armchair to hunker down in to read for a while, or people watch or whatever. Those days held a delicious sense of soft rebellion, a sense of stylized rejection of the status quo.

Today I encountered a faint reflection of that sentiment as I drove up to the Cowichan River to go tubing for the day.  Although I didn’t have any prior commitments, it seemed almost sinful to spend five or six hours floating down a gorgeous river on a stylized version of an inner tube. The sun was intense but the water was refreshing.  Other folks had the same idea, at points it was almost congested as we ran the rapids and braved the turbulent curves of the otherwise placid watercourse. I was also thrilled to try out my new vibram five finger water shoes, which are great on the Trans Canada Trail, a leafy tunnel of alder and broadleaf maple that brings one back to the launch point in less than thirty minutes by shank’s mare.

Floating down a river on a hot summer’s day is simply one of the great things you can do.  It’s refreshing and fun, relaxing and exciting, spiritual and primal. I watched the interplay of the other tubers – some adolescent and full of hormonal flirtations, some families with their own dynamics, and others just drifting by.  I saw birds by the score, the silver glint of fish jumping, insects buzzing, and leaves spinning along beside me.  I bumped some rocks I would have glided over a scant week ago, and realized the water level was down. I floated and splashed and drifted and spun.  It was fun. The forest walls compressed the view to the silvery ribbon of river.  I roasted in the heat and reveled in the refreshing tang of the river, all at the same time. Some days are timeless and have the power to connect an adolescent memory with middle-aged reality.  Life is good.

I keep looking for answers but just find more questions.

I am blessed to have many great friends in my life.  This afternoon I’m be on my way to visit two of them, Manjeet and Janice, who live in the most absolutely gorgeous place on the Cowichan River, an hour and a half away from Victoria. Surrounded by tall trees, their home is set on a bluff among rolling lawns, overlooking the river.  At this time of year the river is perfect for swimming and tubing which is always a highlight of my summer.  I’ll drink too much beer and sing off key around the campfire and misbehave in general.  Yay!

Looking out from my balcony, I can see four houses in the dim light of night.  The sky is a deeply purple black velvet colur, studded with just a few stars since we are at the edge of the city’s light pollution.  Still, it’s serene and framed by the tall slender trees that punctuate the view from the hillside.  I scan for deer but don’t see any, nothing appears to be stirring, not even the neighbour’s evil cat. From this vantage I’ve seen lots of wildlife in the past, but tonight, looks like I’ll have to be content with serenity. And I am.  Content.

Casting Off

I never did like going to fitness centers or suburban gyms.  All those cheerfully slim twenty year olds flirting and preening just never made me feel like lumbering around in stretchy cotton walmart wear, sweating like a pig while watching them covertly smirk.  Fortunately I have one of those Bowflex home gyms, the kind with the power rods that work with pulleys and cables.  This gives me the freedom to have a workout whenever it fits, and no need for a twenty minute drive to get there since I have it set up in my bedroom.  For quite a while I’ve had a rolling target of having a workout five days out of every seven.  This gives me the option of taking a day off but I try to never go more than two days between sessions.  Lately I’ve increased the frequency by adding additional sessions in the mornings on some days. In addition to the physical workout, these sessions provide a “close to” meditative space as the repetitive exercises roll along and I find it to be mentally quite refreshing.

For about half of each session, I look out through the sliding glass door that opens on to the balcony, to the house that my ex-wife and I and our two girls used to live in for close to a decade.  There’s the big leafy maple that I fell out of and broke my leg.  There’s the past, which I look beyond, at the Sooke Hills off in the distance.  Every so often an eagle soars, and then perhaps a seaplane or a helicopter carves its way across the sky. When we sold the house and divided the assets, there were a number of big heavy objects to pick from and I chose the Bowflex, for one of my spoils in the war we called a marriage.  Thanks to a favorable real estate market we both made out well and the spoils of war erased a lot of what might have been rancor and bitterness.

This morning I was about to prepare for a morning workout when the phone rang, or strummed, to be more accurate.

“Hi Dave, its Doris”

“Hi Doris, what’s up?”

“Bob’s finally ready to move the boat, can I get you to move your car?”

“Sure thing Doris, I’ll be right out and hey, congratulations!”

You see, the thing is, this large boat had been parked in the driveway for some four or perhaps five years; the matter is under dispute, as Bob rebuilt virtually every single part and fitting on the craft, as well as on the trailer.  It had only moved for a few weeks last summer when it went to a shipyard to be repainted.  Today it looked sharp in gunmetal gray and shiny aluminum itching to be launched.  As it turned out, it took a considerable while to line up the truck and drop the hitch onto the ball.  Just when it appeared that the moment of departure was at hand, yet another delay occurred as Bob discovered that the safety chains were too short. But Bob is nothing if not resourceful and sure enough he had more chain and a hacksaw and before long, all was well and good and the boat was on its way down the hill, on its way to the sea.

Now some of you might be asking what I’m doing renting the suite, in the house across from where I used to live.  Well, I’ve always tried to be an engaged citizen, somebody who steps up when there’s a call, and as a result during our time in the suburban dream, the two car garage five bed three bath prize and anchor, I joined the local initiatives.  I was committed to the local park and community hall and when I resigned from various positions Bob and Doris, or BoDo for short, said,

“Dave, you can’t leave the street, why not move into our suite?”

“”I’d love to but your suite is nowhere near finished, you’ve been working on it for years now!”

“Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time, it’ll be ready in lots of time”.

It wasn’t, predictably.  I ended up spending about six weeks in BoDo’s guest bedroom, as a series of delays forestalled my installation into my bachelor paradise.  In the end it worked out well. I resumed my activities with the park and the community hall and was able to enjoy the same sounds and ambience as my life morphed; some continuity counts for a lot at times of stress.  And now I’m fully reconciled with my past, and watch the seasons work their magic on the property that I once thought was mine, an illusion of time and space.

Stay Grounded

I frequently say that in order to stay grounded in this troubled world we call home, it’s important to get out and actually walk on the ground, preferably in a natural setting, as frequently as possible.  There is something primal about clambering over moss and lichen clad rocks for example, or winding your way along a forest trail as the calls and songs of flocks of birds drown out the traffic din.  Even an urban park will do, since at least it gets you off of the sidewalk.  It’s enough to almost forget the bigger world out there, the one where terrorists attack, armies clash, and civilians are sacrificed and slaughtered in a seemingly unending bloody parade. Even so, staying close to nature does serve as a cleansing respite from the apocalyptic news that spews forth from the radio, TV, and of course the internet.  I feel, as I’m sure many of you do too, this responsibility to bear witness to these events, to try to make some sense of it all, and perhaps to take some action to mitigate the worst of the excesses.  Yet it becomes easy to be overwhelmed when you look at the catalogue of calamities that happen spontaneously, let alone the looming and sadly predictable crises that will be arriving in due course. So I do what I can through direct action, or by proxy, and by staying involved.   At the same time, I stay refreshed by way of staying close to nature, and by appreciating beauty in all its many forms.  I stay grounded.

Poetry Week

What a week of poetry!  It was capped tonight at the former Black Stilt, now Mocha House where there was another open mic, along with two featured speakers; Nora Gould and Emily McGiffin. I enjoyed delivering my piece, American Highway, during the open mic but was yet again humbled at the high quality of the other poets.  What an incredibly talented world it is, here in Victoria poetry is flourishing.  The range of imagery and stories and styles tonight was fabulous.  The featured speakers were absolutely brilliant, a cowgirl from Alberta and a peripatetic poet from BC, who both share a love of biology and ecology, not to mention graphic detail.  For me, feelings of excitement and intimidation mingle, as I absorb the lessons of the evening.

Reading in Public

What an interesting and fun time I had tonight.  I entered a poetry contest called “The Spirit of Canada” at a local venue here in Victoria called The Well.  The Well is a unique place. Located downtown, it is part health food store and restaurant, part bookstore, part clothing store, and is also a venue for music and the performing arts.  The contest itself was all a bit vague and unstructured – I had been unable to contact Hopeton, the guy behind it all but had left a selection of poems and other info and paid the entrance fee to the lady running the restaurant.  So of course there was no record of that, but he didn’t seem to mind, and I gave him my receipt of the transaction.  The panel of judges was stellar: Bill Bissett, Linda Rogers, and Janet Rogers.  The emcee was Joanne Roberts, host of CBC’s Radio One afternoon show  here and the mom of daughters my girls went to school with.  Each of the performers were great; singer songwriters, poets, spoken word, writers, and essayists,  – it just amazed me the talent that showed up.  I ended up being second last in the line up and read my piece Canada Day.  As a rookie to these kinds of things I hadn’t quite grasped the concept of it all and had thought I’d be able to read several different poems.  Nope, just one.  I enjoyed the opportunity, and the thrill of it all.  Hanging with the other artists in the not quite green room was special.  Bill Bissett”s positive comments meant a lot to me, as did the support I got from everyone else.  I didn’t make it through to the semi-finals but it was great fun and I am looking forward to a lot more of this kind of thing.  Spoken word rocks.

Raw Food Diet

I have kind of backed into this latest lifestyle change, in which I am transitioning to a raw food, vegan diet.  I started trying to lose weight early last fall and it sure took a while before seeing any results.  I reduced sugars and cut the carbs, didn’t eat desserts and cut out the junk food in favor of carrot and celery sticks.  I had lots and lots of exercise and fresh air. Still, it wasn’t until I stopped eating wheat and baked goods that people started commenting on my appearance.  So I kept watching what I was eating and listening to what Dr. Oz and folks like my friend Chris were saying.  Little by little I cut out one thing after another from my diet until I decided to go this final step in living healthily.

The raw food vegan diet is pretty intense, I have to say, though.  I’ve been plain old lacto-ovo vegetarian in the past and that was a breeze compared to this.  That was just a matter of not eating animals but practically everything else in the kitchen stayed the same.  This is a wholesale makeover, but even during this transitional period I can feel the health benefits.

One of the downsides however, is that it throws out a lot of fun recipes, many of which I really enjoyed making over the years.  I’ve always been comfortable in the kitchen and to think that I won’t be making Paella or Boeuf Bourguignon is a little sad. Barbecues and grills are off the menu, and now I have only the memory of pulled pork poutine for comfort.  Less mourned, but noted in passing is a good-bye to macaroni and cheese.  There is no brick oven pizza in my future.  Still, I am looking forward to firing up the brand new Cuisinart tomorrow and learning a whole new way of food preparation.  Bon Appétit!

Midnight

Some of you will know what I mean when I mention a favorite balcony or deck or doorway that we may have occasion to visit around midnight.  Hey, I bet some of you are dogwalkers, although not usually the case at this late hour.  Whatever, ours is an extensive fellowship, though rarely mentioned. Cheers, y’all.

Self-Censorship

If it wasn’t for my natural tendency to self-censor, I could tell you tales of wonder, forbidden pleasures, cruelty, and the hidden measures of the soul.  But I worry that I’d destroy relationships in the telling, due to embarrassment and shock.  So I bide my time and try to fictionalize an account or two, and build new tales that can bear public scrutiny. But should you find your way to my door, we can sip a beverage of choice and stay up late into the night, and I’ll regale you with my big fish stories, which stay hidden from the light of day.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

Today was gorgeous.  Sunny and hot, but not sweltering.  Getting the paper at the front door in the morning, I glanced down at my long neglected bike.  The accumulated guilt made me decide to take action. So I finally got around to pumping up the tires on the trusty old steed, and cleaning off the accumulated grime of the past 10 months or so since I had last ridden it.  The handle grips were flecked with the golden pollen that had coated my car for a few weeks earlier in the spring.  The dust was embarrassingly thick and I fell to with enthusiasm with a hot sudsy bucket of water and an assortment of sponges and brushes. Soon it was gleaming again in the sunlight as I prepared to go for a ride.

This meant I had to find the panier, the key to the lock, get a water bottle, and grab the helmet.  I retrieved the cycling shoes from the bottom of the shoe pile, and soon I was out the door.  Living up a hillside like I do, bicycle trips always start with an exhilarating launch into a high speed getaway which is halted all too soon by the busy secondary street at the end of the block.  A few blocks along and I was able to get on to the regional trail system, which uses disused railroad right-of-ways to move cyclists and pedestrians and boarders and even the odd unicyclist across town while avoiding vehicular traffic.

The bike was in pretty good shape all things considered, and I was feeling good as well.  All the Bowflex sessions had indeed paid off, I thought to myself, as I powered along. I had almost forgotten how beautiful the trail can be, and much of it just a few meters away from major traffic arteries.  Craggy bluffs overlooking Portage Inlet gave way to urban backyards and later, the green trees that girdle Swan Lake, all flew by as I geared up and geared down and reclaimed the pleasure of a summer  day’s bike ride. The feel of the wind, the immediacy of it all, and the very fact it’s a human powered mode of transport all conspire to make cycling a great, and cheap thrill.

I stopped on the far side of Blenkinsop Lake, which the trail traverses by way of a long boardwalk.  At one point, there is a nice bronze statue of an older gent who is looking happily at the view, and of course he happens to be the farmer who lived over in that general direction.  What’s wrong with a little sentimentality in public art, anyway?  I turned around and headed back home, reveling in the pure unadulterated pleasure of the ride.

Queen performing Bicycle Race can be found here:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CTPLUcQAjk

For the Birds

A couple of days ago my neighbor Bob discovered a male Californian Quail perched on a high window ledge inside his living room.  He got out a stepladder, grabbed a towel, and with some patience and persistence managed to grab the bird and restore it to the great outdoors.  After cleaning up the mess, since after all the trauma of the event had scared the little guy, Bob went upstairs.  There he found one of the Quail chicks huddled in a corner.  That one was easier to catch, reportedly.  A short while after putting the chick in same general vicinity as where he left the male, a reunion of the Quail family was observed, to great delight. The following day, a pine siskin made it into one of the bedrooms and Bob corralled that one with a convenient Mexican sombrero before setting it free. Who needs pets when wildlife just walks in and visits?

The Hip

As I’m sure most everyone here knows, I’m a huge music fan.  But I readily admit to gaps in my musical education.  I used to ride the bus with someone whose brother had done a study at university that showed that if you take the last level of education a person receives, and add three years then you’ll get an idea of their musical taste and interests since after that they don’t normally follow musical trends.  I’ve done better than that, at least I think so, but even so I admit to many gaps.

One such gap for me has been the band, The Tragically Hip.  It’s emergence as a powerhouse Canadian band coincided with a time when I was wrapped up with being a committed and much involved dad, serving on the Parent Advisory Council, the Strata Council, making lunches and arranging birthday parties for the daughters, and holding down a job.  Music just wasn’t a priority and although I was aware of the Hip. I just didn’t have the time or inclination to become a fan.  Fast forward to now.  A good friend of mine is looking forward to a live concert over here in Victoria and strongly endorsed the band.  I found a good deal on a music DVD with the Tragically Hip in concert in Toronto. I watched it and found some songs that I knew after all, and others that are a fresh delight.  Yet it is extremely odd since even in the DVD it’s obvious these are old songs, well-remembered and touchstones for the audience and yet I’m unaware of them. But I love the concert anyway, and listen to these songs afresh, and in awe of what I never knew, or only peripherally. What a tonic for the soul.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhkgDUa9lTI

David Trudel  © 2012

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