Saturday, 17 February 2018

The February Thaw

It’s only February
It’s the annual February thaw
It’s only February
It’s the annual February thaw

It’s the mantra I mutter these days.

The sun is rising earlier and setting later and, once more, I can noticeably feel the sun on my face and soaking through my dark clothes, without that same lovely heat being ripped away from me by bitter winds. I like the cold but even I must admit that there is a time and place for it.

The annual Ottawa thaw—those few days or week when Mother Nature goes away on vacation, leaving one of her children in charge—usually happens in February. Maybe there are better travel deals in February. When she comes back, as she always does, we’ll be walloped with snow, or an ice storm, or some new hell she picked up in the Caribbean. Like the Sword of Damocles, you fear that when this warm spot of weather suddenly, inevitably ends, it will come crashing down and split you in two.

But the annual thaw is also a time for hope and planning. It’s the time I start looking through my last two years’ of gardening and foraging data, such as it is. Considering how well organized I am in other areas, I still keep this information the old fashioned way, handwritten, and mostly messily at that, in a notebook. A reproduction of a Picasso line drawing is on the cover.

SIDE BAR: There are two things that come to mind when I think of Picasso.

The first is the time my friend Barb and I went to Montreal to see an exhibit of what we delighted in calling “smutty Picasso.” It was a collection of his more sexually explicit pieces, explicit enough for an R-rating so kids weren’t allowed in. A pity, ‘cause Barb and I giggled through much of it—many of the drawings and paintings were hysterically funny. Say what you want about old Pablo, he had a good sense of humour—and we could have hidden our laughter amidst a loud gaggle of small children who hadn’t yet been fitted with their social filters and would undoubtedly be pointing at various body bits and saying things like: “That doesn’t look like mine!”

The second thing I think of when I think of Picasso is the song Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole by The Modern Lovers. The song is very catchy and I highly recommend you go seek it out. It’s on the soundtrack for Repo Man, the movie that gave us such quotable gems as “The more you drive the stupider you are,” and “Look at those assholes, ordinary fucking people. I hate ‘em.”

SIDE BAR TO THE SIDEBAR: I’ve decided not to link to anything in this article. If you’re interested enough in something I mention, like a song or movie title or a quote or a plant, you’ll go find out all about it yourself. Why should I give you free research? Use that delightful coconut of yours.

SIDE BAR TO THE SIDEBAR TO THE SIDEBAR: I’m quite sure there is at least one city in the world, a city with a lot of lawyers in it, that has a bar called The Side Bar. It’d only make sense.

So anyway...

As I said, it’s that time of year that I become consumed with plant thoughts. Will the fiddleheads and knotweed come up early like they did last year? Who knows? It’s fun
Fiddleheads remind me
of the novel
The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham
to look out my back porch and dream of the day when the first tight spirals poke out of the mulch in the strip of shaded soil along the back fence.

(Today, to satisfy my urge to dig in the dirt, I cleaned up a few houseplants, mulched, watered, and generally made them more comfortable.)

I reviewed my notebook to see which plants came up when in 2017 and in 2016. I noted all these plants on a new page, and gave rough estimates on when certain plants would first appear. I looked for any weather records. Usually, these records are kept in other notebooks, but sometimes I jot down observations.

It never ceases to amaze me how one good rainstorm and a day of high temperatures can send plants into an embarrassing orgy of growth.

It never ceases to amaze me that I can harvest so much free food so much closer to my kitchen than any grocery store.

Perhaps I’m easily amazed. I’m happy to be so with things as simple and complicated as new life, food, and the ever-changing weather.

None of this makes any difference to the February thaw. Ma Nature will be back soon enough and show her wayward child what winter’s all about. She’ll probably give the March lion less meat, just to make him mean.

The February thaw makes me itchy with anticipation. Itchy like a dog until it can roll, blissfully, in sweet, fresh grass. I want to feel the sun more, smell the ground thaw, and see the plants return. I salivate over thoughts of spring greens, fried up with butter and garlic, or whizzed into pesto.

I can think of worse things to be obsessed with. Still, it won’t hurt to maintain my mantra muttering for a while longer. For my own sanity. Happy February thaw everyone.

February 17, 2018
Ottawa, Ontario
4:45 pm, -1° C

Thursday, 29 September 2016

I like weather

The first instalment of the much anticipated new series of weather-related fact sheets, and which will undoubtedly include many other interesting facts about how to humour uncles, squirrel soufflé recipes, and the best time of day to shine one's shoes, by Gail F. Wyndes

Instalment #2016-1Ai: North and South

I like weather. I like reading about weather and watching weather related news. I like talking about the weather with people on the bus or at bus stops, the blood donor bus, and many other bus-related places. School buses are good if you can get on them. Don’t forget about busing tables in restaurants; that not only affords you the chance to chat all things weather with a wide range of people, you also get paid to do it! Unless you are the bus boy in a biker bar, in which case, best to keep your trap shut, your eyes open, and your sneakers laced and ready to run. Or so my Uncle Hemlock used to tell me all the time whilst taking a shit with the door open in our family’s cottage outhouse.

I like experiencing certain types of weather and most definitely I like experiencing certain types of weather much more than others.

The one that really pickles my walnuts is the classic north-south match up.

Have you ever had the pleasure of standing on my porch of a late September evening when a warm southern front meets up with its cooler cousin from the north? Of course you haven’t. We don’t know each other. If you were on my porch and I saw you there, I would ask what you wanted, or not, depending on whether you were a) holding a gun b) holding a puppy c) holding a gun to a puppy’s head. But back to the weather.

As a Canadian, and therefore a weather expert, I wouldn’t lie to you. I might ramble on incoherently, apropos of nothing, non sequiturially, thesaurus in hand, or rather, in what was once a rather chic black leather knapsack, perhaps four hundred years ago, but which has now been so abused that it’s a wonder it stays together at all. I suppose it’s because of the children. But I would never lie.

I shall now relate how I first came to admire, then love this exquisite yet maddeningly too infrequent event.

So. I was standing on my porch of a late September evening. The thermometer read 14 Celsius, which I knew to be our country's secret code for 57 Fahrenheit, but it felt a bit clammy so I wore my heavy fleece jacket. Humidity rising could only mean one thing, I thought: Moisture from the south. As though to reward me for my conclusion (and for being able to even think the word “moisture” without gagging), a warm and flirty wind lovingly caressed my armpit. But the moment the thought was thunk, and the caressed carunked, a shiver ran down my left arm as a north wind suddenly socked me in the bicep, the kind you get from a long lost buddy to whom you still owe $500. Friendly, but with a hint of barely controlled hatred.

After some embarrassing trials and errors, which included many secret, semi-naked meteorological rituals, and which, thankfully, the neighbours didn’t see, I discovered that, by keeping my left arm inside the jacket and my right arm out of it, and tucking the right sleeve, which would otherwise be dangling dangerously by my side, ever threatening to expose my vulnerable left side to the increasingly crotchety north wind, into the waistband of my jeans, I could keep myself at a perfectly even temperature. Slightly warm on one side. Slightly cool on the other. This is a most delicious feeling. I recommend it highly. It may take years before you experience it, so be patient. It is well worth the wait. Like a good soufflĂ© at a fancy restaurant.

Although... I suppose one could create a facsimilous experience if one employed a hot water bottle filled with warm Earl Grey tea on one side of one’s body and a bag of spring time fresh frozen peas that has been allowed to thaw in the reference section of your nearest library for exactly 37 minutes on the other. All I ask it that you don’t do it on my porch.

That’s all for this instalment of I like weather.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Knock knock!

Written for the June 17, 2016 Flash Fiction Challenge:

Knock knock!

I hear the sound of someone rapping at my door. But not. There is no vibration of knuckles on wood. Only the sound, a recorded voice, saying the words.

Knock knock!

I peer out the small frosted window but can't make anything out in the driving snow. It doesn't matter. I know what's behind the door. I pick up the baseball bat with my right hand and unlock then open the door with my left.

Knock knock!

This one hovers, like a hummingbird, in the cold air and snow. When I open the door wide, it corrects itself, backs up and lowers itself to my eyeline. This is a dumb thing to do. I hear the micro-pause just before the phone connects to the voice behind the drone, take a step onto the front porch and swing the bat downwards. I immediately change my stance as the drone loses altitude and almost hits the snow covered deck, but like a fly swatted not hard enough it recovers in time and is on its way back up when I swing again and send it flying into the trunk of a red maple. It smashes to pieces and hits the ground; in less than a minute the detritus is covered over with a fine layer of snow as the lights from within its mangled contents continue to flash.

I retreat inside, lock the door and knock the snow off my slippers. I change into boots and put on my winter coat. I set the kettle to boil, then go to the basement for the bleach. I mix bleach and hot water in a heavy duty plastic spray bottle and go back outside.

A half centimetre of snow now covers the drone and the lights flicker infrequent and choppy. If I didn't know better, I'd feel bad for it. Like maiming an animal and allowing it to suffer a long and painful death. But it's not an animal. It's a drone, sent to hound me, shriek at me, make me break down.

I spray the carcass. It sparks a few times then goes dark. I twist open the spray bottle top and dump the contents onto the remaining pieces. The snow immediately begins covering them up again.

The first two drones they sent I blasted with a shotgun. After the first one, I got a nasty call telling me that the destruction of their property, i.e., the drone, would be added to my bill. After I shot the second drone into a thousand pieces over the yard I was robbed. The garage lock was jimmied and all of my weapons, which had been neatly stored in foam forms in a metal locker, were taken.

After the robbery, I amassed other, less conventional weapons. The baseball bat was an obvious choice but I also placed gardening tools and large kitchen knives throughout rooms in the house along with dozens of undone wire hangers that could be used as whips. The rag mop I left in the kitchen; it was still a useful cleaning tool but I could also see how its dreadlocks could be used to lasso a drone and bring it down like an errant calf.

Sometimes I stop and admire the absurdity that all this is happening because I can't pay a lousy hospital bill. Ten grand it cost when my appendix burst. I was only supposed to be here for a year, and four months in, bam! This happens. The excruciating pain prevented me from asking the ambulance driver to take me to another hospital, anywhere but Amazon General. I'd read the news stories. But that was the closest one. Or the driver was on the Amazon payroll. That wouldn't surprise me.

I am thankful that the doctors at AmGen knew what they were doing and I had no post-operative complications and went home the day after the surgery with a list of do's and don'ts, a prescription for a mild painkiller and one for antibiotics, and an admonishment to take it easy. I followed their diet and took the meds but taking it easy was going to be impossible if I had to fight collection drones every day.

I go back inside. Before I even get my boots off, I've made up my mind. This third drone is the charm that convinces me. They won't stop coming and they could get worse. Much worse. I'd read the news stories.

There is only one sensible thing to do.

It takes three days—three days of fending off multiple drones with the bat, wire whips and a garden spade—but the transport has finally arrived. I'm going home.

After the initial take off and the always jarring leap into hyperspace, I get up from my seat and go to one of the bed cabins. All I want is to sleep but my body is too keyed up and instead I stare out the porthole at the dark space and the stars for what seems forever. Eventually, my muscles relax and my eyelids start to droop.

They shoot open at the sound.

Knock knock!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Make them cry

It was the second last day of Carla's visit with her sister Angela, Angela's husband George and their two children, three-year old Marie and ten-year old George Junior.

Junior, as his family called him, was a smart-mouthed, malicious little monster. The kind of kid who thought nothing of ripping the legs off spiders or the wings off butterflies. The kind of kid who, if he hadn't already, would someday take a shovel and smack a live frog like it was a baseball.

Carla was the only one who called him Georgie. Georgie Porgie. Georgie Porgie, puddin' 'n pie, kissed the girls and made them cry / When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away!

Carla knew it wasn't right to taunt a child, let alone hate one. Nevertheless, she despised her nephew intensely.

After a shopping trip with Angela—during which it was left to Carla to amuse an unamuseable Marie while her sister tried on outfit after outfit in store after store asking each time whether this or that made her look fat—Carla grabbed a beer from the fridge and retreated to the guest room.

Carla kicked off her shoes, twisted off the beer cap and took a swig. She toed the door shut. She opened the balcony doors and took a seat on one of the wicker chairs outside. She looked out at the ravine for a minute then reached beneath the chair and retrieved an empty beer bottle, her ashtray. She smoked a cigarette and popped the butt into the empty bottle, then took a pack of chips from her purse, opened them and wolfed them down. She gargled with beer to dislodge the potato mush that stuck to her teeth.

The sun was setting and the afternoon had grown cooler and windier. A sudden gust blew the balcony doors inward and Carla started at the sound of a door slamming. She turned and started again. Sitting in the middle of the duvet, picking his filthy fingernails, was George Junior.

"Christ! You scared the shit outta me!" Carla grabbed her cigarettes and lit one.

"You said shit! You said shit!"

"Make yourself useful," Carla said. "Go get me another beer."

"Get it yourself. 'Sides, Dad says you drink too much of his beer."

She knew it was wrong to want to scare the bejesus out Georgie Porgie but she did. Oh God, how she did! Short of backhanding him with all of her rings on, she thought, frightening him half to death would be the next best thing, maybe even better. It might do a little long-term damage. But how?

And she knew that that was even more wrong. A smack is a smack. Most kids get over those. Scarring a psyche was just plain mean.

Once George Junior realized that his aunt wasn't going to say anything about him saying shit, twice, he said, "You're not allowed to smoke in the house."

"I'm not in the house, am I?" Carla said, a little nastily. She blew smoke in his direction but the wind shifted and the smoke drifted to the other side of the room. She adjusted her chair. She watched her nephew pick at his fingernails a while longer, using the time to entertain a few pleasant scenarios, well, pleasant for her, when he said something that gave her a delicious idea.

"My mom's got enormous knockers. What happened to yours?"

Carla savoured the moment. The anticipation of his terrified white face. He might even cry! Or wet himself. She dropped the cigarette in the beer bottle and heard the heater sizzle as it hit the bottom. She stood up and faced her nephew.

"You really want to know?" she asked. She stood framed in the doorway, the wind ruffling her dark curly brown hair. She glanced over her shoulder. Thunderclouds were piling into one another and she could smell rain in the air. Far off she heard a low rumble.

At the thunder George Junior looked up from his fingernails and past his aunt to the slate grey sky. An ever-so-slight look of panic crossed his face but he recovered and shrugged. "Sure."

"It was about ten years ago," Carla began, lighting another cigarette. "The year you were born, in fact."

George Junior didn't especially like his Aunt Carla. She called him Georgie Porgie and although she had never said it, he knew that she hated him because he was fat. This was, in fact, not true at all. Carla despised him not his weight. She was, however, the most interesting relative he had. She smoked and drank and wore "outrageous outfits," according to his mother.

"Do you know what a mammogram is?" Carla asked.

"Yeah," he said. He didn't. This wasn't turning out as interesting as he'd hoped. When she hadn't freaked over him saying shit, he had upped the ante with knockers, but she still hadn't taken the bait.

"Oh I don't think you do," she said. She smoked her cigarette, biding her time. "A mammogram," she finally continued, "is a medical procedure. Women have it done to see if their br—knockers are healthy."

George Junior's eyebrows twitched in puzzlement but he kept his questions to himself. Sheet lightning lit up the sky and aunt and nephew silently, and unknown to the other, counted the seconds.

One, two, three, four, five. Thunder.

"Turns out, mine weren't. Healthy that is."



One, two, three, four. Thunder. A little louder this time.  A little closer.

"That's hard to explain but I knew for sure when I had that mammogram." She paused and her nephew didn't disappoint. Children could be so easily led.

"Why? What happened?" George Junior sat up on his knees. He leaned forward, his fingernails forgotten.

"I had to go to the hospital and have them checked by a machine."

Carla stepped into the room and moved toward the bed.

"A machine?" George Junior tried to imagine what a machine that checked knockers would look like.

"Hmm hmm. A machine."


One, two, three. Very loud. Tree branches thrashed dangerously in the wind and Carla could hear her sister's wind chimes jingling frantically on the porch below.

"They put my knockers in the machine. It was like a vice," Carla said, coming up to the edge of the bed. She bent over her nephew, grabbed her small breasts in her hands and squeezed them together.


She stood up.


"Flattened 'em!"


"Blew 'em out like a tire!"


Carla clapped her hands together in front of her nephew's face as the thunder boomed. George Junior screeched and fell backwards off the bed.

Carla crawled slowly onto the mattress and looked over the side. Her nephew was sprawled on the floor, his shirt untucked. He was panting. She leaned over and pointed a finger close to his crotch.

"Imagine having your balls squished. In a vice."

As Carla smacked her hands together again the sharp crack of thunder was a rifle shot out of nowhere. No lightning had foretold its arrival.

George Junior bolted for the door, flailing at the doorknob, and screaming for his mother.

"Oh Georgie Porgie," Carla called after him. "Grab me another beer, won't you?"