Mid August


Mid August, and most days I feel like, this year, summer never really got started. Maybe it’s the weather, or the political climate, but something feels off-kilter. My potted veg and herbs are in shock; it’s been either torrential rain or temps in the 90s – sometimes in the same 24 hours – every day since they were planted. Sodden pots sit cheek by jowl with containers so arid they threaten to burst into flame. There won’t be much of a harvest this year.

Mid August, and the back to school sales have started. Being an eternal student at heart, I always get really excited about 3 ring binders, coloured pencils, pencil cases, and the like. Which is probably why I have about ten boxes in storage of said items. I’m a victim of stationery covetousness.

The kids playing on the block look like they’re done with summer. Perhaps they are apprehensive about returning to the restrictions of another year of school, of seeing if their old friends have changed, and of having to meet new people who may be friend or foe. Or maybe they’re just caught their parents’ malaise. Either way, the little girl that pushes the doll stroller up and down the street while wearing her mother’s high heels just doesn’t seem to have as much enthusiasm for the task these days.

Mid August, when we postpone the reality of the coming chill with a two week, overheated, ExTravaganza! Yes, the CNE began on Friday, with Burton Cummings and the boys kicking it off with their usual flair.

CNE midwayThe Ex holds less appeal for me every year. I’m still mourning the loss of the Alpine Way, and my ears still keen to hear the dulcet tones of the barker demanding that we come to see the “Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla GURL!”

It’s all downhill after the Gorilla Girl leaves. I can’t even be motivated by fried chicken feet.

Mid August, and news that the legendary recording studio, Le Studio, in Morin Heights (about 90 kilometres north-west of Montreal,) has been destroyed by fire, possibly arson. This, coming just a week or two after news that a successful GoFundMe project had enabled musician Richard Baxter to begin renovating the old girl with a team of volunteers.

Founded in 1974 by Quebec record producer Andre Perry, the studio and residence was once the ‘go to’ spot for Canadian and international artists, including Rush, the Police, the Bee Gees, Sting, Roberta Flack, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, April Wine, Keith Richards and the Ramones.

But not me. I never even had the pleasure of visiting the place, which was a pity, because I spent some pretty formative years in the area as a teen. I’ve always liked to tell myself that Le Studio was built on the site of the old Alpino Lodge. I neither know nor care if that is true.

In the 60’s, my friend Marianne and I would camp by the little lake that wound it’s path around and about the Alpino, babysitting her younger brother, fishing for our food, and generally waiting for the weekend to arrive and the party to start. Those were the days when it was not only possible for a couple of 14 year old girls to be abandoned in the woods for a week at a time, near a lodge that catered to the wealthy and the jaded, with only an eight year old boy as companion and protector, but for said kiddies to not only survive, but thrive, and indeed have a very merry time.

true romance magWhat did we do all day, I asked myself recently. How did we fill all of the hours when we weren’t minding the brat, fishing, picking berries, tending the smoky fire, or reading soggy comic books and True Romance magazines? Mostly we talked, for hours at a time, about our dreams, hopes, and fears. Some days, I’d make Marianne laugh so hard that she’d pee her pants. If I was in a mood, I’d keep it up until her week’s worth of undies were all strung up on nearby branches.

And we’d wait for Friday night. On Friday night, Marianne’s mother and boyfriend would arrive from Montreal, bringing supplies, and freeing us from babysitting duties. On Friday night, we’d clean ourselves up as best we could, and present our under aged selves to the Lodge, where the full spectrum of Morin Heightians, converged for an evening of dancing and drinking. No one frowned on a young woman or man dancing with an older woman or man, or even a man dancing with another man. The point was the dance, the movement sparked by the music of a local combo giving it all they’d got. And no one asked for i.d.

When the night’s entertainment packed up, the teens that had been slouching on the lodge’s porch, smoking home rolleds and doobies that they would light with a wooden match struck on a boot sole or a pant zipper, would all pile into the back of some sixteen year old guy’s pickup truck. We didn’t need no steenback of pickupking seat belts! And off we’d go, the gang of us, with maybe a dog, and a musical instrument or two for company, headlong down the steep road, high as kites, heading for the dam so that we could continue the revelry, at least until the purple micro dots wore off and/or the sun came up.

(My daughter told me recently that she’ll not allow her eight year old daughter to walk the two blocks to school by herself until Kay’s about twelve. Or maybe thirteen. And then, only if there’s a friend nearby who’ll walk with her. In the daytime. Two blocks away. Different times.)

Mid August, and many of my friends are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love. I remember schoolmates who got caught up in the hoopla and abandoned the city for hippie dreams, disappearing in a puff of smoke and patchouli, heading for communal farms that put the lie to the middle class dream of suburbia and two car garages. hippies 60s communeI wonder what ever happened to Donna, the dreamy blue eyed beauty that loved the Monkees as much as I did, but chose a hardscrabble life mucking out barns instead, determined to stand by her longhaired, drug dealing, man. Is she still living in rural Canada or America, amidst macrame pot holders and peace symbols? Or did she wake up one morning and realize in a horror stricken panic that she could have been and done anything she wanted to, had she chosen differently?

Mid August, and my flabber is still ghasted when I contemplate the summer madness that allows some, in the U.S., and sadly, even in Canada, to agree with Trump that the removal of these ‘beautiful’ statues erected to honour Confederate generals would be a hardship upon those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see such ‘works of art.’

Can you hear the dog whistle in that observation?

ugly confed statueBecause, it is implied, even if the art is not Louvre-worthy, that people of colour, and the inner city poor, should at least have the opportunity to feast their eyes upon such statuary. That the monument honours a man in support of slavery and a slave trade that treated the park’s attendees ancestors as human cattle, is a mere peccadillo in their eyes.

A year ago, Zyahna, a young, African-American resident of the city of Charlottesville, petitioned for the removal of one such statue, and to have the park she and her friends frequented re-named from Robert E. Lee Park to Lee Park, saying, “I am often exposed to different forms of racism that are embedded in the history of the south and particularly this city. It makes us feel uncomfortable and it is very offensive.

When I think of Robert E. Lee I instantly think of someone fighting in favor of slavery. Thoughts of physical harm, cruelty, and disenfranchisement flood my mind. … I am offended every time I pass it. I am reminded over and over again of the pain of my ancestors and all of the fighting that they had to go through for us to be where we are now. Quite frankly I am disgusted with the selective display of history in this city. There is more to Charlottesville than just the memories of Confederate fighters. There is more to this city that makes it great.

Let’s not forget that Robert E. Lee fought for perpetual bondage of slaves and the bigotry of the South that kept most black citizens as slaves and servants for the entirety of their lives. As a result, legislatures of the south chose to ignore and turn a blind eye to the injustices of African Americans from Jim Crow and anti-black terrorism to integrated education. These are all some things that this statue stands for. It is about more than just an individual, but rather what that individual believes in and the things that he stands for.”

In 2016, the petition fell just 270 supporters short of it’s goal of 1000 in concurrence with her appeal. A year later, the city council did indeed agree with young Zyahna, putting into motion a series of events that would ultimately lead to the death of one young woman, and two police officers.

bread and circusesMake no mistake; the decision to remove the statue was a democratic decision. The reasoning behind the removal was sound, fiscally conservative, and sensitive to ALL of the residents of the city, not just those who wanted it to remain.

The only ones incensed by the decision were those who continue to believe that the emotions and history of white Americans are innately superior to those of other colours. Even the sidestep, that defends the artistry of the statues while denying the inherent racism implied, revolves around the right of white Americans to continue fawning over defeated, racist and bigoted leaders over the sensibility of those who were physically, emotionally, and financially damaged by those same leaders.

“Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.”

Will this cataclysmic rift in ideology tear the country in half, ending in a Civil War Part Deux? And, more importantly for we in the North, as we read the words of many Canadians on social media agreeing with this cockeyed rationale for racist ‘art’, is Canada moving relentlessly towards a similar, more openly racist and bigoted point of view?

Mid August, and it’s never felt so much like that black day in July, 50 years ago …

 

Back To The Garden


My gardens have been calling me lately. For years I gave up on them – the hostas, the shrubs, the berry bushes and the salsa garden – allowing frustration and depression to stomp all over my joy in the feel of good earth under my nails, and the delights of helping things grow. Plants ask very little of their tenders – some water when it’s hot and dry, a little pruning away of dead growth so that new, young sprouts have room – but even that was too much to ask of me for almost a decade. I withdrew from the earth, and from most people.

While the plants may not hold a grudge, some did give in to the neglect. The rhubarb that flourished in spring simply gave up a few years ago, even as the cuttings I had given to friends continued to thrive. The strawberries were buried under creeping groundcover, although I’ll occasionally still find the odd outcrop where it’s least expected, and sadly, quite likely to be accidentally mowed. The century rose, a beauty that now only exists as a cultivar, simply stopped making an effort, and quietly perished.

But most of the shrubs and bushes, bless ‘em, made it through, albeit begrudgingly, and muddled on, doing their survival thing. It’s been a long week of snipping and hard pruning, and will take at least another week to complete, but little by little, the gardens are returning to their natural beauty. I, however, am currently covered in ugly scratches and welts, nursing a few bug bites, and not much liking the discomfort of taking a poke in the eye from an ungrateful stem trimming.

cdn farmerGardening is not for everyone. We may have once been a nation of “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” but nowadays, many people consider physical and menial labour demeaning, something to pawn off on the unskilled and unambitious, or to contract out to uniformed and franchised professionals.  Actual farmers in Canada rely a great deal on machinery to keep their acres going.

Of course, every job requires some sort of skill, and good gardeners command a hefty price for their services. For a short while, many years ago, I worked as a professional ‘Plant Doctor,’ charged with tending to those forests of greenery downtown office buildings put in to seem eco-friendly. It was a good job, and I should have appreciated the opportunity, rather than thinking it just a way to make a few bucks until something better came along. After all, my father’s family were farmers in Alberta, so I suppose I’m genetically predisposed to understanding why and how to do gardeny things.

tree pruningGardening requires focus. I have always found a kind of primal joy in concentrating completely on one stalk, one stem, one leaf, studying the foliage for signs of disease, rejoicing in new buds, snipping carefully in the direction of the node to encourage growth. There’s also dismay in discovering that, despite appearances, there’s no trace of green left in a branch, no matter how far down you snip.

Some plants are vicious, armed with spurs and thorns that rip the skin, while others defend themselves with noxious scents. Many more are gentle, seeming to exist only to protect their future progeny. Some may surprise you; while trimming a rather ordinary looking gangly  shrub, I was nearly overcome with an aroma so intoxicating I could only describe it as what I imagine the poppy field in the Wizard of Oz must have smelled  like … dreamy, languorous, and utterly seductive.

There’s even joy in the inevitable aches and pains that hard work brings. Oh, you think, when did I stop using that particular muscle? Good to know it’s still there, even if cranky from being woken up! Bones and joints, lulled by the comforts of a winter indoors, creak a little, and sun-starved skin blushes if left uncovered too long.

dv885008And does anything taste more perfectly right than an ice cold drink at the end of an exhaustingly physical day? For me, it would preferably be a beer, guzzled straight from the can or bottle, holding the sweating tin or glass against your forehead between sips … that’s a little bit of heaven right there.

There’s so much righteousness in rinsing off the sweat of hard work done well in a cool shower on a hot day. Or of indulging in a lengthy soak in an Epsom salted bath that leeches the tired right out of your marrow; these are simple pleasures, gifts we give ourselves, payment for a job well done.

Gardening also takes you away from the banalities of social media, the bleating of commercial television, the door rapping of salesmen, religious proselytizers and those who want into your basement to read meters. I’ll only rarely even bring a radio out while I commune with nature, preferring to concentrate on the task at hand, while bits of summer songs play in my head. No people allowed, no spectators, no one to disturb a free flowing train of thought …

Even the drudgery of lawn mowing can be relieved – I used to drive my landscaping neighbour crazy with my erratic mower movements – though I called it ‘dancing.’   “NO, Roxanne,” he’d say, “THIS is the proper  way to mow a lawn!”  And then he’d demonstrate how to mow lovely straight lines on his impeccable, professionally grown lawn, completely unaware of his own little hip flips at the end of each track.  It cannot be denied – the aroma of freshly mown grass lifts the spirits and frees even the most tightly wound.

Philosophically, good horticulture practice is less about mucking around in the mud, and more about re-establishing our connection with the planet, its bounties and its boundaries. We’re reminded forcibly that there is only so much of anything to go around, be it space, food, or water, and that sometimes a ruthless triage must be carried out, sacrificing a few to ensure survival of the many. Neglect may seem harmless for a time, but eventually, lack of care will take its toll, harming even the strongest, and slaying the weakest.

In nature, variation in colour is a cause for wonder – there’s a whole segment of the agricultural community that does nothing but dream up, crossbreed, and name new variants. Crossbreeding, whether done through serendipity or intentionally, most often creates a new hardiness in the plant, or fulfills a need we hadn’t yet known we’d had.

tomatoesSome have a practical take on maintaining a garden, be they the stalwarts who continue to coax vines and stalks into existence as their parents did before them, or the grocery store gardener who just wants to get a break on the cost of tomatoes and herbs. For the price of a few seeds or a seedling, we become like minor gods, with the power of life and death over these potential lives.  As pragmatic as patio or backyard farming may seem, we should never underestimate the simple joy of biting into a fat, ripe, sun heated, home grown tomato, or the satisfaction and pride of a successful fall harvest.

For you, for me, for plants, and for the planet – time always moves forward. There’s no going back and undoing what wasn’t done, no way to undo harm done by neglect or accident. Gardens remind us that, for everything, there is a season. And the season is always ‘now.’

 

(first published May 2016: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/roxanne-tellier-back-to-the-garden/)

May Day! May Day!


It’s May the first – a day when most of the northern hemisphere officially decides, “that’s it. Done with winter. Bring on the sun and the fun!”

I’ve always thought that May 1st would be a better start to the year then January 1st.No one feels much like kick-starting anything more than the snow blower in winter. May, on the other hand, is when you can shed the many layers you’ve bundled yourself into over the darkest months, like a snake sloughing off its outgrown skin.

naked gardeningEven the armchairiest of armchair gardeners eyes the sprouts of green peeking out of the earth, and tells themselves lies about the magic they’ll coax from the soil this year. Dreams of successful planting and transplanting, and visions of exotic fruits fresh plucked from your own trees, dance through your head like the sugarplums of Christmas. Garden paths that never overgrow! Bushels of perfectly formed, organic vegetables! Idyllic afternoons whiled away in draped pergolas, desultorily conversing with like-minded friends.

All of which lasts for about a week or ten days, before the great outdoors is abandoned in favour of a good book and a comfy couch safely indoors, where there are no midges or crawly things.

No one is immune from May’s siren call. Even Led Zeppelin couldn’t help but reference the occasion. “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now, It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.”

Ai eee! Spring cleaning! Washing your winter-stained windows in order to let the bright spring sun illuminate the dust bunnies you’ve cultivated whilst cocooning. Many gallons of cleaning goop will be purchased and used in the next few days, in a frenzy of scouring away the winter blues. Followed by many doctors being consulted for pain killers to numb the injuries stemming from long unused muscles strained during that frenzy.

vulcan and maiaI would much prefer to just dance around a flagpole, dressed in a long gown and draped with flowers, vying to be crowned the Queen of May, as they do in Europe. I mean, the month of May was named for the Greek goddess Maia, who was identified with the earlier Roman goddess of fertility, Bona Dea, whose festival was held in May. I’ll even take the pre-Christian Roman celebrations that revolved around Flora, the goddess of flowers, or celebrate Walpurgis Night or Beltane with the witches. In any case, my first act upon being crowned Queen would be to dispense with ritual house cleaning, in favour of far more civilized communal celebrations, rejoicing at the promise of another sun-filled summer.  Vote for me!

The pagan holidays were sacrificed as Europe became Christianised, mores the pity. Traditionally, May Day was associated with fertility; the earth is reborn,  the cattle get frisky, and, with less clothing to get in the way, people tend to get a little friskier themselves. The church frowned on frisky.

But still, traditions remain. And some should be revived! In some part of the United States, early American settlers made small May Day baskets, filled with flowers or treats, and left them at the doorstep of someone they fancied. “The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver; if caught, a kiss is exchanged.” (Wikipedia) flaming dog poop

That sounds a lot more fun than leaving flaming bags of poop on the doorsteps of unfriendly neighbours.

If you were up very early this morning, you might have heeded the call sent by the Facebook group, Toronto Morris Men. “Sunrise in Toronto on 1st May 2016 is at 06:09. We’ll be at High Park, will you join us?”

Copyright ©2014 Ruth Lor Malloy

Copyright ©2014 Ruth Lor Malloy

It’s an old custom still celebrated in Ontario.  “In Toronto, on the morning of May 1, various Morris Dancing troops from Toronto and Hamilton gather on the road by Grenadier Cafe, in High Park to “dance in the May”. The dancers and crowd then gather together and sing traditional May Day songs such as Hal-An-Tow and Padstow.” (Wikipedia)

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the last century, and thanks to social democrats and unions, May 1 has become much less fanciful. Here’s a “did you know?” for you … What trade unions and labour movements now celebrate as the May 1st International Workers Day, started as a response to the annual holiday that stemmed from a union strike in Toronto. In December 1872, the Toronto Typographical Union staged a parade in support of the strike for a 58-hour work-week that had been going on since March of that year. George Brown (yes, he of George Brown College) was editor of the Toronto Globe at the time, and he called for the police to charge the union with “conspiracy,” which resulted in 24 leaders of the union being arrested. (Laws criminalising union activities had already been abolished in England, but were still on the books in Canada.)

It was the seven trade unions that marched in Ottawa in protest that finally pushed then Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, to repeal the anti-union laws, and pass the Trade Union Act in 1873. We have been celebrating the occasion on the first Monday in September ever since.

In 1882, trade unionists in the United States, inspired by the Toronto unions’ bravery and success, proposed a similar holiday. But the Labour Day holiday did not become official until 1894, and still did not quite address the spirit of the movement.may day solidarity

The May 1st International Workers Day evolved from the 1904 International Socialist Conference in Amsterdam, when the Sixth Conference of the Second International, called on “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.”

May 1st was chosen to commemorate the May 1886 Haymarket incident in Chicago, where a bomb was thrown at police attempting to disperse a public assembly calling for an eight-hour workday. In response, the police fired on the workers, and killed four demonstrators.

It might then be logical to assume that the term chosen to indicate a state of emergency (Mayday!) would have come from the Chicago incident as well. But it actually originated in 1923, when a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, England, was asked to decide on a word easily understood by pilots and ground staff in an emeFrederick Stanley Mockfordrgency.

“Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, Frederick Stanley Mockford proposed the word “Mayday” from the French “m’aider”, a shortened version of “venez m’aider” (meaning “come and help me”). (Wikipedia)

The term, always said three times in repetition, replaced the Morse code SOS. Calling Mayday!is now taken so seriously in the United States that it is a federal crime to make a false distress call, and will get you up to six years in jail, and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

may day 2016At the moment, it’s a gray, chilly morning in Toronto. I missed the Morris Dancers, (rats!) but if I hustle, I can get down to the square at Yonge and Dundas, where a rally and march will begin at 1:00 pm. This year’s theme highlights the struggles of resistance to anti-black racism, police brutality, and issues deeply affecting black communities, along with Indigenous sovereignty, gender justice, anti-poverty and anti-austerity organizations.

Or, in the spirit of my ancestors, I could find me a May Pole to dance around, and a hedgerow with a bustle looking for a May queen. I always did fancy being royalty for a day …

(first published at bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/roxanne-tellier-may-day-may-day/)