Archive for the ‘Don’ Category
This evening marks the second anniversary of Don’s death. Over the past two years, I’ve written about the attempt I’ve made to carry on alone with my dogs Sabrina and Sage. Today, I’d like to write about Don, to give those of you who never met him in person, a better idea of who he was and why he still means so much to me.
Don and I met through our work and married very young. He was 21 and I was 18. Here’s an old photo of us working on our first vegetable garden. My childhood dog, Frisky, is in that photo – a theme that is repeated in just about every photo that I have of Don – there’s always a dog, a horse, a cat, a goat, or even a chicken in the picture. Don loved all creatures great and small. During our time together, we had 6 dogs, 2 horses, a rather large herd of dairy goats, several cats, geese, ducks, and chickens.
When I first met him, he did not really know how to ride a horse, but before long, he was loping around on my horse and enjoyed that so much that we soon bought him his own horse. As in almost everything he attempted, he learned quickly and had a natural athletic ability. One of my favourite anecdotes concerns a work-related convention in Arizona which he attended a couple of years before he died. One of the social events was some kind of barbecue at a ranch. Part of the event involved a hay wagon ride, or the option of driving some cattle with the ranch wranglers. All of the managers with the exception of Don and another one or two fellows, rode the hay wagon. Don rode with the wranglers and had a great time, reporting to me on how they gave him a wonderfully trained cutting horse and that the wranglers were wowed at his riding abilities. I guess they weren’t too accustomed to convention goers who were so at home in the saddle.
I had hoped to find the photo album with our dairy goat photos, but it’s stashed in a box somewhere upstairs. I’d wanted to post a photo of Don showing one of our dairy goats. A couple of you who are reading this post will probably be able to remember the days when we showed goats throughout eastern Ontario. Don was an excellent showman, able to show any goat to look its very best. He frequently pitched in and showed for friends who needed an extra showman and would do his level best to win, even when he was competing against me showing one of our own animals! He enjoyed participating in and quite frequently won the showmanship class whenever there was one offered for adult competitors. We had a lot of fun and made many friends during the 20 or so years that we exhibited our herd.
All of our animals loved Don. He was an exceedingly kind person and I think that most creatures knew this. At one point, we had a little hen that we named Chik-Chik and made a pet of as she was so tiny and something of an outcast from the flock. She took to wandering up to the house and perching on the front porch railings and would sit on Don’s shoulder or arm whenever he sat outside on his lawn chair in the shade to read a book. In the above photo, Chik-Chik is rubbing her head on Don’s arm (click on all photos for larger views).
Don and I were both dog lovers and kept mainly Rough Collies for the 34 years we were together. Over those years, we did a great deal of hiking, snowshoeing and canoeing and our dogs were an important part of our very active lives. The dogs in the above photo were about 3 and 5 when we lost both of them within the space of 8 weeks to a very mysterious and aggressive form of lymphosarcoma. It was a very heartbreaking experience for both of us. I make mention of this as the loss of these dogs, and another to bone cancer, and another to a non-specific form of cancer, then my father’s death, and then Don’s death to cancer, has left me with strong feelings of the ephemeral nature of our lives and how seemingly healthy humans and animals can be gone in just a few weeks or months. This feeling has changed absolutely everything about my views on life, living, and death. I now find it impossible to take much of anything seriously, or to hope or care too much for the future.
Anyhow, back to Don, the topic of this post. I worked with Don occasionally over the years. We both started out in the automotive parts business and for a number of years, we even worked on the same parts counter in a busy car and truck garage. He went on to become the parts manager at a car dealership out near our farm. I worked elsewhere, managing the office at an auto parts recycler. Later, I went back to university to earn an M.A. and used to do freelance writing under contract to organizations and government. However, occasionally Don would ask me to come and work with him when he had employees on long-term leave of absence for illness. That industry is fast paced and often difficult – a lot of stress and everyone wanting their stuff yesterday. Don had a great attitude and regardless of how unreasonable and annoying other people behaved, he rarely treated anyone badly, although I did see that change in later years when he felt he’d had enough of that business. After deciding that the time had come, we made plans to retire in 2008. We intended to sell our farm and move to Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, a few months before all of this was to take place, Don was diagnosed with cancer and our plans were immediately destroyed. The rest is history – Don fought the cancer for several months, but died in September 2008. And, as you know from reading this blog, I have struggled to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives. I did sell the farm and did end up buying a place in Nova Scotia. Everything else about my life is still just a strange and murky shadow, but I carry on as that’s about all you can do when these kinds of things happen.
Anyhow, one thing I’ve learned over the past two years is that it’s best not to think too much about how things turned out. Instead, it’s probably better to focus on what was good and try to ignore the bad. What I now remember most about Don is that he had his priorities straight. People he worked with probably never realized that, when he shut the door behind him, he tuned out all of the crap and did whatever he felt like doing. To him, his job was just a job and nothing more. Once he was home, that was it — he would do what he liked. He loved nothing better than tossing the canoe on the roof of the truck, or packing a lunch and taking off to go canoeing or hiking somewhere. Even the coldest days of winter would not deter us from snowshoeing for many miles at favourite haunts. Mill Pond Conservation Area, Murphy’s Point, and Charleston Lake, were just a few of the places that became our second homes. Over the years, we paddled everything from the narrowest creeks to the largest lakes in eastern Ontario. We were both strong hikers and flat water paddlers and could cover many miles during a day. I’m very glad that we had all of those years spent on the trails and waters as those were very special times for both of us. We often talked about just that thing when Don became ill and could no longer get out and about. I don’t think two people could have squeezed much more out of our lives than we did, so at least we were not left with the kind of regrets that haunt so many people whose priorities are badly misplaced.
I should mention that a side of Don that few people knew about, was that he loved theater and enjoyed taking in everything from local fringe festival performances, to Shakespeare at Stratford. He had a wonderful knowledge of art, and more particularly of Inuit art. He could often recognize the sculptures of one or another Inuit artist at a glance. He also became an excellent naturalist, knowing the names of many of the plants and animals that I photographed. In time, he became incredibly adept at finding even the smallest creature when we were hiking the trails.
On a personal level, what I valued most about Don was that, for the most part, he was a very easy-going person. Although he was quiet and serious, he also knew how to have fun. He was always ready to drop everything and go somewhere – anywhere – in a minute. Some years we would decide it was too expensive to go to Nova Scotia for our vacation, and then on the day that he was to start holidays, one or the other of us would call and say, “Hey, let’s just take off and go to Nova Scotia. What the hell.” I’d spend the afternoon packing the van and making salads, and within hours, we could be on our way out east. Vacations were always great fun – camped in our tent with our dog, walking the beaches, hiking favourite trails, and stopping at roadside stands so that he could buy a big order of fried clams (I was a vegetarian, so skipped the clams and went for the fries). We were not only husband and wife, but best of friends and had so many terrific adventures together over the years.
Of course, all of that has ended now. Anything I do from this point onwards, I do alone with the dogs. Our canoe is loaned out to friends who, I hope, have been putting it to good use this summer. Next year, I’ll probably see about picking it up, but things won’t be the same without my most excellent canoe partner. In truth, nothing is, or will ever be the same again, but I attempt to carry on as that’s what Don would have wanted.
To Don. I miss you. I will always love you.
NOTE: A few more photos of Don may be found in this gallery.
ALSO NOTE: Comments seem to be taking awhile to actually show up on my blog at the moment. I think it’s some WordPress glitch. Just go ahead and leave them. I ‘m seeing them in the Admin screen, but just not below the post. I expect they’ll all show up later. Sorry about that.
Last week, I began working on what I regard as communication issues. The past couple of years, I’ve used a blackberry for email, and then relied mainly on wifi hotspots for using the laptop. I used modem sticks a little last year too – and have continued to use one here at the house this summer. However, my laptop suffered some damage last winter and only works when it is plugged in – it can’t run off battery power anymore. I was looking to replace it and decided to buy one of the new 3G + wifi enabled iPads, thinking that might work out to be a good solution and perhaps even replace the blackberry in time. I bought the iPad but have had quite a time trying to get the 3G enabled. Fortunately, I’m fairly patient or I would have thrown in the towel on the weekend. Anyhow, it’s still not set up, but I’ll just keep working away at that over the next few days during those times when I feel like I can handle a little frustration. However, today doesn’t happen to be one of those days.
I’m not much for keeping track of dates or even the time of day anymore. In most of my past lives, the time, dates, and deadlines were a big part of my world. Not now. With just the dogs and myself, structured time is almost meaningless. Instead, time has become an abstract thing considered only in terms of the weather and what can be done that day — morning walk, make breakfast, wash and hang up laundry on clothesline, repair and paint siding, afternoon walk, work on a trail in the woods, bring in dry laundry, make evening dinner, talk to my mom on the phone, answer email, do some mothing, and so on. All days are both the same but different. However, regardless of the sameness, I am very aware of the passage of time. I don’t need to look at the calendar buried under a stack of books in order to know that the angle of sunlight is changing, or that goldenrod and asters have replaced daisies and fireweed in the garden. Gone are the warblers, to be replaced by the coarse shrieks and screams of several families of Blue Jays and Crows hatched in the springtime in the woods surrounding my house.
I may not know the date, but am acutely aware of where I was two years ago, and then last year, at this point in the summer. For the rest of you, early September may hold some significance as the time of year when your children return to school, or you to your teaching job, or when you begin to think about closing up the cottage, or freezing the last of the green beans in the garden. For me, this is the time of year when my thoughts turn to my last days caring for Don and saying goodbye as he departed from what had become, for both of us, a world of pain. It’s the time of year when I sold our farm and gave away or put our belongings into storage, then packed up the van and traveled north, then west, then south. To many of you, two years may seem like a long time. To me, it seems more like a long day, or perhaps a fleeting week, since I held Don in my arms as he departed on his own journey. The clock has ticked onwards, but my thoughts are frozen in a place that exists outside of any clock or calendar. For me, there is only before time, and after time, and now time. It is now time where you might find me on most days, standing upon a ladder as I re-nail and paint siding, or plaster walls here at the old house. And now time is that place where I stop the van by a lake, set up the camp stove to make our dinner and rest for a day or two. Although I may seem to be here with you now, I am in another place that you cannot see or know.
In any case, I continue to work away here at the house. Progress has been made over the summer. Below is a paired photo of the house as it looked on April 23rd, and another as it looked in mid-August (click on all images for larger views). Since the latest photos, most of the exterior has been given its final coat of white paint — yes, I decided to go with white after all! Being a modified Greek Revival, it is in the style that was usually painted white to give it the feel of a Greek temple. After working on the place for awhile – well, it seemed to be asking to be painted white. Over the next week or two, I’ll be shifting from finishing up the summer work, to closing up the house for winter. Already, I have begun to pack the gear and belongings that will be needed for many weeks of camping and travel, and for a winter spent in the south. For me, this is an odd time, filled with memories of past years – some good, some extremely sad – as before time and after time converge with now time — as we make ready to depart this place and travel wherever our road may lead.