Archive for September, 2012
I’m back home for awhile now – getting the van ready for our long autumn trek across the continent. It may surprise some of you to know that I barely drive between the long voyages. On average, I use about two tanks of gas in summer and two in winter. I’m not really much for driving around between the places where I toss out my anchor and rest awhile. It’s the in-between migrations that cause me to get behind the wheel. Otherwise, I am quite happy not to leave my property for days, or even weeks. I have always preferred solitude and trying to live an uncomplicated life. It’s just that events in my life keep getting in the way.
So, the last potatoes were dug out of the garden, farewells said to my very good next door neighbours who recently celebrated their 65th anniversary. It’s difficult to say goodbye. I usually take the newspaper in each morning, give the odd haircut, bring vegetables in from the garden, play a little fiddle, and share the odd story. It’s nice to have such good friends so close by. But now my old project house – the oasis in what is the otherwise pretty difficult ocean of my life – has been locked up until my next return.
Of course, my departure was not without a little turmoil. As I rushed around taking care of last minute tasks while trying not to forget any small detail, I suddenly noticed that Sage was not dogging me the way she usually does. Normally, when it looks as though I am close to leaving to go somewhere, she sticks to my heels like a burr. She had been doing so all morning and then, poof, I realized that I was alone. That sensation of alone-ness has become quite conspicuous since Sabrina’s death in May. Wherever I go, there is an emptiness, a sort of hollow feeling like staring upon the inside of an empty drum which echoes with faint scrabblings of the past.
I tore around the house calling Sage’s name, then out onto the front lawn and into the back garden. I looked down upon the brook which, after a summer of drought, was now practically seething after a couple of torrential rains. However, Sage never goes down the hill to the brook on her own, so I dismissed that dreadful possibility. Instead, I thought of the incident a couple of weeks ago when the male pheasant from the pair that nests in a nearby field, appeared close to the house, tempting Sage to follow as he wandered off through the tall grass, occasionally emitting one of his weird little honks.
And so I ran up and down the field, calling frantically, clapping my hands in my usual summoning gesture. I kept that up for a good 20 minutes, managing to race all over my own property and back to the decommissioned railway line trail. Finally, exhausted, I returned to the house, feeling rather like collapsing – not from fatigue, but because I felt emotionally smashed at losing one of the last anchors that holds my life in check, preventing it from cartwheeling into the darkness of some distant galaxy.
If there is one thing that can be said about my life, it is that it is not without drama. When it is not someone close to me giving a last breath, or a great chunk of frozen mud flying off a truck to smash in the front of my van, or a boat flying off a trailer in my lane on a freeway, well… it is always something, isn’t it? However, sometimes something good happens. As I stood in the garden trying to think of what to do, I heard two sharp barks – familiar happy barks. I turned, slowly doing a 180 while running my eyes over the lawn, woods and house. Again, two more sharp barks, and then Sage’s gleeful dog grin at the window in a barely used room of the house. I had been in and out of it for about 15 seconds shortly before she went missing. As my mother describes, Sage is like a wisp of smoke that can slip through the smallest crack of an open door. She must have followed into the room when I tossed some papers onto a table before shutting the door for the season. Of course, I was relieved, but also left to ponder at what ease that familiar feeling of devastation manages to surge forward to hammer me. One would think that four years of struggling along, rebuilding my life and attempting to repair my psyche, would have stood me in better stead to deal with potential trauma, but now I have confirmed that that is not that case. It’s quite unsettling to know that, in spite of all that I have done to quash the anxiety resulting from the abandonment inflicted by Don’s death, I seem to be no stronger than I was at day one. In fact, maybe I’m all that much weaker after four years of relentless wear and tear and also being that much older. There’s probably some lesson in all of this – perhaps a warning to those who don’t realize how the events of our lives can just pile on, one over atop of the next, until we are driven to our knees. Remember that the next time you notice that someone who has suffered a great deal of loss doesn’t seem to be coping as well as expected.
Well, in any case, we finally pushed off out of the yard, stopping to take the obligatory “goodbye house” photo which I shall not post here today. With a forecast of “gale force winds” along the Bay of Fundy coast for later that day and evening, I chose a different route which would put me at Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick by late afternoon. I reasoned that it would be more sheltered there. I’m glad that I chose a fairly modest distance for the day as I felt unusually tired from driving – in part because there was quite a terrible accident on the eastbound side of the highway as I neared the New Brunswick border, and then a dead bear cub on the road near the park. By the time I backed the van into my chosen campsite, I was feeling a little fried. I had intended to stay just the one night, but decided that, given the stress of the day and the quietness of the park, coupled with warnings of heavy rains to come, I would stay a second night. I am so glad for that decision, for instead of driving, I spent the day walking in the woods, playing fiddle, and sketching and writing in my journal – the above pages which are writ and drawn upon a second-hand edition of Lattimore’s The Odyssey of Homer (click on all photos for larger views). I realized just how much I was in need of some serious down time to pull myself together before driving the next 1000 kilometers (620 miles) on the following day.
We enjoyed our day, walking about in the woods, studying and photographing plants and fungi. As it turns out, Sage has enthusiastically assumed the mantle of Botany Dog – a role which Sabrina held firmly for so many years. Between rain squalls, I cooked up a batch of bean soup which served as both lunch and dinner (see below). Spreading out a garbage bag on the soggy picnic table bench, I enjoyed lunch while surveying an extraordinarily large Tamarack (Larch tree to some of you) that stood nearby. Around dusk, some young teenagers from a campsite in another part of the park, began playing a game of chase among the trees near my site. I was playing fiddle at the time. I’m not quite sure of the intention of one teenaged boy, but he crawled toward the van in the growing gloom. I suppose he hoped to peer inside at me, but Sage had other ideas and hit the window with a horrific smack while roaring with such ferocity that it seemed she would happily crash through the glass to tear him limb from limb. I admit to some mirthful amusement as I watched the lad slip and fall, then bolt away in terror. This kind of thing happens more often than one might think – youngsters and even the odd adult approaching my van for unknown purpose when I am camped in developed campgrounds. It is one of the reasons that I greatly prefer camping in the boonies where most people give a wide berth to solitary vans, no doubt anticipating that the occupant might be some eccentric crazy poised to unleash the Hounds of Hell, or a musket full of buckshot if approached.
I shall endeavour to write more soon.
It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post. There’s no real reason for the lack of writing activity other than me being in a quiet mode. I break my silence today, on the fourth anniversary of Don’s death.
Each year, I ponder over what to write, how much to share, and what to keep to myself. Mostly, I wish for my friends to take a moment to remember Don as a wonderful person. I have met few kinder and more attentive people in my life. He always made time for everyone, even when he was busy and stressed. He rarely found fault with anything and was a joy to be around. I look back on our 34 years together as a great gift, even if it was to end far too soon.
So, what to say this year?
I don’t really have much wisdom to impart to anyone. However, I would like to write a little about those things I have learned about time. For the widowed among you, I doubt there will be any surprises.
First, in the months after Don’s death, people often told me that time heals all wounds. I did not really believe that and, in fact, it has proven to be one of those commonly stated falsehoods that is accepted as being true. Time doesn’t actually do too much except make you feel somewhat older. For me, it is as though time stopped on the evening of September 6, 2008. I am caught in some strange place in Limbo, where my body moves forward doing what needs done, but my mind is back in some other world, left behind while the rest of you went on with your lives. Now, all time is measured in relation to that date. The new year of my calendar begins at around 7 p.m. each September 6th. Although I know that 48 months have passed, to me, I can still remember the events of that evening four years ago as if they happened last week. In fact, as the hour draws nigh, it feels as though some door is opening back to that very moment and that it is actually just about to happen all over. I have experienced this sensation each year during the evening of this anniversary.
Of course, it is not just Don’s death that seems so close, but also his life. This week, I had to look up a few photos for someone and that required scanning through several months of autumn images. That activity turned up dozens of images of Don and Sabrina taken during our countless hikes in eastern Ontario. Don used to ask me why I took so many photos of him. I guess the photographer in me couldn’t resist turning my lens toward to person that I most enjoyed being with each day. Now, in hindsight, I am so glad that I took so many photos.
However, sometimes photos function in ways that few suspect. For those of us who have become mortally separated from our partners, these images begin to function like time machines that transport us to some time and place.
Take the above two photos as one such example. It was an unusually warm September day. We were hiking the Tallow Rock Bay Trail at Charleston Lake. We hiked it many times over the years, but on this day, I can tell you that it was one of our first hikes with Sabrina after she recovered from a truly nasty bout of mange. Our vet felt she might have caught it from being in some place frequented by foxes as there was a lot of mange being seen in the local fox population that summer. We stopped to rest on one of the platforms on the floating bridge that crosses the bay. We often paused there to have our lunch and give Sabrina a bowl of water. It’s very likely that we had chickpea and celery salad on pita bread that day as that was our favourite hiker’s meal.
In some cases, it is even possible for these time machine photos to take me back to a particular conversation. The above and below photos were taken in the midst of a conversation about how we could not think of a better way to celebrate our anniversary than to hike the Point Trail at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park. It had become our annual event and as we lay on the grass with Sabrina nearby, we discussed how we would endeavour to do this particular hike on our anniversary for as many years as we could manage to shuffle our way around the loop trail. I turned the camera first toward Don and then took a self portrait while listening, somewhat bemused, as he speculated on how many more decades it might be before we became too feeble to make it for the last time. We had a similar conversation the last time that we put our canoe in the Barron Canyon River in Algonquin Park, paddling to the falls and back. That was to be our other annual trip that would measure how we were holding up in the battle against the effects of Time. How strange to look at these photos, now knowing that we had so little time remaining and would only be able to do our anniversary hike one more time.
I have not really hiked any of the trails on our old stomping grounds since Don’s death. On a couple of occasions, I did go out to certain places to look around a bit, but I just could not deal with the sadness of walking those oh-so-familiar pathways alone. Over the decades, we hiked some of those trails so many times that we knew where we were most likely to encounter a Ribbon Snake, or a Slaty Skimmer dragonfly, a Barred Owl perched silently in a particular tree, or a Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle scanning for prey. For me, our old trails became nothing more than a painful reminder of the cruelty of fate that took Don away and left me alone in the world.
Oddly, so many of my time machine photos were of Don looking back as he waited for me to catch up. He and Sabrina used to wander ahead, searching for plants and creatures for me to photograph. I was always a little behind, messing with camera gear and snapping photos. And so it seems I am still a little behind, with Don and Sabrina off somewhere in the distance and me straggling along behind.
To Don: I miss you and love you. Always.