Monday, April 25, 2011

Rain Until Friday

Today is Easter Monday in some parts of the world. People are celebrating in various ways. Some eat painted eggs and scallions by the banks of the Nile. Some dunk young Slovak girls in creeks then whip them (gently) with willow switches. Some stand in St. Peter's Square and listen to the "Urbi and Orbi" blessing. Others parade down Fifth Avenue in their Easter bonnet. Meanwhile, on Grants Lake Road, I lie on the couch watching television. I flip up and down the channels looking for something to keep me company. I don't usually watch television. In fact, I never watch it. Friends and family will attest to this. I have gone so far as to tell them it's evil. For over twenty years, I haven't even allowed the electronic beast to enter my house.

But now, in this Grants Lake sublet, a television already exists. It sits in the corner draped in a silk cloth. It comes with three remote controls and Shaw cable. I approach carefully and whisk off the cloth. I arm myself with a remote. I flip up and down, up and down, searching for what seems to entertain the majority of the population. For a couple hours, Patch Adams allows me to enter the world of a do-good doctor. Then I hear about the plight of the Vancouver Canucks. Then about the length of time people are waiting at Horseshoe Bay to ferry them back to the mainland. I am reminded I'm alone while others make their way to loved ones. I wonder if I will always be far from loved ones. I flip the channel. It's twenty degrees in Winnipeg today and sunny. They predict rain on Vancouver Island until Friday.

I flip the channel. A cat jumps onto my lap and we watch a talk show host called Nate advise a nurse to wear stilettos once in awhile. Nothing like stilettos to boost your morale, he says. I flip and flip again. I am filled with the hope that soon, on this Easter Monday, I'll feel a sense of communion with the world at large. Outside, the rain falls and a red-winged blackbird flies past. Hope fades. Five more days of rain. Four more months until my husband returns. Who knows how long until all those friends I've met at the right time in the right place will be beside me again, sharing a glass of wine.

The television informs me Kate and William's wedding will air at 3 a.m. PST and that eighty percent of new car purchases are made by women. As the sky darkens and the flipping continues, my mind begins to blur. My eyes lose focus. I know it's time to turn off the television, but I can't. I leave it on while I go about my business, allowing the voices of strangers to fill the house. While they talk of the Chicago Blackhawks, I wish I were by the Nile eating fresh scallions with a slight breeze tugging at my bonnet.

It's a day of new beginnings and perhaps new beginnings happen best when you find yourself alone in less than desirable circumstances. Only a television could have reminded me of this. I turn it off and know what I must do. Something as ancient as the Nile. I go outside and breathe the scent of wet earth and budding leaves. And I remember I've smelled this scent before. Maybe even for lifetimes. The frogs begin to sing despite the rain. It becomes more and more difficult to feel sorry for myself. And so I start again, from the beginning. Today is Easter Monday in some parts of the world. People are celebrating in various ways.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, April 15, 2011

It Smelled Like Spring

The other day I received a catalogue in the mail with the number 40 predominating its cover. The cartoon numerals were snow-capped. A skier slalomed down the slope of the 4. Below, the year of my birth appeared. A jogger squeezed between the 9 and the 7. For a split second, I wondered—how did they know? How did they know next week was the big Four-Oh? The big Four Oh-No.

But of course this was British Columbia, and the catalogue was none other than Mountain Equipment Co-Op’s (MEC's) anniversary catalogue. The Final Catalogue, it proclaimed. I learned that during the year of my birth not only was MEC incorporated, Jim Morrison was found dead in his bathtub, Pierre Trudeau said "Fuddle Duddle" in The House of Commons, astronauts drove an electric car on the moon and Starbucks opened in Seattle. Apparently it was the year "flower power" began to wilt. I'd just made it, as rock drowned out folk, as wide ties replaced tie-dye.

Today, I do a little research of my own and learn 1971 was also the year Walt Disney World opened and Charles Manson was sentenced to death by gas chamber. It was the year a tsunami killed 10,000 in the Bay of Bengal and a movie ticket cost $1.65. The Microprocessor and floppy disk were invented. The women of Switzerland were granted the right to vote. And a baby girl was born in an Ottawa hospital. She had a club foot. Her mother was twenty-one and broke and had decided to put her up for adoption. Before she left (for Prince Rupert, or Santa Fe, or maybe it was London?), she called her Annette.

Annette became Angela. Ottawa became Oshawa. Four decades later and I am sitting on the other side of the country listening to my Italian husband play scales on his saxophone. Soon, I will turn on the opera to drown out the noise. Soon I will be fifty. Sixty. I will remember this as the year the niece I once pulled around the backyard in a plastic sled posed as The SUNshine Girl wearing black fishnet stockings. The year I laid down my axe and left the archipelago of another, gentler, world. The year Shauna gave birth to Neve. It was the year I looked out the window of a small bedroom and watched mist rise from the mountains. It was 6:09 pm. and had rained all day. It smelled like spring.

At the age of thirty-five, Annie Dillard managed to describe the phenomenon of aging. In her essay "Aces and Eights," she listens as her daughter rides a bicycle uphill. She listens as playing cards slap against the wheel spokes. She writes:

You are young, you are on your way up, when you cannot imagine how you will save yourself from death by boredom until dinner, until bed, until the next day arrives to be outwaited, and then, slow slap, the next. You read in despair all the titles of the books on the bookshelf; you play with your fingers; you revolve in your upholstered chair, slide out of the chair upside down onto your head, hope you will somehow damage your heart by waiting for dinner in that position, and think that life by its mere appalling length is a feat of endurance for which you haven't the strength.
But momentum propels you over the crest. Imperceptibly, you start down. When do the days start to blur and then, breaking your heart, the seasons? The cards click faster in the spokes; you pitch forward. You roll headlong, out of control. The blur of cards makes one long sound like a bomb's whine, the whine of many bombs, and you know your course is fatal.

As winter blurs into spring, I am finally aware that my course is fatal. I only have to look at the cover of the MEC catalogue to remember. The snowcapped peaks of 40 are clearly melting. But there is a stream below, filled with ducks. A salmon jumps. A deer readies to drink. It would be easier to relinquish my hold on time and join the canoeists who paddle towards the bottom of the page. They're smiling. They even wear flowers in their hair.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Rise of the Cut Line

Once I woke to the sound of the ocean. Now, every morning at 5 a.m., I wake to the distant whine of chainsaws. It's taken me a few weeks to discover the source of this disruption. Now I merely look through the picture window in the living room and across the lake to see it clearly. Half the mountain has been shaved of trees. And it seems they won't be stopping there.

At 5 a.m. the spectacle of carnage is illuminated by red floodlights. At that hour, I'm too drowsy to feel anything but annoyance. Later, when I look across to the rising cut line and trees lying haphazardly where once they stood tall, I feel sadness.

Let me make this clear--I am not a tree-hugging hippy. I buy Clingwrap and paper towels and Italian leather handbags. Sometimes I print manuscripts on Multiuse Bright White Paper rather than FSC Certified-Eco Responsible-Multiuse Paper simply because I think it looks more professional. I know when I complain about logging I become a hypocrite. So be it. I am a tree-loving hypocrite. While I often buy products to reflect my love for trees, since I've moved to the heart of a logging town I've begun to wonder if a 12-pack of recycled toilet tissue is the solution.

Here's a little story:
A newcomer to Lake Cowichan goes to the Community Centre for her shift as a volunteer receptionist. During tea break, she says: "I've been wondering why they've chosen to clear cut so close to town. It would be so much nicer to look up at tree-clad mountains instead of bare patches."

Employment Counsellor #1 (EC1): "Clear cuts are good things. They're much more efficient than any other method."
EC2: "When I was a little girl, all of the mountains surrounding the town were completely bare. Now there are lots of trees in comparison.
EC1: "Our grand-daddies planted those trees you see now. It's about time to harvest them."

Harvest. I look up at the mountains, imagining them planted with corn or wheat. The trees are simply ripe crops ready for consumption. But I don't feel depressed when I pass a freshly plowed field or a combine harvester. Why does the sight of a grapple skidder make me want to weep?

This town is built on the reaping of such a harvest. Just take a walk down Cottonwood, Alder, or Pine. Smoke rises happily from the chimneys. Well-kept houses stand proud. I always think of the first stanza of a poem by David Day (ex-Cowichan logger):

Timbers of this tall
house remember how it is
to sway in the wind

It seems we humans have a knack for taking what isn't ours. Perhaps that's why I mourn the rising of the cut line. For awhile we gave the forest back (albeit a poor facsimile of what formerly stood), but now we're claiming it again. And again. Trees aren't harvested, they're stolen. Will the theft stop when everyone buys eco-responsible paper and reclaimed ("antique") timber products? What if you can't afford such things (like 80% of the world's population) or don't even know they exist?

For over a hundred and fifty years the loggers of Lake Cowichan have picked up their saws. Will they stop now just because a tree-loving hypocrite feels sad? Friends wonder why I don't just pack my bags and return to the cabin in the woods where the sound of the ocean wakes me. I wonder, too. Maybe this is the reason. Maybe I need to feel a little front-line sadness. Maybe emotion will trump buying recycled toilet tissue in the end. We are supposed to be human, after all. In a town where going green is the same as going crazy, should I just go human? Could the world be saved one teardrop at a time?

Thank you for reading.