Friday, May 28, 2010

Settling In Time

(Kamloops view.)

I've been here in Kamloops for six days now, and after a bit of a rocky start, life is starting to unfurl beautifully. I must admit that when I first got here, I sat down and cried. I had left a spotless house; a home containing a multi-layered patina of love which reflected off the polished surface of every nook and cranny of it.

I walked into a place that was filthy. A cleaning crew was supposed to have gone through the entire condo which had sat empty for several months. However, apart from steam-cleaning the carpets, no other cleaning had been done at all. Furniture and boxes were piled high everywhere, and for a short time, I couldn't see beyond what was immediately before me. Four litres of bleach and many, many buckets of soap and water later, my aching knees can attest to the fact that our condo now shines with cleanliness.

The first thing I did that garbled day, after rousing myself from my watery indulgence, was to make the bed. As I smoothed the linen and looked out the window at the mountains, my ragged edges started to find some solace. I was reminded of one of my favourite poems by the wonderful Rupert Brooke, “The Great Lover”, which details the many splendid ways that life seduces us with the simple beauty of the ordinary.

“Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon,
Smooth away trouble;”

I have spent these past six days cleaning and sorting and arranging. The rooms of the condo are starting to bear the mark of our presence. The views from every window are a gift; the mountains, the river, the green lawns and mature trees. It is slowly becoming a place to contain my dreams, my peace and passions, my stillness and laughter. Sometimes, though, I feel my heart holding back, fighting the tiny rootlets of belonging. My ego is reluctant to let go of the familiar, as if doing so would somehow negate past loves. Absurd, I know. I realise that I need to embrace both together, to affirm a whole and balanced beauty.

(The ground floor patio.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Artie's Game

My Sepia Saturday offering this week is a photograph of our very first local hockey team in 1913. Outside my department in the hospital is a wall featuring several old black and white pictures of regional interest, including this one. The handsome gentleman sitting on the ice on the right was the uncle of one of my patients, a remarkable ninety-two year old man who still brews his own beer. His name was Arthur Morgan and he was a keen athlete and apparently quite a colourful character. Having returned home from the Great War safely, Artie, as he was known to family and friends, died in 1919 during the Spanish influenza outbreak which swept the world with such devastating consequences.

His nephew, Bob, who was the son of Artie’s sister and born a few years after his death, remembers being told tales about Uncle Artie throughout his childhood. One afternoon recently, Bob, frail and stooped, clutching his walker, stood beside me and pointed out Artie’s picture. His clouded eyes were filled with the glow of memory as he began to speak.

Artie apparently loved wild blueberries and spent hours picking them. He had a great sense of humour. He loved to fish and skate, but ice-hockey was his passion, 'his game'. His grandmother could rarely speak of her only son without tears in her eyes. She had lost another son as an infant years earlier. Apparently Uncle Artie, a school boy at the time, had charged local kids a penny each to come and see the wee babe lying in his coffin on the kitchen table! "I can still see my grandmother giving a little laugh when she’d tell of this and then wiping her eyes on her apron", Bob said.

At the time of his death, Artie had started a small lumber mill and was still playing ice-hockey on a local team. In those days they played exclusively outdoors on the uneven surface of frozen lakes. You may be interested to learn that despite ice-hockey being Canada’s national religion and we like to believe we invented the game, it has British beginnings.

In the 1860’s British soldiers stationed in Kingston, Ontario began playing ice-hockey on the small frozen lakes in the area. Within a few years, students from McGill University had heard about the game and were playing it themselves. By the 1870’s the students had written up a basic set of rules and had also exchanged the ball used by the soldiers for a wooden puck.

Ice-hockey is the growing rite of passage for many Canadian boys, and my eldest grandson D, who will be seven in September, has been playing Mite hockey for almost two years. I once found him sleeping with his hockey stick, and another time his hockey jersey had somehow replaced his pyjamas as sleepwear.

Gem and I have accompanied our son Joshua (D’s Daddy and a superb hockey player in his own right) many times to watch his games. There is something especially enjoyable about watching little NHL dreamers tumble and slip and play their five and six year old hearts out on the ice. Each one wants only one thing ... to score a goal. Positions are anathema to them. They all want the puck and to get it into that net. At that age, assisting your team mate is also a foreign concept, despite the coach calling out numerous times, “Assist, Jackson ... Assist!  Pass! Pass! Pass! Assisting is very important, guys!”

During the last ten minutes of each practice, a dozen pucks are thrown onto the ice and the kids are allowed “free” play. Within seconds every single boy is engrossed in a frenzy of shooting from near and far. Each little player scans the sea of parents and grandparents in the stands. Shouts of "I got a goal!! Did you see?" fill the arena. The happiness D emanates, is to me, the heart of the game.

There is something very poignant about seeing the picture of the young, vital Artie Morgan in his ‘jailbird’ hockey uniform. I can imagine him as a boy, blueberry stains on his chin. I can see him blowing on his hands to keep them warm as he skates with his friends. A century later, his legacy lives on in the hundreds of local boys, cradled by wonder, still playing ‘Artie’s game’.

(D, age six, Mite Hockey, 2010).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Communion of Endings

Helen, my very last patient (with her permission).

This past twenty-seven years working at my hospital culminated in a single day ... yesterday. It was a day full of last goodbyes, with each moment defined sharply, as if with silver edges.

Although I was a surgical (O.R.) nurse for many years, for the past six years I have worked in the Burn and Wound Care Unit. They have been the most rewarding of my career. Throughout the day, patients, both past and present, dropped by to wish me well. By mid-afternoon the desk was piled high with flowers and gift bags.

At the end of the day, Lois, a colleague who is also a beloved friend, presented me with a wonderful photo album she had compiled of my hospital years. It is a work of art.

The day crowned last evening when fourteen colleagues took me out for a fabulous Thai dinner. The small banquet room hummed in an outpouring of celebration. They had got together and gifted me with a wonderful series of framed photographs of this city; a precious reminder of my thirty years living here. Yesterday, I felt that my dreams and hopes were a part of all those around me. I am overwhelmed, and beyond grateful. I am also deeply humbled by the generosity and kindness.

Life is best when it is centred around a hearth of communion. I am thankful that I am a part of this vast belonging. I feel so blessed and loved, my whole body and heart dances today.

How amazing it is to be permitted to gather the given.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Musings

Nothing specific to write about this morning ... just a few early musings before I head out to work. I’m in a quiet place, a lull of very little brain, as Winnie-the-Pooh might have said.

We all have our little comfort rituals. One of mine is that first cup of coffee in the morning. I sip the rich scented brew and life flows forth glowing and warm. Ahhh, coffee. Sometimes I feel like I am lurching from one cup of coffee to the next, rewarding myself with a handful of beans, grinding them by hand if I'm feeling energetic, scooping it from the can, if I'm not. It's like fuel to me. And then there are all the things that go with coffee, special little almond biscuits wrapped in tissue paper, or small chunks of chocolate praline wrapped in foil ... nothing too large because it mustn't distract from the main event.

My grandsons picked bouquets of dandelions for me yesterday, carrying them carefully between closed hands like a chalice. I placed them in a jar on my desk and this morning their brief royalty has been spent.

It is raining right now, raining as though the sun may never shine again. It's hard to believe that only yesterday I stood in bare limbs and squinted at a peerless sky. It seems to me that rain makes space more intimate. I huddle closer to my keyboard, wrap my hand more tightly around my mug of hot, fragrant coffee, and dream at the stream of rainwater glazing the flowers outside. Soon these mid-May days will again ripen into golden splendour and plenitude. But for now, there is the sweet steady downpour of rain.

All over the house, boxes, all stacked and taped, wait patiently. Only three more days left of work.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Full Circle

These pictures, found tucked into an old journal, were both taken in 1976; the first one on September 3rd, the day Gem and I were married. It is of us in our “going away’ outfits following our wedding. In those days you changed out of your bridal gown and tux after the reception, and into a 'going away' outfit. I don't think people do this anymore. We were both only nineteen, four months shy of our 20th birthdays (we are nine days apart in age). We look so impossibly young! Gem’s polyester leisure suit with its pointy-collar shirt was the height of fashion, as was my silky peasant-style dress. I wore platform wedge shoes in the same rust colour as the hat.

The second picture is of me, taken a few days later. I’m wearing the wide-legged, bell-bottomed white jeans which I loved. In the background you can see part of the old truck with the camper-back where we spent the majority of our two week honeymoon. Apart from the first night when we stayed at a fancy hotel in Vancouver, we toured around parts of British Columbia, driving wherever we fancied, spending all our nights in that little camper.

On the back of this photo are written the words, "Jo, Kamloops 1976, honeymoon". This is an especially interesting bit of serendipity because Kamloops is the city where we are moving to next week. I had forgotten that Gem and I had spent a day there during our honeymoon. In all the intervening years we had never had a chance to go back, and now we’ll actually be residing in a place that saw a part of our beginnings. Full circle. It reminds me of an old door I saw recently. Its layers of paint had faded unevenly, blue patched over fading green ... one era glimpsed through another.

I called Gem last night and peppered our conversation with honeymoon do-you-remembers.

I remember driving along highways edged with simmering fringes of daisies as we listened to Abba and Queen, sometimes singing along. I remember the impromptu picnics and little hikes, the swims in glacier lakes which stole our breath and retrieved it in little screeches. I remember the somewhat frightening, but exhilarating kayak paddle through the rapids at Hell’s Gate. I remember the little argument we had about me wanting to look for a place to do laundry and Gem not thinking it important. I remember the day we came across a Fiddle Festival in Merritt and joined in with the stomping, swaying, cowboy-boot-wearing sea of humanity.

It was during my honeymoon that I began my love of old, abandoned log cabins and barns, left to rot, hollow and exposed. It was also where we first saw the Northern Lights, interpreted by the First Nations peoples as the dancing of human spirits. I remember my awe as we watched the night come alive with banners of unfurling green light.

When I look at these pictures and see the hope and promise shining in our youthful faces, we thankfully didn’t know just how tough it was going to be. We’ve been through a lot, Gem and I. We both have our wounds, our dark places, our fears of being broken. We have endured cancer (I am approaching my seven year survival anniversary), our younger son becoming a teenaged father, providing a home for two of our little grandsons for three years, the loss of my beloved brother at age twenty-eight, the death of Gem’s parents, one right after the other.

But we’ve also had immense joys along the way, and like I wrote in another post, life just keeps on becoming. People ask me how we’ve done it ... survived intact despite the odds. I believe that when you can respect each other's personal spaces ... when you can find common joy in countless ordinary days ... when you can reach out of your wounds to each other, in brokenness ... you are open to your deepest sense of belonging and love.

"I always thought that your butt looked pretty good in those jeans", said Gem last night when we talked.

Oh, and a sense of humour is vital, too.

(This is part of Sepia Saturday. For more wonderful offerings, please visit!)

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Lately, I can’t seem to focus on anything for too long without becoming choked-up by the emotion of these last fleeting, astoundingly precious days. They are to be savoured, not chewed hastily while looking ahead to the anticipated next course. These are the small muscles of time.

I went for a little hike in the woods with my grandsons yesterday. As we made our way to a small pond to feed the ducks, I am thrilled that D, who will be seven in September, is able to correctly identify several different trees.

“That’s a Pine!”, he says, confidently.

“How do you know?”, I ask.

“It has long, sharp fingers,” he answers.

“Needles,” I smile.

And that’s a Fir because it has short, soft fingers ... needles,” he continues, cupping his hand over one.

“That’s right,” I tell him.

“And there is a Birch tree, and that one is a Poplar.”

“And, how can you tell the difference between the two?”, I say.

“Birch has white bark and you can peel it easy,” and he demonstrates, holding a small curl of wood in his palm. “Poplar looks almost the same, but its bark is green.”

“You are starting to know the language of the trees!”, I say, proudly.

Throughout the conversation, M, aged four, echoes the names like a little tree seeking its own light and place.

D looks at me and grins. I grin back. It’s the kind of smile which possesses the soul ... both his and mine. I take out my camera. But it’s impossible, because you can't take pictures of something that hangs in the air, like breath that is suddenly, momentarily visible, of this heart stretching, ephemeral beauty.

Maybe the whole cosmic and social mystery of life is a continuous tightening and loosening of myriad knots. To be caught in its binding and loosening can be both terrible and beautiful. This is the texture of life. I wonder what transfiguration I will make of my new mosaic? Like the inner heartwood of old trees, I hope I continue to grow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Golden Afternoon

On Sunday afternoon I took my granddaughter, who along with my daughter-in-law, was in town for a short visit, and two of my grandsons to explore a historic early 1900's farm homestead. It is about an hour drive from here, and located along the beautiful Giscome Portage trail.

It's a living history site which recreates the bustling community that consisted of a farm, a trading post, a general store, guide and freight operations, and a stop for the riverboats.

It was a gorgeous day; a gentle spring breeze, the green edge of new growth permeating everything. Surprisingly, we were almost the only people there apart from the one lone young girl costumed in calico, serving in the working general store/bakery. There the kids enjoyed hand-cranked vanilla ice-cream while I sampled the home-made rhubarb pie. Every scrap ... pastry and contents was sublime! I also bought some penuche, which is a delicious fudge made from brown sugar and cream.

We explored the farmhouse, barns, post office, blacksmith's shop, general store, fish camp and several other buildings. The kids climbed on a covered wagon. They gazed at sheep and cows and horses. They tumbled about the fields exclaiming over everything in sight. Standing there watching them, a love stirred in my chest like a mouth opening and taking little gulps of air.

The whole afternoon was an alchemy of gold. The colours and gestures having penetrated through to reach our vital organs; heart and brain and lungs. Later the wind picked up and we shivered a little as we walked back to the car, each of us happy in our common gift.