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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ancient Drains

Let me dig into the depths as the plumbers delve into my front garden in order to reveal, eight feet below the surface, the broken clay of our ancient drains.


This is a disaster. Mess and muck. Back-up in the basement drain. Holes dug into the basement's concrete as well as in the garden. Not to mention the expense. Holy cow! The expense!


But I am an optimist. A Pollyanna, some have said (but they didn't know me very well). Let me re-phrase: I can give the appearance, at times, of being an optimist, and this is one of those times.


Over and over I have complained about my front garden that (totally by accident) contains almost twenty invasive species—as well as an impenetrable network of maple-tree roots. This spring the right-hand side of the yard was totally out of control. The oregano was springing into the area I like to reserve for the lovage. The lemon balm was engulfing the little sage plants. The wild violets (and I SWEAR that they weren't my fault; I never planted a one of them) enjoyed their two days of romantic blooms and were spreading through the entire plot. Ditto the lily of the valley. In the meantime, the bee-balm and the sundrop primroses, which I adore, were cowering in terror. And I haven't even mentioned the garlic chives, which, unlike their well-mannered clumps of chive cousins, shoot their little black seeds into the universe then wave their flat green shoots to the sky and dare me to root them out.


And when I have tried to correct any of this in the past, even one square foot of the spreading tangle, I have been defeated by the roots of the maple tree, which stopped my trowel at every thrust.


Now, enter the plumbers, that pair of strong-backed Romanians who arrive to do the dirty work for their sweet-talking employers. Abetted by axes and knives in addition to their shovels, they dig (for two full days) a pit 5 x 2 feet and 8 feet deep, slicing through roots, dumping garlic chives and oregano and violets on the tarp lying in the neighbours' driveway. The plants are soon smothered by the mound of dirt (80 cubic feet) that covers them.


I am no ninny. Having experienced drain repairs in other sections of the garden over the last thirty years, I was ready for the devastation. As soon as the sweet-talking bosses left the premises bearing that expensive contract, I took my trusty trowel and dug up as many of the bee-balm, sage, and sundrop plants as I could, heeling them into a big box of soil. They sat in the shade and waited during the two days of digging.


The workers left, having piled that ugly, sandy earth back on top of the repaired drain. I shoveled six inches of sandy soil off the top of the entire area and replaced it with topsoil and manure. Then I replanted my favourites.


For the first time ever, shoveling and planting were a joy. There wasn't a root in sight! My trowel cut through the new soil like a hot knife through butter. Now my sundrop, sage, and bee balm are nicely planted in fresh root-free earth. The oregano is recovering from having been squashed flat by workmen's boots. The lovage survived nicely. The garden is beautiful, if a bit sparse, and will become even more so as the months go by.


It was an expensive way to clear out that tangled mess of plants (there must be a cheaper way), but it's an ill wind that blows no good.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Preparing for Winter

My fingers go numb with October's first frost.

Where is life?

Why does my blood not flow

from heart to fingertips?

A long distance, to be sure, but still.


Isn't that how it usually works?


Well, I can kvetch all winter long

and it won't warm up my hands.

I need a new solution.


Movement, for example.

Jumping jacks.

I'll leap from the chair and bounce!

Or remain seated and flex the fingers

as I make a heart connection


I will live in my opening heart

and send live wires of sensed energy

coursing along the lines and pathways

of my body's ocean.


Or else, to bring a little warmth to my hands,

I'll steal it from my partner's heated back.

He'll never miss it,

with that fiery furnace burning in his chest.

I rest my hands, fingers spread,

on his hot skin

until his heat becomes my own.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The White Pine

Four of us had climbed up the steep slope to High Rock, at the far end of the island that was our home for a week. The climb was steep enough that I positioned myself (actually, was told to position myself) just behind the leader, with the two others at my back. I stretched my legs farther than usual to reach from one rock to the next one. I was grateful for the handholds afforded by saplings and their older cousins. I was careful, always; concerned, sometimes. But we all made it to the top of High Rock, and we rewarded ourselves with lunch and an hour of story-telling, revealing parts of ourselves that we might ordinarily have hidden.


High Rock was not ordinary. When the broad surface of the rock was finally empty of tourists and Boy Scouts, and we were alone, we four went our separate ways for an hour of solitary exploration. Since the trip itself had pretty much satisfied my desire for exploration, I found a large, flat rock of Canadian Shield, connected to the very center of the planet, and I lay on it, my back feeling into the rock with a different kind of exploration. My hat over my face shielded me from the hot, bright sun, but I left a squinting space to see what was before me.


What was before me was a white pine. It was rooted on a ledge beneath my lying-on rock, and it loomed in my sight ready to make my acquaintance. It held as many dead branches as live ones, and it had that lopsided, anti-Christmas-tree, asymmetrical shape of the white pine. Take me as I am, it said. If you're looking for cute, go find a tree farm.


So I took it as it was. It yielded to my exploration even more easily than my lying-on rock had. It told me about its life: it always lived in the shadow of death, surrounded by examples of its fate. Nature loves to create but is not too good at maintenance. Hey, she says, I just give everybody a start, over and over and over. What they do with it isn't really my business. Not. My. Job.


The white pine was still. The clouds moved quickly overhead, sheep without a shepherd, and the pine reveled in each passing shadow, because each change from shade to sun, sun to shade, was a new moment to savour. Look, it said: sun, now shade, now sun again. What changes I get to observe! What changes become part of me!


As I lay there, a breeze arose from nowhere. The pine, ecstatic, swayed, and from midway up the trunk all the way to the tippy-top needles at the ends of the branches, it danced the dance of all its parts, slow and fast depending on thickness and relation to the breeze. But every part that moved was thrilled. Even the lower trunk and roots, although my eye didn't discern movement, took joy in the dance of the tree.


This white pine, or so it said, lived for the wind and the clouds and the sun. Had it been a rainy day, it would have said it lived for the rain, for the grays, dark and light, of the sky. I met this pine in the summer. And we didn't talk at all about the northern winter, the dark side of his life. That is for another conversation.


But we all know how deep its roots are: only as deep as they can go through the "soil" of pine needles and scrub oak leaves and mosses and lichen that have built up on the island's rock.


And so my white pine is as susceptible as all his clan to the freezings and thawings and fierce winds of winter. To the cold weight of a blanket of snow on limbs. And, as I said, all around it were the examples of other trees: lost limbs, whole trees toppled by wind or dried by drought until they fell of their own weight. And the white pine I met was sanguine about all this (if I may use such a fleshly adjective for such a woody creature). It lived for cloud and sun and breeze, for rain and wind, and yes, for winter's blast.


And when it is time for him to fall, then fall he will, eventually, to become the medium for new growth. In the meantime, I absorbed his resonance with life as he absorbed mine, and I brought the white pine home with me.



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor

Sunday, January 6, 2013

And the Answer Is . . .

I made a card once that said, on the front, "The answer is love." The inside said, "the question is irrelevant." I really liked that card. Unfortunately, my skills as calligrapher are not nearly as advanced as my skills as philosopher, so the clumsy (but true) card remains unsent. Perhaps one day I will re-design it to be worthy of its sentiment.


My sister Sari and I used to send each other failed examples of our respective card-making. Sari was an excellent calligrapher. She sent me a card whose front read, in a beautiful hand, something like: "My prayers enter me and swirl through my soul and come out as laughter." This was so representative of Sari, for whom laughter was the source of all good, and the message was reinforced when you tried to open the card and realized that she had mistakenly written the quotation upside down on the card, with the fold of the card at the bottom and the opening at the top. I kept this botched card for a long time in her memory—until I recently sent it to a mutual friend who needed some cheering up.


But this Sari card is not what I wanted to talk about—namely, that I had it right years ago: the answer is always love, and the question is indeed irrelevant.


I've been thinking lately about death. As a society, we approach death with foreboding, terror, and a negative, why-does-this-have-to-happen-to-me frame of mind. Well, what I've been thinking is that I want to see my Leaving of Life as an exciting event. Not a celebration, necessarily (after all, I do expect at least a few people to be sad that they will no longer see my smiling face). But exciting, folks! This is the only time in this life of mine (the life when I am this "me" and not some other me, as yet unrevealed)—as I say, the only time in my life when I will experience this particular adventure. Is this not amazing? I, who never go anywhere. I, who fight for my right to sit in my own backyard and rest between bouts of watering the garden. I, the most homebound of earthly beings, will be taking a journey, heading off into the unknown.


I can barely imagine the excitement.


In order to be convincing, I need to surround this concept with a few conditions: first, that I am old enough to die without a feeling of a too-early departure, and second, that the event will be relatively pain-free (lingering illnesses carry their own emotions, none of which, perhaps, is excitement).


Writing this takes me back to an essay I wrote a long time ago about my death: lying in state surrounded by family, no tears, flannel nightgown if it's winter.


A short digression here: I realized the other day that the best funeral clothing for me (were there to be a funeral, which there won't) would be a new flannel nightgown. One of those thick ones, full-length, long sleeves (none of that three-quarter sleeve nonsense; who wants a flannel nightie with sleeves that don't cover the fore-arm?) Perhaps I should go out and buy one now, to be sure I have some choice in the matter. But if I did that, I'd be tempted to wear it on the first chilly night--and surely the nightie for my final trip should be brand-new.


Let me return to the idea of celebration. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, we celebrate the birth of a new baby. What bigger milestone is there than death? Each of us gets to die, and only once, so I see it as possibly the biggest event of a lifetime. No matter what one's view is of the after-life (Something and Nothing are the options), the fact remains that I want the end of this life to be filled with a sense of occasion. Spare me the late-life birthdays (oh, are you still here?). Just join me at the end, with a flute of good Champagne and perhaps a little well-sung Mozart, and give three cheers: Here's to you! Well done and safe journey! Hip-hip-hurray!



Copyright 2013 Ann Tudor