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Sunday, March 29, 2015

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 more sun. 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 its 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 its 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 the time comes for it to fall, then fall it will, eventually, to become the medium for new growth. In the meantime, I absorbed its resonance with life as it absorbed mine, and I brought the white pine home with me.



Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The True and Complete Exchange between Pot and Kettle

Pot: You're filthy, you know.


Kettle: Shut up.


Pot: Hey. No need for hostility! I'm just stating the obvious.


K: Speaking of obvious, have you looked in a mirror lately?


P: I don't have access to a mirror. Why don't you be my mirror and reflect me to myself.


K: You'd trust me to do that? That surprises me.


P: I'm full of surprises. So go on. Reflect me.


K: Well, you're not a teapot (I guess you already know that); you are a cooking pot. And because of that you end up on the flame several times a day. And what happens . . . Well, I don't quite know how to break this to you.


P: Just do it.


K: Well, when a pot is put on a flame, over and over, the bottom and sides of the pot become tarnished. Ordinary kitchen grease gets on the pot and then when heat is applied, the grease gets cooked onto the pot. And, and . . .


P: Yes? Go on, go on.


K: And because of the baked-on grease, the pot turns . . . black. There's no other way to say it. You, my dear pot, are filthy.


P: Tell me you are joking! This couldn't be true! How could I not have known?


K: Not joking. It's quite true. I can't see myself either, not having access to a mirror, but I

think it's safe to say that you are as tarnished as I am.


P: So when I call you "filthy" I'm really just saying that we're similar?


K: Identical is more like it.


P: I'm all at sixes and sevens, trying to take this in. Is this a normal process? Are all pots and all kettles just like us? Is there no alternative?


K: There is a solution, but it doesn't depend on us. There's nothing WE can do about it, but something can be done. I just don't know how to go about it.


P: Tell me what you do know. Maybe we can figure it out.


K: well, after we've been used, we are washed, right?


P: Right.


K: But most pot- and kettle-washers concentrate on our insides, getting rid of all the leftover food and shining up the inside of us.


P: Right.


K: So what we need to do is get the person who washes us to clean our outsides as well. Not just with a lick and a promise, but a real scrubbing. With steel wool, for example.


P: That sounds painful.


K: Beauty always has a price. But it won't hurt a lot. It'll be kind of like a rough tickling, or the deep scratching of an itch. And the pay-off is that both of us will be shiny on the outside as well as the inside.


P: If we decide to risk it, how do we change the behaviour of our washer?


K: Do you know how to use a pen and paper?


P: No.


K: Can you talk human-talk out loud?


P: No.


K: Let's both just project as much blackness as we can so that the washer finally notices how tarnished we have become. After all, we both started off really shiny all over.


Time passes. The grime on the outside of the pot and the kettle increases, until finally one day the washer notices.


And within only a few months she decides to do something about it.


And shortly after that, both the pot and the kettle are as shiny as mirrors, and they reflect each other to each other and live happily ever after.



Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Riding the Subway

Usually when I ride the subway I have my nose in a book. I surface briefly after every couple of stops to get my bearings. When I am within one stop of my destination, I insert my bookmark and put the book away, because (I know from experience) otherwise I might read myself right past my getting-off place.


Some of my best reading time is on our TTC subway, and one of my versions of hell is being stuck on a stalled subway with no book to read. Nevertheless, I know that I miss a lot by reading. Watching the by-play of my fellow travelers would give me writing material for years, if I'd only pay attention.


Here's some of what I see when I put my book down: I could rant for pages about the growing phenomenon of "I'll stand where I like and you can't make me move!" People who have no intention of exiting park themselves more and more frequently right in front of the subway doors, impeding those who are trying to get off or on. Even more egregious are the groups that collect at those exits, chatting, totally oblivious of the subway riders around them. Nowadays, I find groups of three or more standing at the top or bottom of escalators or stairs. In summer it is sometimes clear that the group is made up of yokels (I mean this in the best possible sense of the word) who don't have subways—or escalators or even stairs, apparently—in their home towns, and who thus don't have a clue how dangerous it is to congregate right where people need to move freely.


There is more to TTC sights than ranting material. This morning as I came up the steps at the Broadview station I heard the strains of a well-played violin. The violinist was hidden around a corner, out of my path, but for once I had change in my coat pocket so I rounded the corner to leave him some money. He was playing a very fast passage, unfamiliar to me, and I expected to see a student musician. What I found was an old man, in disreputable clothing, with a black hole in the front of his mouth where a tooth had gone missing. Not to put too fine a point on it, he looked like a bum. The missing tooth made me think of a bar fight. The shabby clothes meant down-and-out. But the music was ethereal. How had he retained his skills over years of disappointment and want? How had he managed even to keep his violin through all the difficulties of his life?


That was the direction my mind took. But what if he is actually an accomplished local musician who periodically blacks out a front tooth with actors' gum, picks up some threadbare clothes at Value Village, and becomes a subway busker? What if experience has shown him that a poverty-struck violinist rakes in more moolah than a well-dressed one? Whatever his story is, his music changed the mood of all those who passed through that station today.


Ah, the TTC. A million souls on the move, each with his own story . . .


Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sound Away

I have a friend whose sister told her,

when she was five,

never to sing

because her voice was too ugly.


I believe we are energy beings,

vibrational beings,

affected by any sound

that twangs or chimes or hums

our energy into different configurations,

just as a magnet affects iron filings.

When the sound that vibrates us

comes from within our own selves,

imagine how that soothes, excites,

and harmonizes us.


The sound rippling through our fields

creates lapping wakes that enliven our cells.


This is why we sing.

This is why we chant.

This is why we tone, hum, create overtones

through the hollows of our mouths.


My friend was silenced at the age of five.

That was a sin.

A little noise or a large one,

we need to make our noise

to save our souls.



Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor

Sunday, March 1, 2015


I open my fingers to let everything go,

but living takes me away from sitting.


I sit now.

I imagine sitting even longer,

laminated in the transparent embrace

of lethargy.


Call it what you will.


Sitting takes me away from living,

the source of the pain.

Is the solution to

open my fingers and let everything go?

Without wanting and clinging

will I experience no pain?

Don't know.

Don't know about anything at all

except the impossibility of action.


Sitting requires no action.

Can I sit for the rest of my days?

(What if I have been allotted

a hundred-plus years full of days?

That's a long sit.)


Today, torporous wallowing

is more of a comfort

than even a blooming forsythia branch.

More satisfying than a just-prepared

pancake or a mushroom risotto.


As long as I don't broadcast my melancholy message,

don't proselytize among the innocent,

surely it will do no harm.

Because finally, grudgingly,

I will rise from my chair

and dutifully re-engage with life.



Copyright © 2015 Ann Tudor