There has been a soft rain falling off and on since last night, and as I walk to work under the heavily overcast skies this morning everything is glistening luminous under the dim light; the pavement a wet black canvas painted here and there with splashes of colour reflecting the city pulsing above it.
Earlier, I lay in bed watching the sky through a gap in the curtain, thinking I was as reluctant to come to wakefulness as that sky was. Last night’s rain capped a gorgeous, warm and sunshiny Sunday – that kind of weekend day you look upon as a gift at any time of year, but particularly this one. The day was gentle; I walked and shopped and puttered around my home, and later my table housed a big pot of vegetable barley soup and toasted rosemary bread and warm company and suddenly I find myself in deep autumn with not a little pleasure.
The slowed pace amidst the low clouds and glistening streets extends that autumnal comfort even on a Monday morning. Once upon a time when I was a driver on the highway trying to get to work in mornings like this, I would curse at the way even a soft rain like this would slow everything down. Now I feel lucky to be able to find pleasure in the slowed pace of a city under a rain. It wasn’t all contentment – I wanted to walk right past my office and spend the morning in it.
I’m not sure I’ll move so peacefully into winter, but who knows? Maybe I just need to learn to carry with me in my mind the gentleness of a rainy morning.
“It’s still raining.”
I’m walking up to the car rental place on Saturday morning to retrieve the car in which my girls and I will drive down to the much anticipated Shores of Erie wine festival in our home town when Debbie calls. “Bring rubber boots, raincoats, umbrellas, tarps, dinghies – whatever you got. And for heaven’s sake, don’t wear anything white. Or nice.”
I’d been getting updates on the back home weather all week; it started pouring about five days previous and hadn’t stopped; until that moment I’d nicely avoided thinking about the consequences. And call me a reckless avoider, but I don’t even consider taking that freshly ironed white shirt out of my suitcase.
The back home weather report is inconceivable. It’s the most perfect morning of the entire year, and I wish we could move the entire festival four hours up the highway. Luscious September days like this are precious: sunny with a soft breeze – the kind that caresses your skin with the gentlest of kisses. There isn’t an ounce of humidity and the sky is so clear it sparkles.
After collecting the girls we get on the highway, happy in spite of the mucky news. The event is about old friends, wine, food and live music. Last year we had such a good time, seeing so many of my home people dishing out so much love. Add to that memory the gorgeousness of that September and the beautiful setting alongside a familiar river – not going was not an option.
The luscious weather remains perfect for pretty much the whole ride down the highway. When we’re down to a half hour away, we begin to see layers of cloud formations: some thick and cotton-like, seemingly miles deep, others wispy and flying fast underneath them. And then the occasional black one hanging like a lame threat over some farm field.
When we finally pull into the yard at Debbie and Len’s, it’s stopped raining and Deb’s looking disbelievingly at the breaks of blue in the sky. We did our best to bring it along, we say.
The rolling grounds of Fort Malden are a sloppy mess. We’re talking barnyard. It seems no less crowded than last year. Apparently wine lovers are a serious lot, and no one is going to let a little rain and mud diminish any of their fun. Kind of like making lemonade out of life’s lemons, what was once a promenade of cute dresses and sandals has morphed into a parade of audacious wellies.
Thousands of pairs of audacious wellies – beautiful thing number sixty-three.
One doesn’t venture away from one’s table much this year for fear of going topsy turvy in the muck. And yes, I wore that white shirt. At one point Kelsey has to ask a bloke to give her a pull because she gets stuck. She isn’t the only one suffering mucky dilemmas. We witness a number of fall-downs one amusing one by a guy who is gallantly carrying a girl on his back. It is amusing because Princess is NOT pleased and climbs BACK on his slimy back for the rest of the journey to the paved walk about five feet away.
Next day, Sunday, the sun joins the party and by after lunch when we go back to the site, the conditions have improved considerably, and continue to do so until the event closes. Sarah Harmer, who we’d stayed the extra day to hear play charms everybody. With the crowds considerably thinned and the sun shining, it is a most pleasant day.
They say that for a time Fort Malden served as a lunatic asylum. I’m amused by the thought of what those who walked the Fort Malden grounds a couple hundred years ago might be thinking from the vantage point of a netherworld, of these hoards of people in crazy-coloured rubber footwear happily wallowing around in acres of mud and seeming to celebrate that with endless toasting and good cheer.
If I were one of those netherworld beings, I might see that party down there, mud and all as most definitely beautiful thing number sixty-four.
I'm clinging to the waning summer like a security blanket. Where I live, it's the most glorious and gentle changing of seasons, warm and sunshiny days lingering on and cooler nights sliding in. I stood in the street the other day admiring the freshness after some spectacular thunderstorms the night previous, and imagined what it will look like in three or four months. Then I told myself to STOP IT and get right back into NOW. We're blessed with so much this time of year, and the older I get, the more I relish it for all I'm worth.
Last Saturday my girls and I had a picnic in Kelsey's backyard under the canopy of grapevines. It was our favourite kind of meal – a hodgepodge of contributions from each of us: new potatoes roasted with rosemary and olive oil, corn on the cob, Greek salad, lentils and rice, cucumbers, cherries and chardonnay while we listened to Blue Rodeo songs, some of which we've been listening to since those girls were tiny.
After dinner we jump in a taxi to go hook up with cousin Pati and a couple of her pals to see the very band play at their annual summer show in the Molson Ampitheatre on the grounds of Ontario Place. It's a fun event – a very "Toronto" experience, with the local guys playing and lake behind us and the city skyline to the east and the just-opened Canadian National Exhibition (CNE – or "the Ex") to the west.
Pati and I agree that they knew what they were doing when they designed that stage with its giant windows showing those views behind the performers. Both audience and band are outsanding, as is supporting act Steve Earle. There is a spitting rain, off and on, and nobody cares. Little kids dance and run around, people lounge under umbrellas and drink beers sing along to favourites.
After the show we walk through the CNE and eat junk food and ride a ride.
And we enjoy this rather spectacular view of the city from a quiet corner of Ontario Place.
It's rainy off and on again the next day when we go to my sister's for supper. As usual, Cathy and Stan lay on a gorgeous meal; this time: barbequed roast beef, corn on the cob, green and yellow beans, field tomato drizzled with olive oil and French bread. Need I mention wine? We try to grab a few moments outside but the impetuous stormy weather won't cooperate. My sister does manage to take a few moments between raindrops to plant the Pearly Everlasting which she'd brought home from the Manitoulin Island the day previous.
The other day after work I take the short walk over to City Hall to look at the ongoing tribute to Jack Layton. The public response to his death has been remarkable.
Here in Toronto where he lived, and where he was an activist and member of the city council before he got into national politics, the tribute has taken the form of what started as a few chalked messages in the City Hall squre, and has grown to cover the square and the adjacent ramp up to the buildings. Where the rain washed messages away, they were soon replaced.
The week was both happy and sad. Thinking about the loss of one of the rare politicans who actually inspired people and the public's response to that loss makes me grateful for what I have, for being alive and for sharing these moments with my family. And for the humanity we all share. It's another reminder of how important it is to stay living in the NOW; after all, it's the only thing any of us can be certain of, isn't it?
Chalk Love – Beautiful thing number sixty one.
The proverbial hip shot.
(In which neither I, or my hip, knew the camera was on.)
Yes, I kind of like that tiny tuft of a stranger's hair. Given that there were hundreds and hundreds of people around that day, I think the tiny hint of one strangers's head is another lucky accident.
Tonight we were standing on Cherry Beach, talking about that movie from the 70's, Summer of '42. The thing I love best about this beach is that it still looks like it could be 1942.
The day was changeable – there was warm sun and blue skies, then clouds would move in quick and let fly a little rain, and then the gusty breeze would chase those clouds away again.
It's August and the atmosphere has changed in general, as if by turn of the calendar's page. They're suble at first, this particular month's changes; maybe imperceptible if you're going about your life with your mind on other things.
My mind is always on August. I think August is more beautiful with each passing of it through my life. (Or with each passing of me through it.)
Maybe I just dread winter more and more each year, and August represents the tipping of the scales in winter's direction. As a friend and I discussed this morning, August is that month that invites you outside, and if you don't get out enough you start to get panicky about that; that summer will up and disappear on you even quicker than you'd imagined.
And August, softer, slower, more generous than the other summer months, rewards you for going out. Foods with deep colours and more luscious than ever - corn, cantaloupe, beans, peppers, tomatoes – are piled the farmer's market. Other rich colours begin to line the ditches and fields. Night time is cooler and time stands quieter while vacations and road trips are carried out before the preparations for back to school and back to full time responsibilities in, dare I say, autumn.
August seduces me, leading me outside often. And for that I love her – maybe more than all the other months.
It was August at the end of Summer of '42. Subtle changes in the air – bigger changes in that boy. Are there changes in me this season? I don't know – get back to me in September, my mind is on the gorgeousness of the waning summer. (Beautiful thing number 54)
It’s hot. I’m not complaining; even when it’s upwards of 35°C, I can still remember February.
It’s hot still when I go out for my walk at 10 pm. The minute I step outside the air hugs in close like that blanket I’m dreaming about when I walk outside in February. I get across the street to the lake and it’s not much better. Everything and everyone has slowed down, even the water swells lazily against the piers, and ducks lollygag around, probably wondering why the stupid humans don’t just get in the water. I know I’m tempted.
Even the moon looks hot, so deep in colour it looks like it’s encased in amber, hanging sluggish in the sky behind thin, black cloud ribbons. Lovers loll about on grass pushing hair off shoulders, kissing lazily. Dogs amble along behind their humans. A solitary skater doesn’t work too hard as he arcs on one edge of wheel, then the other.
As I approach York Quay, I feel the smallest drop in temperature; there must be a breeze coming in from the east. There’s a little more action down here as if the people feel it too. Restaurant patios are full, more groups of people are hanging about on the pier taking pictures of one another. While I stop at the end to look at that orange moon still reluctant to climb higher, a guy behind me is hitting the wooden pier with two sticks in a repetitive beat. I might normally enjoy that, but he’s not very good at it; the beat doesn’t roll out of him naturally, instead it seems forced, with missed hits and awkward pauses. I find it annoying and intrusive against the hot night and so I move on towards home.
Back on the quieter end, boats sway against their docks. Most are dark, residents shut inside against the heat. Except one fella, stretched out flat in a chaise lounge on his deck. I’m envious; I wish I could sleep on a boat deck tonight.
I get home and I’m soaked through like a wet rag. Not willing to go anywhere near my lovely clean sheets like this, I take a cool shower and sit down to write while my hair dries.
…to this story.
As I walk out of my office for a walk at lunchtime yesterday, I very nearly crash into the very man walking by the front of my office building. He looks out of place on Bay Street at lunchtime amidst the suits and and cell phones and smart pumps. I have to stop myself from staring. The strangers in danger of bumping into me suddenly rooted there wouldn't know or care why I'm compelled to watch that man cross the street.
I turn back to find him and he's gone. I think to myself that I do so love a coincidence. This one: beautiful thing number 48.
Now and then something binds you to a stranger. Sometimes it’s one-sided, sometimes reciprocal. Often that thing drawing you in is indefinable; you may never know what it is that connects you. It’s a nice little mystery inherent in our existence, in my mind.
Last weekend I’m having a late lunch on a sunny pub patio. Into my line of sight walk two men. One looks to be in his thirties, dressed unremarkably in shorts and a shirt. The other man is substantially older – in his eighties, maybe even nineties. He is tall and lean and limber. They choose Adirondack chairs in the shade of an umbrella and the old man folds his lanky frame into one of them. In my mind I determine they are grandfather and grandson who had just seen a show in the theatre I saw emptying across the street a few moments earlier.
I’m instantly charmed by the grandfather. He’s got a wide, mildly kooky and sparkling smile that turns his small, round eyes to crescents highlighted by gorgeous laugh lines. At the risk of objectifying or making the man a characature, I think his face has the look I was trying to achieve in some puppets I made a few years ago.
They want to order beer, and his soft voice doesn’t carry over the satellite radio music. He says he wants anything but a Heineken. The server doesn’t have the gumption to just offer a Keith’s or other popular beer, and presses the grandson into making the choice. He looks a little uncomfortable; I’m sure it’s because she doesn’t talk to the grandfather directly, only through the grandson. I know I’m annoyed by it.
I try to busy myself by looking at some photos on my phone, but I am taken with the old man. He’s dressed cleverly – in jeans, running shoes and a white t-shirt with something on the front of it which I can’t see. He’s wearing a black blazer over the t-shirt and a small toque-like hat folded up around the edges. I sense he’s an artist of some kind, and I’m imagining his life as I look at him over my phone. He catches my eye a number of times. We are in each other’s line of sight, and it’s certainly not unusual that people catch their neighbour’s eyes in restaurants, but it occurs to me that he might think I’m taking stealth shots of him with my phone’s camera. It’s an irrational fear I suppose, maybe related to the guilt felt by the observer caught observing.
He’s engaged his grandson in conversation, and the younger man looks like he’s having a good time. He finishes his pint of Guinness before his grandfather gets much down of his half pint, and the elder insists on sharing what’s left.
They get up to leave and the old man acknowledges me openly, saying “bye” and waving. I’m glad to know that he has taken my attention for what it was: a woman charmed by an interesting looking man with a great smile. I finish my lunch, feeling somewhat bereft.