Thursday, December 15, 2022


In my fever to get things done around the property, I hit upon the idea of putting in an orchard. Not a massive orchard, you understand, but a domestic sized orchard with a few apple trees, a pear tree or two, maybe a peach tree, and a specialty tree: I wanted to plant a crabapple tree in memory of my friend Natalka's mother, Daria Husar Struk, who died in 2020, at age 100. Daria was a marvel. She even picked her time to die very well: just before the advent of Covid-19, which she would have enjoyed even less than the rest of us. Daria loved the pink blossoms of a crabapple tree, and I discussed with Natalka my wish to plant a tree in her memory. The first summer I moved here, an excellent young guy named Mark built four raised vegetable beds for me. Mark has a business called Gourmet Greens Organics, and he's a wealth of knowledge about planting vegetables. I sent Mark an email, asking if he'd come and inspect a flat area on my south lawn for its suitability as the site of a dwarf orchard. This flat area had previously been a large gravel children's play area with swings and slides and a climbing apparatus. I'd removed most of the gravel, depositing in on my neighbours' driveway, whereupon goldenrod plants took over, rooting very lightly amidst the gravel. Mark agreed that we could plant a drawf orchard of about eleven trees, but first we'd have to cut down about a dozen old pines that were casting too much shadow on the lawn. (Notice I refer to "we". In truth, the only "we" part of this operation has been the sunny afternoon that I pulled up lots of dead goldenrod.) Mark chainsawed down the pines and a dead spruce or two, plus one maple which will make excellent firewood a few years from now. Yesterday he brought in a wood chipper and - you know how it is when you steam spinach? You put a mountain of spinach in the steamer and four minutes later you have one small helping of steamed spinach. That's what the wood chipper was like. There's maybe a few bushels of wood chips on the south lawn, but those chips will be like steamed spinach at the base of my fruit trees early this spring. However, I know very well that this will be a legacy orchard, for I might not be here by the time the first apple is picked. Stand by for photos.


Last year I decided I wanted to replace the heavy wooden gates at the south entrance to the property. Each gate was an impenetrable 8 feet by 8 feet and they weighed a ton. Because of their weight, they had started to drag on the ground, making them very hard to open when a service truck needed to drive onto the property. Also, they looked formidable, as though they should come with their own moat and drawbridge. I liked the more open, friendly look of a set of metal farm gates. Happily, steel farm gates come prepainted in green, and I'm a fan of colour, especially when I don't have to apply it. I ordered a set of farm gates and the corresponding bolts from a nearby farm supply business, and they promptly delivered them. I figured I'd install them myself....till I picked up one of the gates and found I could only move it about a foot at a time. In my nearby little village, finding a handyman would be harder than finding a hardware store and, believe me, there's no hardware store here. You want hardware? You're probably driving to Orangeville, whether you like it or not. Now, oddly enough, the Home Hardware store in Orangeville is well equipped, and it even has a notice board in the front entrance, with the services of several handymen advertised. I took some cards, and the first one to call me back was Casey. I asked if he could install farm gates. He could. He did, and very efficiently, too. Here's my farm gates. They sure look nice and level, just the way I'd hoped. Now I won't have to dig a moat and install a drawbridge. Thank you, Casey!


Winter has set in. It's not my favourite season. It doesn't even get fourth prize in the My Favourite Season contest. I flat-out dislike winter. So my strategy to avoid winter is to take up home improvements to beguile the weary days till it's warm again. It's embarrassing to remember how many years ago it was that I removed the very damaged roof on the well shed. I'm thinking it was maybe August of 2019. I removed the entire roof, which was no mean feat, putting a claw hammer through my forehead in the process, then covered the entire shed with a layer of heavy duty vapour barrier. That was a brilliant move, because it enabled sunshine to come into the shed but kept the rain out. I definitely intended to put a proper roof on it before that first winter, but it didn't happen. And as time went by, I really liked being inside the well shed. I built a new wooden cover for the well, cleaned out the interior of the shed, painted the exterior, and I was pretty happy with it. But with a property like this, you always have to look ahead to a time when someone else will own it, and it's unlikely that person will appreciate vapour barrier as a roofing material. So I went to see Trevor, who works at McKinnon's Timber Mart in the nearby village of Hillsburgh, and asked if he could recommend someone to put a metal roof on the well shed. And that's how I met Rod. Trevor gave me Rod's number, I chose my preferred style of red metal roof, and Rod brought over a buddy about ten days ago. So here I am with a lovely red metal roof, which looks exactly like I laid an open book down on top of the vapour barrier. Even better, Rod built the new roof on top of my vapour barrier, making me feel that I had been part of the process all along. Isn't it handsome?

Saturday, November 12, 2022


On my last birthday, I saw the little red flag on my rural mailbox was raised, so I headed across the street to bring in the mail. Inside the mailbox was a soft package, and my sister's handwriting was on the package. My sister, who lives in Kingston, has developed an interest in needlework in recent years. A couple of years back, she quilted a set of placemats for me depicting a row of Newfoundland jellybean houses: those brightly-coloured rowhouses that line some of the streets of St. John's. I love the placemats, use them often, and they never fail to attract admiration from guests, especially because while the colours are the same, each of them is unique. I got back to the house, opened the package, and was amazed to see a piece of textile art inside. It was a landscape, and while it had a familiar appearance, I couldn't quite place it. She had sewn pieces of brown patterned fabric in the shape of tree trunks, against a background of pearl-white satin. You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? Here's the piece of textile art.
Once I had marvelled over the piece, I recognized a spot of yellow on the piece, which instantly located the scene: it was an image of my little yellow boathouse on the edge of a pond, as seen through the trees. I was transfixed to realize she had even added the reflection of the boathouse in the pond water. Inside the package was a note from her, explaining that she had found a photograph on this blog, and decided to render it in fabric as a gift for me. It took me a while to find the photograph, and I'm not going to make it easy for you, either. You'll have to scroll back to a blog post entitled Spring Forward, dated March 6, 2022, when I'd gone down to the island for my first visit of the year, after an unbearably long winter, and had my first presentiment that winter might actually end. It's odd that I should choose today to write this blog post, as it snowed again for the first time this afternoon. Once I'd gotten familiar with this new piece of art for my home, I had to decide how to display it. I'd been saving a beautiful piece of board, and I mounted the piece of textile art on it, and decided to title it Boathouse. I photographed it for my sister; she also liked the board backdrop, but suggested I add some text underneath, to anchor it. I read through the blog post, found a few lines of text which I felt captured the mood of the textile art, and wrote that text underneath. Then I sent a photograph of it to my sister. "Perfect', she said. And that is how I come to have this remarkable piece of art hanging on the wall of one of the guestrooms. Our great-nephew, Benjamin, was recently visiting for a few days. He immediately recognized the scene, as the island is one of his favourite places to visit, and he was just amazed that Auntie Lesley had made such a beautiful work of art. He has since claimed that room for his own, and given me a colour scheme for the walls. Here's how it looks. I can't begin to tell you how delighted I am with it. This is a gift that has made getting older feel worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022


If you've been reading this blog for a while ('a while' being last October), you'll recall that I sold my beloved motorcycle, Clyde, to a fabulous young woman named Katarina. Her partner, Josh, was already a motorcyclist and Kat was just about to take her test. It had been a stressful time for me, worrying about giving up Clyde and therefore, my youth. I didn't want him to go to the wrong owner. I wanted him to go to another female rider, one who would care for him and love him like I did. Well, when I met Kat, I suddenly lost all my stress, because she was so right for Clyde, and Clyde seemed to feel the same about her. I was really thrilled to have a text from Kat to say she'd passed the motorcycle test and when spring came, she and Josh would be out getting used to riding the open road together...but apart, on two separate bikes. We planned that once she was comfortable, they'd ride up here for a visit, so I could see Clyde - and them - again. A couple of weeks ago, Kat and Josh made good on their promise. I was pretty thrilled!
I took them on a walk around the property, nonchalantly swinging my chainsaw, because Josh and I had joked last year that we were going to see if Kat also wanted to add "lumberjack" to her resume. Now, Kat had never taken down a tree with a chainsaw before, but she was definitely not intimidated, listened carefully to the instructions, and promptly took down two trees. I didn't measure, but they were at least 15 feet high. I was out on the land today and was amused to see that a third tree, very near Kat's trees, had come down all on its own. It was probably thinking, "If Kat comes back, I'm a goner. Might as well call it a day right now." Well, I definitely hope they'll both come up for a longer visit. It's funny: you occasionally meet new people and instantly realize you like them uncommonly well. That is the case with Kat and Josh. Somehow it feels like they belong here. A word on Clyde: Kat has made some excellent improvements to Clyde: removed the windscreen and the logos on the gas tank, installed new mirrors and repositioned the licence plate. Clyde looks so handsome. I'm looking forward to seeing them all again soon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022


There are a fair number of tall, skinny trees on the island, but the tree I'm here to tell you about today is a tall, skinny, diseased, dead maple with a distinct tilt southwest. It looks like an accident waiting to happen. When I say tall, I estimated this one at around 70 feet. It's one of the taller trees on the island, and because it's so high up there, it looks much skinnier than it is.
I decided last fall that one of my first spring projects would be to bring it down and cut it up. It wasn't until I headed down there with my larger chainsaw that I realized how much thicker it was than the capacity of my chain saw. However, since the lower trunk is bifurcated, I figured I could tackle each fork of the trunk individually. I had a new chain on the chainsaw, and I'd charged up two batteries. The eastern fork of the trunk was really no problem. Clearly all the strength of the tree was on the west side. I'm a patient person, so I worked on it carefully until the bar and chain of the saw got pinched by the weight of the tree leaning down on it. This happens frequently in my experience, so I didn't waste time trying to pull it free. After all, this tree was maple, not balsa wood. I opened up the side door of the chainsaw, disconnected the bar and chain from the sprockets, and left them in the tree. In the worst case scenario, I figured I could buy a new bar and chain. It was starting to rain, so I came home with only the body of the chainsaw, charged up the batteries and decided to wait overnight, because it occasionally happens that a partially cut tree that is leaning will be overcome by gravity and come down on its own. This morning it was still standing, but the cut through the east fork of the trunk was considerably wider. That seemed encouraging. The previous day I'd been emailing with my friend Neil, whose farm is 20 times the size of mine and who knows all too well that I was working far above my pay grade. He strongly recommended I get a professional to finish the job. As I was thinking of heading back up to the house and calling up a tree company, I heard a distinct sound that I recognize: it's not really a cracking sound but it's half way between a woodpecker and a gunshot if one were wearing ear protection. It's a sound that says, "Lady, you need to be over 70 feet away from the scene of this crime in a hurry, and you'd better get there the long way around." Did I mention I was wearing my new dressing gown? I often wear it over my clothes when I'm at home. So I walked the long way around the edge of the island, crossed the bridge, and I was standing on the bank of the river, at least 100 feet from the tree, gazing up at it. I really did not want to miss seeing its descent. I stood there for about 15 minutes, and noticed every time there was a gust of wind, I heard the woodpecker/gunshot sound again. As the wind picked up, the sound came more frequently, and all of a sudden, the tree started to fall straight in my direction. It landed exactly as I'd hoped it would land - and there on top of the stump I could see my bar and chain, just lying there doing nothing. Postscript: I went home to retrieve my phone and a tape measure. The tree turned out to be only 60 feet high, as the crow flies, but the trunk wasn't completely straight. If it had been, I'd have exceeded my maximum tree height by an impressive amount.
The thing is, the whole endeavour felt a little too risky. A tree can suddenly torque when it's being sawn through, and come down in an unpredictable way. I'm comfortable with a fair amount of risk, but I don't like unmanageable risk. So I think I may take Neil's good advice and confine my lumberjacking to things like cutting up tree stumps.

Sunday, April 24, 2022


There's an ancient apple tree overhanging the sloping roof of the garden shed. It's like a hen that's too old to lay eggs. I was planning to climb onto the roof of the shed with the chainsaw and take it down, one piece at a time, before a storm takes it down for me. Today it's the first really warm day of spring and I'm out doing heavy work, so I figured, why not have a go at doing it from ground level? In my mind, it was of smaller diameter than it is in real life. I nearly changed my mind when I saw how thick it was and how many knots the trunk has. Knots are really tough to saw through. I sharpened the large chainsaw, oiled it up and started cutting.
I knew which way I wanted it to land. As I could see my cut widening, I knew the thickest part would land near the edge of the sloping roof. I was worried it might go right through the roof. What to do? What to do? In the shed there are some thick foam cushions for the big deck chairs. I positioned them on the roof right under the main pressure point. Then I got a twelve-foot aluminum ladder and lay it on the roof beside the cushions. I figured it would act as a giant snowshoe. Then I got a length of rope and tied the upper trunk off, tying the other end to a pine tree. I figured if it started to crack, I'd guide it in the right direction by pulling on the rope. Let me tell you, it worked like a charm.
The tree came gently down onto the roof and balanced on the foam cushions. I didn't even need the rope. I just stood behind the tree trunk and wished I had my iPad with me to film the descent. There I was, telling myself I'd chosen a poor angle to cut and wondering if I should start over with a brand new cut (never a good idea because multiple cuts greatly increase the unpredictability of the descent) but it was like that apple tree was skydiving. Apple wood is wonderful for burning in a wood stove. It's fragrant, burns hot, and - at least in this case - it's free. And now, if you will excuse me, I'll go and retrieve the ladder from the roof.

Friday, April 22, 2022


We are not alone. I'm here to report that squatters have taken up residence in the carport. Yesterday one of my neighbours dropped by. We were standing at the doorway chatting when I saw something black whooshing through the carport, doing a U turn and then making a speedy exit. My neighbour turned just in time to see it. "It might be a barn swallow", she said. Sure enough, on closer inspection, there was a newly built nest in tuhe rafters of the carport, on top of one of the long fluorescent light fixtures.
Last fall, I'd had swallows evicted from the roof cavity and I know they like to return, year after year, to the scene of the crime. So here we are again. Wait'll they find out how rarely I turn on the fluorescents: if they're hoping their nest has heated floors, it's going to be a grave disappointment. I have a soft spot for birds, and if they want to nest in the rafters, I'm prepared to be a pretty good landlord. But this morning I noticed my shiny black car, the sleek and lovely Lorraine, had a lot of bird droppings on the rear left taillight. A quick trip to the car wash took care of that, but I've had to move my car to the other side of the carport for the season. Better get those babies housebroken, Mrs. Swallow. Wouldn't want to aggravate the S.O.B. Landlord, now, would we?

Saturday, April 16, 2022


I had a sudden urge for a different front door colour. Maybe it's going to become an annual tradition because this is the third time I've repainted it in three years. When I bought the house, it was a pale orange. Prior to that it was dark fuchsia. The entranceway is a bit sepulchral, being under the carport, so the door needs a jolt of colour. I first primed it in light blue, then painted it royal blue, with matching railings. It looked good, but blue is a tricky colour. Depending on the shade, it can easily call to mind a recycling bin. I've always liked the combination of blue and green, as long as they are equivalent in saturation, so this time I chose as close to emerald green as I could find. It's taken four coats already, and could probably use another. But so far, this is the look of 2022.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022


These early spring days can be unpredictable: cool, cold, freezing, rainy, snowy, a hailstorm, high winds, and occasionally, warm. We're not even half way through April, but we've already had four days warm enough for me to be outside in a T shirt. These are bonus days, and I'm making the most of them. I feel as though I'd been shot out of a cannon, and that's just as well, because there's lots of outside work to do. On Day One of the warm days, I got out the weedwhacker and cut back all the overgrown greenery around Pond One. On Day Two, I took the Good Ship Louise out of drydock (in the drive shed) and pulled her down to the edge of Pond Two with the tractor. I raked up all the leaves that had amassed in the carport over the winter, collected and split enough kindling to last me till the cows come home, and then I went out rowing on Group of Seven Pond. It was pretty excellent, but I've got a lot of upper arm strength to rebuild. On Day Three of the warm days, I went out on Pond Two, and dredged out all the logs than had broken off and fallen in during the winter. This is heavy work, but once the branches are dragged onto the shore to dry out, it looks like a lot has been accomplished. Today was Day Four. It was a beautiful, warm day and I decided that since next week is going to be rainy, I'd better get started clearing the south fence line. I've been working at this project sporadically since I got here three years ago, but it's astonishing how much grows back over one season. There's an old cedar split rail fence running for several hundred feet. It separates my property from Cathy's property (she's my neighbour to the south and has become a good and trusted friend). A fence between us is a bit of a joke, honestly, because we never think twice about being on each other's property. We share tools and keep an eye out for each other. If she's in town and I need tofu or bok choy, she's on it, stat. If she needs me to run a security check on her property, same deal. But, you know, there's the old fence and I really like to look at it, all moss-covered and weatherbeaten. So I started clearing the fence line of all the tenacious tangled vines but are actually an invasive species, called grape-something. I think I cleared about 200 feet today. Here's the first section:
This part of the world is very rocky terrain. Not far from the fence line are two large rocks that always cause me misery. One is very angular and in an awkward spot. If the tractor ever hit that rock, I'd be both in hospital and in the market for a new tractor. The second is like an iceberg: 90% of it is below the surface. The top 10% is covered with moss, so the mower deck of the tractor has hit it several times over the years. I decided both rocks had to be moved. The angular one wasn't too bad. I basically grabbed it and tried to tip it over. On the tenth try, I succeeded. I may need some help relocating it but for now it's out of my way. It may not look all that big in this photo, but it is a brute.
The iceberg rock, I quickly discovered, needed to be dug out. Turns out it had two sidekick rocks, one on either side, but they were of manageable size, and I moved them with ease. It took me three tries to dig down enough to dislodge this huge rock. I needed a shovel, a crowbar, a length of wood and a manual tiller. The cavity it'll leave when it's finally out of the hole will be big enough to bury me in. I've had a good idea, though: I can bring a length of rope down there, wrap the rock in rope, tie it off securely, tie the other end of the rope to the tractor, and try to drag it out. If you never hear from me again, it's likely because this wasn't such a good idea after all. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 1, 2022


Today is a big day. Not only is it April Fools Day, it's also my wedding anniversary, (27 if you care), and the third anniversary of my owning this swell place. I'm always pretty pleased with myself on April 1st because, even though it's still cold, I know how quickly that can change to warm, and that's when my life begins anew. To celebrate, I decided to paint the brick fireplace again. This is the fourth time I've painted it. It's been blue/grey, it's been white, it's been pale green, and now it's navy blue - a really deep, saturated navy: exactly the colour of the wood floor in the living room. The woodburning insert is very dark green and the door trim is copper coloured. Anyway, it's done. Maybe it's going to need a few touch-ups when I look at it in the daylight. But for now it looks dark and moody, the kind of fireplace in front of which you can read a really good book, or think deep thoughts. Because sometimes I do that, too. Happy Anniversary to me.

Saturday, March 26, 2022


Yesterday I was expecting a courier delivery. Sometimes the courier doesn't pull into my driveway because it's hard to back out again. When the online tracking system reported that it had been delivered and it wasn't at the front door, I decided to go and check my rural mailbox across the road to see if the package had been crammed in there. To my amazement, my mailbox was standing upright again. I was shocked. Someone had replanted it vertically, and they'd done a very nice job of it too. Sadly my package was not inside, but I was pretty pleased with that vertical mailbox. Who could have done it? The first suspects were Liz and Linda, excellent neighbours, good friends, and very sneaky. But Linda said no, it wasn't them, and it's a boatload of work to do that, so I narrowed the search down to Harry, the brother of my next door neighbour, Dick. Dick doesn't live there any more but Harry keeps an eye on the property and does some logging while he's there. I confess I like hearing Harry working over there, and he sometimes ploughs out the entrance to my driveway when the snow is deep, so Harry is pretty much up there in my books as a swell guy. Scotland Yard suspects Harry at this point. If not, it might be Mark, a young guy who has an organic gardening business nearby. Mark built my raised vegetable beds. The issue of my missing courier package was solved today when there was a knock at the door. It was Mike, who lives two streets over (but miles away). We have the same house number, so this isn't our first time at the mail delivery rodeo. Mike had my package. That's the good news. The bad news is....
...a tree just came down and wiped out a whole section of cedar split rail fence between my place and Dick's. I figure it's 30 feet tall and maybe 30 inches in diameter at its widest. 30 feet is nothing. I've taken down trees twice this tall. This tree is already down, though, and it's the 30 inches that's the problem. My chain saw is not nearly big enough for a tree this thick. I'm thinking of baking a nice pie. I wonder if Harry likes pie....

Sunday, March 6, 2022


It's twelve degrees and sunny today. Only yesterday, the snow was so deep that when I tried to walk outside I was thigh-deep in it before I'd walked 100 feet. I had to turn around and come back inside. I felt so discouraged. The longtime locals all tell me this has been the worst winter they can remember in a decade. I know perfectly well it's going to be freezing cold for the remainder of the month and I'm going to be prowling around the house like a caged beast, but it's been far worse than in previous years because I've had health troubles this winter that have been exacerbated by the cold. I really needed to know how I'd be able to cope once the warm weather arrived, because honestly, there's no point in being here if I can't enjoy the backbreaking labour that fills my every spring, summer and fall day. I was hoping I'd feel well when it warmed up, because my trips out to the carport for firewood this winter are less taxing on warmer days, and such torture on very cold days that I've had to opt out of burning firewood on occasion and use just electric and propane heat. This morning, my first trip outside was to the compost bin (now that I am able to find it under the snow). I freeze my vegetable scraps which helps them break down into compost more quickly, but there wasn't much room left in the freezer. That done, I checked the level in the propane tanks (32% full, so at least I won't run out) and then I thought, "I wonder how deep the snow is out on the land". It's to the very top of my rubber boots, and a bit deeper in some places. But, as I said, it's a warm day, and I thought it wouldn't hurt to walk to the top of the very steep hill that leads down to the wooden bridge to the island. Last fall, I'd tied a rope to the trees on the left side of the hill, to hold onto as I descended. I'd forgotten that rope was there, but once I was at the top of the hill, still feeling fine, I figured I'd grab onto the rope and see if I could make it down the hill. The snow was surprisingly deep, but gravity was working in my favour and once I was at the bottom of the hill I was curious to see what damage the beavers had caused on the island. I practically ran across the bridge. Once across, I noticed a few areas where new growth was already evident, and some circular areas around trees where there was no snow at all.
I walked to the north end of the island, looked at the sun glinting on the half-frozen water of the ponds, noted the damage to a few trees, and took a few photos and a little video. Heading back, I dropped by my little yellow boathouse, The Adam Vaughan, peered in the windows and found that it had survived the winter admirably.
I took note of the major limbs that had fallen off my huge, gnarled willow tree, and wondered if they justified the purchase of an even bigger chain saw.
When I got back to the house, I still felt like a million bucks. I can't begin to tell you what a lift this day has been to my spirits. I came inside and warmed up a large bowl of the lentil and barley soup I'd made yesterday (Google "Thug Kitchen Lemony Lentil Soup p. 85" and substitute pearl barley for potatoes). Now I'm going to put my boots back on, find a garbage bag and some rubber gloves, and walk down the road as far as my neighbour Cathy's driveway, picking up the garbage that gets tossed out of car windows. Because what's better than feeling like a million bucks? Feeling virtuous and like a million bucks!

Sunday, February 27, 2022


In Pamplona, Spain, every year, they have an event in the month of July, as part of the Festival of San Fermín, called L'Encierro, or The Running of the Bulls. Basically, what happens is that between six and twelve bulls are released from a corral and encouraged to run down the streets in a herd. The locals pay money for the dubious privilege of running in front of and alongside the bulls. So it's like a cross between the Boston Marathon and an all-ages entertainment event at the Roman Coliseum. It's dangerous, noisy and a big attraction for tourists and locals alike. In rural Erin, we have a similar event that occurs every winter, except it's really unpopular, cold, and nobody has ever come out to see it. The first time I noticed it was in early 2020, and I actually didn't witness the event, likely because I was snug in bed, but I certainly heard the scraping noise of the municipal snowplough coming down our rural road about 4:30 a.m. When I got up, I noticed that my rural mailbox, formerly upright, was now leaning so far to the south that it was imbedded in a snowbank. I'm not one to spring into action to fix something that the municipality might feel obligated to fix for me, so I waited. And then I waited some more. Pretty soon it was clear that the snowplough operator didn't feel a sufficient sense of civic responsibility to report himself to the municipal authorities, and that if I wanted the mailbox repaired I'd have to wait till spring. Spring came, along with my nephew Angus. He promptly drew up plans for a stronger base for the mailbox, arrived with all the materials in tow, plus his friend Matt's new circular saw, and by the end of the day I had a very superior rural mailbox installation. I was proud of it, and even more proud when neighbours commented on what a good, well-executed design it was. Winter 2021 came, and with it another mammoth snowfall. When I heard the scraping sound of the snowplough coming down the street, I leapt out of bed just in time to see a smaller snowplough turning into my neighbours' long winding driveway. Just before it turned, it hit my mailbox again, this time knocking the red "You've Got Mail" flag off the side of it and leaving the mailbox still attached but at a 45 degree angle. I straightened it out again, replaced the red flag, and began to wonder whether I should invest in an inflatable plastic police officer to stand sentry at my mailbox during the winter months. It's now February 2022, and the end of winter is nigh. But the other day, after a heavy snowfall, my mailbox took another hit. I know we're not much of a tourist attraction in midwinter, but surely the Tourism people at the Town of Erin can make some money out of the annual Running of the Snowploughs. Our Municipal motto is, ERIN: EXPERIENCE THE CHARM. In Winter, let's just knock off that C, and we can EXPERIENCE THE HARM instead.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022


I'm in a foul mood today. A car or truck must have hit a massive raccoon across the street from my place. It ended up deceased about a metre north of my rural mailbox. If you've never lived in the country before, here's an important piece of advice: never aggravate the mail delivery driver. One way of aggravating them is not to shovel the area around your mailbox in winter. If you do that, you're never getting mail. She'll keep it in her truck till the cows come home, and she won't tell you either. I like getting mail, so I try to be a good citizen and keep a wide swath of roadside shovelled. Sometimes it's a battle with the municipal snowplough, but since I'll never win that battle, I keep my shovel close at hand. Anyway, the raccoon. It appeared to be giftwrapped in red ribbon, which seemed unnecessarily festive. It took me a while to realize that raccoon entrails look like red ribbon. I began to notice more crows than usual circling over my property, and realizing that they could be my allies in this situation, I figured I'd give them space. But I haven't had mail for a few days, and I was pretty sure Vanessa, the Bringer of Mail, would consider a dead raccoon to be an offense against her as an individual, and against Canada Post Corporation as a whole. So I got out my snow shovel, walked several metres north of my mailbox, and dug a large flat section into a snowbank, a bit farther back from the gravel shoulder of the road. I walked back to the scene of the crime, loaded the deceased onto the snow shovel, and trudged back to the plateau I'd dug into the snowbank. Having deposited the raccoon onto its new resting place, I offered a brief but heartfelt prayer, trying not to breathe, and added a few words of thanks for crows....and for Vanessa. Because I'd really enjoy getting some mail this week.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022


If I could choose a superpower, I wouldn't waste the opportunity on acquiring a skill as mundane as flying or X-ray vision. What I'd really like to have is the gift of instant repartee. Repartee, or as the French call it, L'esprit de l'escalier, or Staircase Wit, has two components: precise timing and a witty way with words. I already have the latter (after all, you're here reading my blog, aren't you?) but some of my best comebacks only occur to me after the moment to use them to greatest effect has passed. One of the best things about being around Ivaan was the fun of outdoing each other with wit. It didn't matter if the occasion to utter a funny retort had passed, because we lived in the same house and we'd trade quips any time at all, sometimes laughing so hard his head would start to hurt and we'd have to take a break. When you live alone, and especially when you live alone in the country, you talk to yourself more often than you speak to other people, and sometimes you find yourself saying something preposterous. Because time is so fluid when you live alone in the country, you may think of a witty retort hours after, or sometimes days after it's needed. And because you're there by yourself, you say it aloud and you chuckle to yourself, but later on you polish that retort and improve on it, so you tell it to yourself again and this time you laugh harder at your dazzling wit. Lately I've been thinking of incidents where my wit and my timing were in perfect sync. They tended to happen when Ivaan was around, and they were all the better because he got to enjoy them too. So I'm going to write them down in this post and add to the post as other incidents come to mind. Once I had to make a speech at a conference in a downtown hotel. If there's a skill I have in spades, it's the ability to speak to a crowd of people without a shred of stagefright (or an iota of knowledge about the subject). You could put me on a stage, hand me a microphone, and say "Go and speak to that million people in the audience about Astrophysics - or Mortgages, or Choosing Well-Fitting Shoes" - and I'd be off to the races. This speech was about Organ and Tissue Donation. I had picked a smart-looking outfit to wear: a short charcoal grey jacket over a matching sleeveless sheath dress with a very large thick zipper that ran down the back from top to bottom. As I was getting ready to go, I asked Ivaan if he'd like to come along and hear my speech. He was already using a wheelchair but the hotel was not far from our home, so I helped him get spruced up and we headed out the door and down Yonge Street, me pushing him in the wheelchair. Half way to the hotel, a nice woman came up to us and said to me, "That's a really nice dress!" I thanked her, and she continued, "But aren't you worried someone is going to come up behind you and pull down that zipper?" Without missing a beat, I shot back, "How'd you think he ended up in the wheelchair?" gesturing toward Ivaan. He howled, the lady howled, and even I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. A couple of years earlier, Ivaan was newly home from the hospital after his third stroke, and he was pretty frail. I'd just gotten him into bed and was reading to him in our second-floor bedroom. It was past eleven o'clock. Suddenly the doorbell rang. I went downstairs to see who on earth would be ringing our bell so late at night. It was a couple of acquaintances named Bernard and Julie, and they'd clearly been out for dinner and more than a couple of drinks. Overly animated with alcohol, they said they'd just dropped by hoping to see Ivaan. I explained he was already in bed, but they persisted. I went upstairs to ask him if he was willing to have visitors. He acquiesced, so I invited them up. Now, I should mention here that Bernard and Julie were an "opposites attract" couple. He was intelligent and humorous in a quiet way. Julie was dramatic and theatrical with a musical lilt to her voice. When they walked into the bedroom, in which we'd recently had leopard print broadloom installed, they were a bit startled to find themselves in a room that had a touch of safari about it. Honestly, I was irritated and just wanted them to leave, so when Julie said, dramatically, "Oh! I could NEVER sleep in a room with a carpet like this!" I turned and fixed her with a look that would have stopped a clock, and replied, "We don't do much sleeping in here". Bernard roared, Julie looked slightly abashed, and I thought to myself, "Check...and...mate!" and ushered them out the door and on their way home. I'll add more stories as I remember them, but those are two I remember fondly.