Re: Tree

During the time I have spent in a fifth floor apartment in the midst of suburbia, I have come to appreciate a maple tree outside my window. From my balcony perspective I am living at the level of the tree’s canopy. I have now gone an annual cycle with this tree; through the four seasons of change. My time began here as leaves turned colourful, then brittle enough to escape with the breeze. Winter branches crackled with frost and sleet. I was close enough to watch the buds burst in spring, while birds built their nests. As summer leaves widened, branches moaned in the wind. Now the tree and I have come full circle. I mourn a little as my tree returns to its dormant state. I have more waiting to do.

It’s hard not to be a forest activist when your permanent home is in British Columbia. While I’m away from the towering firs and cedars I’ve been reading about trees. There are some wonderful recent books on the subject. I’ve joined several authors in their revery of dendrology. I devoured the description of the passionate arboreal warriors in The Overstory by Richard Powers. I found a kinship concerning the science behind The Arbornaut by Meg Lowman and Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Call me sappy, but I rewatched the film Avatar for its tree hugging sentimentality.

Canadians are blessed with opportunities to experience trees in nature. Cutting down your own Christmas tree is part of our culture. Most folks know how to use an axe to chop wood into fire sized chunks. I’d be surprised if I met someone who hadn’t climbed up into a tree’s branches as a child, testing themselves while finding a fresh perspective. My son often carries a hammock in his hiker’s bag so he can rest between two trees, gently swinging. His brothers and I have planted many a tree sapling while sharing hopes for future groves, bringing environmental health and integrity.

Trees are great metaphors for many aspects of life. My first wife was a genealogist. She spent much time researching family trees, revealing fascinating ancestral connections. She traced some branches back to early North American colonial settlements. She discovered heroes, black sheep, soldiers and farmers and many quirky characters who enlivened our understanding of our genetic predispositions. During my church years, my Sunday school students would move in close when I told them about the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. They all agreed that Eve did the right thing to show Adam the wonders of that Apple of Knowledge. “How else would we learn!” Exclaimed one girl.

I’ve been lucky to see trees from several continents. I’ve watched my Mississauga maple for four seasons now. From its canopy to its strong trunk, I have gazed the middle distance into its structure searching for the meaning to my present uprootedness. There is more knowledge yet to be imparted These branches wave back to me offering reassurance that another season is yet to come. Time to be patient.

Re: Current

I’ve struggled against the current in my life. I’ve also gone with the flow. Several visits to water parks have provided metaphors for life: The exhilarating turbulent plunge from a great height down an almost vertical chute, The spinning disorienting journey through endless coloured pipes, The zen like perch on an inflated plastic donut floating down the lazy river. The flow of water continues to symbolize baptism, renewal as well as resignation. Currents can act as an instrument of fate or provide a jolt to the senses. I’m alive!

Surrendering to a current can be freeing. I remember feeling exalted when I got accepted into Teacher’s college. Previously, I’d been swimming away from my comfort zone in an attempt to realize a childhood dream. Changing direction gave me a different view. I got swept away by the promise of a year of purposeful study. I dove in to find this new course setting refreshing. I felt charged by the electrical current of fresh ideas. I put my compass in my pocket and trusted in the guidance of others to show me the way. I learned to value alternatives.

Changing one vowel in this theme word can create a whole other memory of nasty bits in cake. I hated currants whenever my mom added them to her Christmas fruit cake. The tiny black bits got between my teeth and didn’t marry well with the sweetness of the candied peel. They were bitter, gritty and totally spoiled the experience of this yuletide treat. Thankfully she would make two versions; a light and a dark. The light one was my favourite with plump raisins and an abundance of green and red cherries.

When I was an elementary school student, our teacher gave us daily current event assignments. We were to listen to a special news broadcast and answer questions about the items reported. This grade four experience inspired me and gave me my first feeling of success with school work. My current mother-in-law likes to stay up-to-date with her radio news. I like to debate with her 93 year old brain about the election coming up in her province. We talk about the candidates and the issues that are important to her. She generally likes to stay midstream whereas I sometimes argue that we need to totally change the course, speed and direction of the flow. Many times it becomes clear that we aren’t even in the same boat.

Currently I am in an eddy of time, slowly drifting without control. I’m becalmed in a sea of routine. It’s a familiar place. I know how to patiently wait until my craft finds the benefits of a Gulf Stream to alter my course and send me to new ways of being. Keeping thoughts current is a challenge when you’d rather be somewhere else. News of the world these days can make anyone feel as though they are swimming against the times. I’ll remember to value the stillness and enjoy some cherry cake until something better comes along.

Re: Park

A park is a lovely place to go on a summer’s day. In Canada we are blessed with policies that require governments to recognize the need for natural spaces and recreational parks where citizens can go to revitalize their tired urban spirits. Some neighbourhood parks are so small they are called parkettes. When I was raising a family my young boys would pace by the door asking to go to a small patch of grass containing one small climbing apparatus, directly across the street. It’s freeing to go to a park.

Now, finding a parking spot is a whole different scenario. How one word can carry two very different connotations is an example of the confusion found by some in the intricacies of the English language. And getting a parking ticket is the height of insult to me. My sister used to just stuff her parking tickets into her glovebox, avoiding paying until they came with additional fines. When I walk by a parked car with a ticket under its windshield wiper I always feel sorry for the owner. I’ve had so few I remember the circumstances in detail, but I’ll keep it short: One was in Toronto where I had parked on a street that was signed ambiguously (I almost got towed that time), another time in Toronto was on a quiet residential street where I had parked a large moving van, once in Vancouver’s Stanley Park I parked unknowingly in front of the  ticketing agent sitting in his unmarked vehicle and lastly in Victoria B.C. I had parked my tiny moped in what turned out to be a construction zone (I found the ticket neatly rolled and taped around my handlebar). Have a nice day!

Even when I am sure I am parked legally I am anxious until I can get back to my vehicle and gaze at the clear windshield. On street parking comes with the additional risk of being broken into. A city parkade with its multiple levels is also a source of stress for me. Even though I like the security and the friendly gate keeper the tight spaces make me fear scratches. And finding the car on return is easier than when you park at those huge Box Store parking lots. My wife is a whiz at navigating the tight corners of the ramps in downtown parkades and doesn’t seem at all concerned that the traffic control bar might come crashing down on the car’s hood before she has made it safely back onto the street. I find it best to close my eyes when I’m her passenger.

Once I tried to fight a parking ticket at city hall. I had to make an appointment with the mayor’s assistant. I came early and parked outside, near a municipal park, feeling calmed by three Garry Oak and a memorial fountain. I presented my evidence and supporting documentation, but the parking authority bureaucrats politely disagreed with my assessment of the situation. I drove home listening to Joni Mitchell. It helped.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWwUJH70ubM

Re: Crisis

What one considers a crisis is subjective. I write this knowing that the troubles in my life can’t be ranked on the scale of dilemmas others in the world have now, or will experience. For example, on tonight’s news, I just watched horrified as hundreds gathered at the Kandahar airstrip clambering onto the fuselage of a taxiing aircraft. That was a scene of crisis on an unforgiving and unforgivable scale.

One could say that our thoughts on crises are all relative. Yet that is so dismissive. I’ve known people who would not admit their troubles just because they thought others suffered more. That would be like not talking about love because you feel outclassed by romantic stories you have heard others share. Shakespeare, Byron or Browning would advise you to proclaim your love in words relatable. Every person’s feeling has value, from woe to whimsy. Judgements on the quality or quantity of your experience will only send you into a crisis of confidence.

I’ve had momentary crises; like locking my keys inside my car, forgetting important papers for a meeting, or getting stuck in traffic. I’ve had prolonged crises that have required persistence and courage. Recently my hot water tank burst moments before I came downstairs to make my morning coffee. I stepped into a puddle of water and immediately panicked but then sprang into action, took off my terry towel bathrobe with a Sir Frances Drake flourish, dropping it on the water so I wouldn’t slip. I turned off main valve and clicked the power switch to the unit. I called the plumber to arrange repair, mopped and prepped the area. Within 30 hours from start to finish it was all sorted. I felt gratitude that I had been there to catch the situation before it became the crisis that it wasn’t.

We can’t always be so lucky. And yet our imaginations can lead us into crisis mode so quickly. A problem that is hard to solve at first glance may be deemed a crisis, that’s when you need help and you need to work toward a solution. I’m learning to be more critical while in the throes of a crisis. Even a moment, for prayer or meditation, can give me the time gap needed to act more efficiently, prudently, safely. I worked with a school principal who told me he handled a crisis by giving it to someone else. Others I’ve known have been able to just let things be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TGg7cGQRlg

As far as the climate crisis goes we can’t just let it be. Neither can we turn it over to someone else to fix. Regular maintenance of our selves, our institutions or our systems will minimize problems. The evidence of our neglect of the planet has been around for many years and yet we continue to fail to act. We ignore all warning signs of a crisis at our peril. Now we find ourselves in a perilous planetary situation. Our Earth is calling for a common collective critical response.

We must answer.

Re: Bank

Where I spent my formative years there was a small river that wound its way to Lake Ontario. Its banks were muddy, with tangled roots grasping for water. I hid plastic toy soldiers amongst these fibrous tendrils, lit small red firecrackers to imitate war. It felt safe here, with my back against the wall of cool earth, watching the creek water smoothly trickle past my feet.

I have Scottish ancestry so I feel a yearning kinship while humming the lilt from ’On the Bonnie, Banks of Loch Lomond’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb8AGuD2uOI

One of my favourite television shows from that time was the hypnotic black and white classic, ’Tales of the River Bank’. The creators seemed to imagine exactly what was on my mind as I used small toys to create a miniature world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VTn6VlUXNA

I took to television with an eye for more than entertainment, like many in a previous generation had immersed themselves in books. While I did find comfort and escape in reading my mind quickly awoke to world issues. I chose stories that spoke of adventuring to different lands on the open sea. I could bank on authors like Farley Mowat to set a pleasing compass course by spinning tales of non or near fiction. His stories of man and nature contrived to inspire and are so relevant to today’s angst over the decline of Earth’s natural resources. In early adulthood, I wept through parts of ‘A Whale for a Killing’ and later gasped at the abundance that once was found off The Grand Banks off Newfoundland in ‘Sea of Slaughter’. In high school my Student Aptitude Test results indicated I was destined to be either a Banker or a Lighthouse Keeper. Hardly occupations for my adventurous spirit! When my mom found out I clearly remember her show of disappointment while my father made a joke of it by saying, “I wouldn’t bank on it son.”

In the northern Ontario town where I spent my career my neighbourhood bank had a history dating back to Gold Rush days. When I first strode in to open an account I was awed by how much it reminded me of the banks depicted in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Lots of wood, brass and a mammoth safe standing sentinel in a corner. It’s hard to believe that this was in the late nineteen seventies! Two tellers sat behind antique looking arched frames with vertical bars. There was a small safety deposit box room at the very back but the only other room was one accessed by a heavy oak door on which was carved the manager’s name.

I enjoyed having my bank book stamped and updated while chatting with the tellers. When a new bank branch of chrome and glass was built into a modern mall nearby, some new fangled ATMs were installed. My sons taught me how to use them. It took time for me to feel safe along the walls of this bank.

Re: Make

I think making things is the highest calling. Humans were created to create. When I talk to my grandchildren I ask them what they made today. I want to know what they’ve been up to, what they might have done or thought about doing, before I comment on their cuteness. When I was a teacher of elementary school students, making something was an important part of our day. During guidance talks we would discuss ways we could make things, rather than take things. And sometimes at the end of a day, the best thing we’ve made is someone smile.

My dad would often read me something he had just read from his newspaper, then he’d start a conversation by asking, “What do you make of that my son?” Making sense of the world was of paramount importance to my father. He practised several art forms, admitting that the act of making things from scratch helped him sort out his troubles. My first wife was a determined craftsperson whose skills in homemaking helped our family of five make ends meet.

When I start writing a think piece like this one I make it up as I go along, because it’s a work in progress. And sometimes the process of making things can be reason enough. There is an element of ‘fake it til ya make it’ like jello cooling in the fridge. A bit of writing can look like it’s complete but still not quite set. When I make dinner I rarely follow a recipe, trusting that when I get everything plated that it will be as tasty as I had imagined. Sometimes what we make is never as perfect as we would like it to be.

We say the word Make many times throughout our conversations: Make the most of it, make a mess of it, make sense of it, make a mountain out of a molehill, make hay while the sun shines, make war, make peace, make love, make out, make money, make do, make sure, make your mark, make the best of a bad situation, Make.Some.Noise!, make amends, make it happen, make your way in the world, make a promise, make light of a situation.

Globally we are in a climate crisis partly due to our productivity. We are making things that have  changed the health of our environment. Many modern day prophets have been warning us that we need to make up for our mistakes before it is too late. I continue to hope that humans have the capacity and creativity to remake the agenda of prosperity; to fashion it for all not the few, to take from nature only that which can be replaced, to think of needs more often than wants.

“What do you want to make of yourself?” Might be a question I pose as I’m gazing into the mirror of my thoughts. The answer changes with age and circumstance. Many things make us who we are in this present moment, yet life is truly what we make of it.