Category Archives: THE FUTURE

The Loving Huntsman

A minor triumph recently: I finally secured a nice copy (an excellent edition) of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes; or The Loving Huntsman.

It’s taken about a year to achieve this. Over a year, actually, plus a month or two.

I was, and remain, committed.

***

Lolly Willowes is a story of struggle, privilege, humiliation and personal retribution (which looks very much like vengeance, though it is not). There is a cool intelligence in the writing, a wry and discerning mind behind the prose. A rarity, even now. Even today. Possibly always.

***

Lolly Willowes (or The Loving Huntsman) also has the best narrative portrait of the Devil I’ve ever come across:

 

To be this – a character truly integral, a perpetual flowing of power and cunning from an undivided will – was enough to constitute the charm and majesty of the Devil. No cloak of terrors was necessary to enlarge that stature, and to suppose him capable of speculation or metaphysic would be like offering to crown hi with a few casual straws. Very probably he was quite stupid. When she had asked him about death he had got up and gone away, which looked as if he did not know much more about it then she did herself: indeed, being immortal, it was unlikely that he would know as much. Instead, his mind brooded immovably over the landscape and over the natures of men, an unforgetting and unchoosing mind. That, of course – and she jumped up in her excitement and began to wave her arms – was why he was the Devil, the enemy of souls. His memory was too long, too retentive; there was no appeasing its witness, no hoodwinking it with the present; and that was why at one stage of civilization people said he was the embodiment of all evil, and then a little later on that he didn’t exist (1999: 220-221).

 

Forgive and forget. Who doesn’t need that, once in a while?

Who doesn’t crave it, the reprieve of disremembering just the right thing, at just the right moment, so that everything (present, future and past) will be alright. Will just turn out that way?

Pick and choose, overlook. Exonerate.

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Speaking especially of the Devil himself.

 

________________________________________________

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. (1999). Lolly Willowes or The Loving Huntsmen. NYRB: New York.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Language, Philosophy, THE FUTURE, THE PAST, Words

Bumper Crop

As it turns out, the one tomato plant I bought on a whim because it cost a dollar (even though it was wilted, mostly dead or dying and seemed to be more brown than green) was the plant of the garden this year, producing, shall we say, a rather bumper crop of produce:

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As for the rest, a confession: despite earlier enthusiasm, I eventually left the garden to fallow…though before it can do that I suppose it needs “to rot.”

It is. Rotting, I mean.

Nothing untoward or gross – just a slow decay indicative, really, of my failure to provide care or manage it.

To care, I mean.

The other tomato plants died in the ungodly heat and for lack of rain, and water (two very different things, as it turns out). Likewise, the jalapeños and other assorted peppers (bell, ghost, habanero) perished. The squash and the mystery plants, though mysteries no more, were ravaged by vermin (raccoons, skunks, squirrels and rabbits, we had them all this year).

It was more than enough to demoralize, to quit. To not to care, not anymore.

I can only blame myself. And the gods.

I realize. I was too ambitious. Next year will be another year, at least, to try.

But that, I also suppose, goes without saying.

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Change, Death, Food, Hobbies, Plants, THE FUTURE

Won’t Amount to a Hill of These

My habit isn’t to eavesdrop on people, but I do at times catch snatches of conversations that are hard to keep to myself.

 

Yesterday, it was one about beans:

“I can’t eat so many things right now.”

“You want chicken wings? My mom can make chicken – ”

“No.”

“How about tacos?”

“With the kids? Too messy.”

“Oh.”

“You know. I can have chilli. She makes good chilli.”

“Okay! Chilli it is.”

“Problem is, I hate beans in my chilli. Can’t handle them. Especially now.”

“So we’ll ask her not to put them in.”

“Oh, please.”

“What?”

“Remember the time you mentioned you didn’t want beans and she served you a bowl of bean-less chilli and then she gave me mine and it was just full of beans? And I told her, again, that I can’t stomach beans in my chilli and she was like ‘Oh, you don’t like them?’”

“That was just a misunderstanding.”

“No it wasn’t. She hates me. She did it on purpose. Because she hates me.”

“She doesn’t – ”

“She’s crazy and she hates me.”

“Because…she puts beans in your chilli?”

THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO ABOUT BEANS. You didn’t have any beans in your chilli.”

 

Shortly after, it was time for their appointment. I watched as they walked out of my life, presumably forever.

Memory and conviction are odd catalysts in conversation – where they will take you and where they don’t, and what that will do to the rest of your day.

It wasn’t about the beans.

It wasn’t ever about the beans.

 

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Filed under Communications, Family, Food, Relationships, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

Out Comes the Mystery, Etc.

The mystery plants are a mystery no longer. Unlabelled plants with board, squash-like leaves, purchased from the nearby grocery: 2 @ $1.99 (plus tax). They continue to be very green, have more proven their strength & vitality (and then some), and they are, indeed, edible.

They are Opo Squash.

Opo: a squash of the calabash type; lengthy, smooth, cool skin of chartreuse, with a mild, unassuming taste.

More:

The Opo plants, despite being mysteries no longer, continue to amaze, growing so rapidly and so large that they may end up taking over the garden.

Actually. It’s a little scary how much of precious plot I must cede, will end up ceding (have already ceded) because of my decision to buy and plant mystery plants in my garden.

They have tendrils, the Opo plants do, that snake along the ground between and through my other plants – the bell peppers, tomatoes and jalapeños – stealing away space, choking them slowly, remorselessly. As plants do.

The Opo plant leaves: they smell. Like a cat peed on them. Many cats.

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The weeds do not touch the Opo. Will not grow near the Opo.

Now:

The Opo have flowered, but with all they have so far done (and are doing), they have yet to fruit. What then?

What then?

“You like Opo, don’t you?” Stephen asked.

And I think: it doesn’t matter, though there was a brief time, I’m sure, when it did.

 

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Filed under Change, Hobbies, Plants, THE FUTURE

Enemies List

In order of increasing urgency (if not importance):

 

1. My Past Self.

2. My Future Self.

3. The Squirrel with the White-Tipped Tail that I Suspect Lives On My Roof.

 

Past Self keeps making messes for me to clean up; and Future Self keeps eluding our shared responsibilities, leaving me alone between them to deal with consequences I should have and also never see coming.

There is nothing I can do with catch up to my Future Self, and my Past Self has already done all the damage she’s going to do.

That leaves the Squirrel, who digs holes right in front of the porch steps in its efforts, I’m sure, to kill me. It leaves messes on my windowsills and curses at me whenever I leave or enter the house.

(I wish I knew squirrel language).

The squirrel is my undoubtedly enemy. But in a way, I appreciate its tenacity; it’s apparent resolve to defeat me in such outlandish fashion. There are those whom I regard much less than this squirrel, who have done much less and much more to me, personally, than this squirrel – who annoys and even entertains so much more than it will ever actually hurt me.

Maybe I should just leave it at that. In any case, it has been and will always be too late for anything else.

This squirrel will never be my friend.

 

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Filed under Animals, People, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

Everyday Decisions

There’s an election on now in Ontario.

Or there was (by the time you read this the election will have occurred and outcome decided).

The choices, such as they are (or were):

  1. Person who’s not been very much liked for quite a while and now, it seems, has lost the ability to inspire much trust, or failing that, much faith in their leadership prowess and (therefore) their party’s efficacy;
  2. Person who has ridden the pony express to political provincial power via an all too familiar path of self-aggrandizement on behalf of an amorphous and ill-defined “people,” whose uncouth charisma in these lacklustre times (a heady mix of perceived business acumen, feigned compassion and calculated aggression) seems very much to compensate for their lack of a party platform and experience as leader of anything;
  3. Person who’s been a presence in Ontario politics for a good while, a good long while, but who has always seemed to come off more as an acquaintance seen from across a crowded room rather than a viable candidate for premier, whose party gives off the impression of the last person standing after cooler heads have prevailed, good intentions be damned.

Not exactly what you would call a bumper crop of candidates. Not all that much to fill the streets or scream from hilltops. A lot to lose, perhaps, but not all that much to gain. It reminds me of something…

Wag the dog, but if a dog chases its tail for long enough, will it die of exhaustion?

What’s inevitable and what just isn’t?

There will be no winner, not after the votes are tallied and the results declared. There are no winners here, no sense of solid victory or sound accomplishment. Simply the sense of having lost a little less than what could have been, democracy, in the end, having been processed, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Politics, Ritual, Routines, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

Experiments On Reality, 1.0.

Fantasies are experiments on reality. One of my running fantasies is one in which I have to run. Get away. Go. Find a safe or better place.

The jig is up!

They are coming. Finally!

(It was only a matter of time.)

“Who are they?” Stephen often asks. As if it matters!

(It doesn’t matter.)

It’s they. Them. The ubiquitous They. What more can or needs to be said?

I think about Essun from Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. I think of Mulan, Imperator Furiosa, Stray Cat Rock‘s Mako, and Louise Belcher. People who ran, when they had to, who would not be caught up in fates not of their choosing. People who were ready, even if it’s not what they wanted. People who have had enough, already.

Who wants to be chased? It’s not about the chase. It’s about the ability, the capacity to run, to deal. The wherewithal to have runny-sacks; maps, fake IDs, loose cash. A stolen War Rig. Your father’s sword. Cocktails (molotov)! All of it at the ready, or ready for the taking. It’s in the daring, or the will. The need.

(I will neither confirm nor deny the existence of a bindle of likewise necessities somewhere on the premises – cell phone, wallet, keys will not suffice.)

If and when They come, I want to be ready. They are not going to get me. Or at least, I won’t make it easy.

More: one way or another, they will be sorry they tried. They will regret what they started. No matter the outcome.

Now.

How’s that for fantasy?

 

 

________________________________________________

Jemisin, N.K. (2015). The Fifth Season. Orbit: United Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, Characters, People, Plans, Routines, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

Alien Screech, Robotic Bleats

The way I figure it, you can’t blame a place any more than fault an individual for their mutual incompatibility.

People sometimes ask me why we moved back to Ontario after spending only a year or so out west, in Alberta.

It’s a hard question, with many answers.

Mostly, I tell them about the cicadas.

The alien screech of those delicately-winged insects, eyes set far apart on a squat, almost dumpy body, has a way of bypassing common sense. I only realized later that I never noticed it until I wasn’t there to hear it: that screech, that electric buzz rattling off the treetops, sounding off the frenzy of new life.

It was the white noise of childhood summers, and now provides a semblance of nostalgia for an admittedly scattered adulthood. That wretched, wonderful screech suddenly as gone, as removed as I became and then replaced by the robotic bleating my new city’s ubiquitous magpies.

You hardly ever see a cicada unless its dead, after having spent itself at last in the trees and then having fallen unceremoniously to the ground from the branches way up above. It is quite the journey, emerging from underground, taking flight, mating and dying. It is everything.

I never heard the cicadas in Alberta. They remained an unfulfilled promise of a rather unremarkable summer. My memory of that time is rather blurred and indistinct. I did see magpies, though, and almost every day.

Bleat-Bleat-Bleat!

Some cicadas emerge from the dirt in 13-or-17-year-cycles (and only in 13-or-17-year-cycles), in numbers so immense as to betray the mathematical import of the cycle itself.  These cicadas, obviously, cannot be divided among themselves. They are prime.

SCCcCccRRRRreeeEEEEEEeeEeEEEeEeEeEEEEEEee!

You can’t always go back. But eventually we did move back because we could. That privilege was ours; the opportunity presenting itself just so. Nothing special, the difference between luck and fate remaining as firm as ever.

We drove across the country on rough roads and, inevitably, through a late-season blizzard, a five day journey in which the dog got sick, the Jeep lost all its heat and my succulents died, arriving in Ontario at end of March.

I heard the cicadas that summer. It was an odd sensation: I was struck by a feeling not so much of being, finally, home (because the notion of “home” has always seemed too neat, too trite to be of any good use), but of something’s stubborn having finally been shaken loose. The summer was no longer incidental.

We had gotten away with something, I just knew it.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, City Life, Insects, Places, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

Cold Inn Comfort

The art, such as it is, repeats itself.

Three panels on one elongated frame, hung just above the bed; each panel an abstract, non-comitial rendering of something that resembles earth-toned coffee stains overlapping each other on a hard wooden table. A kind of meek, kaleidoscopic effect (or is that affect?).

Ottawa, Calgary, Thunder Bay, Vancouver. Wherever. Whatever.

Every room the same: an unfailing arrangement of bed against wall (close to the small alcove containing the bathroom and the door), TV placed atop a chest of drawers in front of bed, desk with black faux-leather swivel chair beside chest of drawers (leading away from the alcove and door), mini fridge (possibly with an ancient microwave balanced on top), then some dead space of a few unimaginative feet, leading finally to a sliding glass door festooned with elaborate (often broken) lock, ostensibly to keep unwanted elements out.

Imagine someone. Anyone. See yourself. Staying in this room in one city or another, some capital propped up against the landscape, some small town just big enough for the chain motels to test their tepid waters. Put up a location, see what takes! Provide slightly more-than-basic cable. Serve a “free hot breakfast” (available 6:30AM – 9:30AM) that’s already been worked into the price of the room.

Every room the same. With one exception: the large framed photo by the bed. Hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed. Always different, always a photo of the place outside the room, the world surrounding the motel: the Rockies, the Sleeping Giant, the Parliament buildings.

It’s the one thing you, weary traveller, have learned you must count on.

***

Scenario 1:

A man wakes up and discovers that it is still dark outside (too early to get up, much too early to partake in the “free hot breakfast” of sugary bread, machine-dripped coffee and scrambled eggs fresh from whatever half-opened carton of liquid egg-like product that happened to be lying around that morning). He is shivering. He does not remember going to bed; he had not planned to sleep, not after this particular job.

He is suddenly reminded of the blood that still remains under his fingernails, the bruises running the length of this ribcage, marring his face. He tastes vomit – he, actually, reeks of it (and not all or even that much of it is even his). His head throbs, his temples dancing to the beat of an erratic pulse. He tells himself again that he regrets nothing and then just like that the darkness is too much for him.

He turns on the oversized lamp that is (also always) by the left side of the bed. Nothing out of the ordinary appears in the lacklustre light in provides. He breathes.

No, nothing out of place.

Until he looks up and finds the frame hung up on the wall, just by the foot of the bed, empty. A great white nothingness where a picture of the Canadian Rockies should be just manages to glow, a little, blankly, then hotly, in the darkness of the room. It is clear it is calling to him. Beckoning.

It knows.

He realizes he won’t make it to either door if he tries to escape: movement now that he has seen the frame will only serve to pull him in and snare him in its field of vision, something which he knows he must not do.

Terrified, the man realizes that his only recourse is to lie silently in bed and wait for the daylight.

It soon becomes apparent that the light, too, is conspiring against him. The lamp dies a slow mocking death, its flickering like cruel laughter. The darkness – despite what should be by now the encroaching dawn – remains.

Scenario 2:

A woman wakes up from a long nap after spending the better part of the day touring the nation’s capital. Standing on the steps of the Parliament buildings, she remembers telling her friends to expect her in the evening upon which one, a man who everyone knows had a huge crush on her in high school, handed her a polished wooden box. It fit nicely in the palm of her hand, though it weighed down her palm and tired her arm. There were etchings on it she couldn’t quite make out.

“Not now,” he said, when she began to open it. “Later, when it’s time.” He wagged a thick finger across her eyes and then stuffed the offending hand deep into his front pants pocket. Behind him, their other friends tittered loudly like a nest of drunken sparrows.

Now, sitting up in bed, the woman thinks again of the man, and her thoughts are less than fond. Actually, she remembers him being more of a friend of a friend (or someone’s brother, maybe); in any case, he was an annoyance she put up with because it made things easier among their rather exclusive group. She remembers being liked by most everyone (by everyone who counted), and as she does this, she glances idly to the spot on the wall above the foot of the bed.

The picture is of the Parliament Buildings, but it is from the year 2056. The semi-distant future. She only just recognizes the buildings from that very afternoon (there have been quite a few alterations, queer flourishes, and add-ons), and then only after reading the little inscription affixed haphazardly to the frame itself: a bronze plate with scratched-on letters.

It seems like a warning; even the ambient noises of her room now seem strange, a measured humming she can’t quite place. Yes, there is an ominous whooshing in her ears and the air tastes brittle, like tin. She reaches for her cellphone, but cannot find it in her to turn it on. What if – ?

A cursory glance of the room reveals nothing else has changed. A prank, perhaps? Or is she still dreaming? She looks again at the unassailable frame.

Reluctantly, she considers the box.

Scenario 3:

The Sleeping Giant Provincial Park isn’t quite as you remember it. It seems less pristine, more congested now, and the childhood fancy you had of the rock outcroppings being the Giant’s “spine” as you walked along them does not hold the same sense of joy (or was that whimsy?) you had hoped it would. The scale, the immensity of actually being there disrupts, undermines the fantasy for you. But not as much as you imagine it should.

Mostly, you are just tired. You realize it was a mistake to come back (you regret it so much), and you are glad you decided to spend this last night at a motel rather than at your father’s place. In the morning, you will leave them both.

Something about the frame hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed catches your eye. A portrait (of sorts) of the rock formation, the Giant, who indeed appears as if reclined, as if in sleep. He is surrounded, of course, by the mighty waters of Lake Superior, and you find yourself oddly comforted by the thought, the assurance of that critical distance. You walk up to the frame, traces of a smile pulling at your lips. You put your face in real close, almost touching the glass. A challenge (and one, you are certain, easily won).

You blink.

There is a man standing, perched, on the Giant’s chin. The perspective is impossible: he is so far way and yet so very close; his features are clear but his proportions are indistinct. He must be a giant himself to stand on that massive jaw the way he’s standing on that massive jaw, that jaw that nonetheless remains in the distance, bounded by the water, all that water, of the largest, the greatest of all the Great Lakes.

You want to step back – away – from the frame, its incontrovertibility, but know that it is already much too late.

You see his face. You realize that you’ve seen that face before. More than that, his expression, the one staring back at you from the frame, is one of recognition. And anger.

You blink (you can’t help it) and the man vanishes. The hairs on the back of your neck suddenly prick at a presence behind you, looming and immense.

“Hello.”

***

Each scenario, while fantastic, is not wholly ridiculous. Not when you’re sitting in that room, not when you’ve been across the country, as I have, and discovered them all – every room – to be the same, in whatever city, whatever place you happen to be.

Every room the same, except for that one picture, the large framed photo by the bed, hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed.

It is never the same, unless the place is.

Wherever and whatever that place happens to be.

 

 

 

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Filed under Interruptions, People, Places, Routines, THE FUTURE, Travel

The Places You’ve Been (Before & After)

Sharon Temple is located in East Gwillimbury, not too far from King City, Ontario. I went there with Nate and Ally[1] recently on a mutual day off.

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There was a school group before us. They left as we came in and staff were a bit surprised by our adult presence there on a weekday.

(This economy.)

According to their literature, Sharon Temple was “a community formed during the War of 1812, inspired by the Rebellion of 1837, and instrumental in the fight for true democracy in Canada.” Several members, indeed, took part in William Lyon Mackenzie’s 1837 uprising, which led to key political reforms for “responsible government” in what was then Upper Canada. Read more about Sharon Temple here. Suffice it to say, their stairway is an architectural feat, the Temple itself a marvel.

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Admission: $5 Adults. Children (under 16) free.

We hit an antique market in Barrie shortly after visiting Sharon Temple. It was two-and-a-half floors of a very large building just brimming with stuff – all kinds of matter, seemingly all manner of Thing, although it seemed rather generous to call or deem some of it “antique.” Antique markets are strange places: they seem rather like high-end thrift stores, or immaculate refuse heaps. We had been told by our mutual friend that this particular place was great for quality (or at least hard-to-find) books.

The books up for sale were overpriced for my taste, but Nate and Al poured over them and found some hidden treasures pertaining to their specific interests.

These include (in no particular order): Ontario history; archeology in Western, Eastern and Southern Ontario; provincial archives/sketches; big books full of old maps; and descriptions of early slip-decorated pottery in Canada.

This list is by no means extensive. I have very interesting friends.

I found (in no particular order):

 

  1. An array of foam skulls, purportedly from the set of the 12 Monkeys TV show (which I don’t watch).[2]
  2. A stain glass poodle.
  3. Many wood duck decoys of varying craftsmanship, price and (in some cases) degrees of decay.
  4. A “vintage” mushroom lamp that cost several times more than my hydro bill.
  5. An ENTIRE EDWARDIAN SITTING ROOM (removed piece by piece, bit by bit, wood panel by wood panel and by wall by wall from an estate somewhere in England, with the fourth wall removed/left missing like a stage play or sitcom…a steal, really, at only $38,000).
  6. Metal coin banks in the shape of various animals.
  7. A statue of a Bull fighting a Bear (both male) affixed to a pure marble stand.
  8. Circus Butts.
  9. Old, used buckets of KFC – let me clarify: for sale.

 

I rejoined Nate and Ally. I left them once more to their books and wandered a bit before rejoining them again. I rejoined them again after walking back to the Edwardian Sitting Room, standing inside a place that was and was not there, before stopping at the array of foam 12 Monkeys skulls and picking one up as if it were, alas, poor Yorick.

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And lo. And behold: flipping idly through Al’s very large pile of “To Buy” books, I came across an account of the Children of Peace, the people who built the Sharon Temple and their founder, one David Willson. There were pictures, some admittedly at weird angles, of the Temple’s magnificent structure and accounts of Willson as an outspoken, even outlandish leader.

Further reading revealed a former school teacher turned minister, disowned by the Quakers for “some peculiarities of belief or conduct,”[3] (including, apparently, his love of music, including, for example, his own particular brand of mysticism), Willson is described thusly in one account:

“David Willson seems about 65 years of age and is a middle-sized, square-built man, wearing his hair over this face and forehead, and squints considerably…He was dressed in a short brown cloth jacket, white linen trousers, with a straw hat, all perhaps home-made. Originally from the State of New York, he had resided thirty years in this county. The number of his followers is unknown, but all offering themselves in sincerity are accepted, as he dislikes sectarianism, and has no written creed. He seems to act on Quaker principles, assisting the flock in money and advice.”[4]

(Willson strikes me, after everything, as a man not just of his time but of the unforeseen circumstances, rather than the inevitabilities, surrounding it – a compelling figure for all that he was, and remains, a rather uncanny person.)

Still, it was the pictures that I found particularly striking: we had just been there an hour ago. The pictures seemed proof of something; they somehow added another layer to the veracity of the day, conspiring with us, egging us on.

Something like that.

***

In the end, I didn’t buy anything at the antique market, but it’s the thrill of the hunt, yes?

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Because there’s something about it, isn’t there? Reading about a place you’ve been to before, feeling out how one experience compares (enhances? diminishes? challenges? complements?) to the other, afterward. Learning about someone you didn’t know existed a day before, or even that morning, their life leaving some kind of impression on yours.

And then there was the experience of having been in a sitting room that wasn’t, of having encountered a memento from a show I have never watched in, of all places, Barrie, Ontario.

Wasn’t that something?

Maybe I shouldn’t have passed by those foam 12 Monkeys skulls. Maybe I should have more seriously considered the Room.

But since I can’t place the value in either of those Things, since their purpose eludes me, I think it was the right decision not buy anything after all.

That day, at least, it was best.

 

 

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[1] Not real names.

[2] I have seen the movie (years ago) if that counts for anything.

[3] Hughes, James L. (James Laughlin). (1920). Sketches of the Sharon Temple and of its Founder David Willson. York Pioneer and Historical Society: Toronto, 1. Available: https://archive.org/details/sketchesofsharon00hugh_0.

[4] Patrick Shirreff, quoted in Hughes, 11.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Friends, Hobbies, People, Places, THE FUTURE, THE PAST, Travel