Archive for October, 2010

Coming Winter

What irritates me, more than anything else, is winter’s arrogance. If you’ve had a martinet for a father you’d know what I mean. With never a by-your-leave, not even a curt nod, young winter struts across the land that just last week, it seems, was summer’s playground. Lot of gall, if you ask me. Okay, the bitterest part — because we all have egos, don’t we — the bitterest part is: There’s not a single thing you can do about it.


The early north wind sneers, and rarely grieves.

Fed to the teeth with summer sun

And summer’s sweet green leaves,

He shakes them till their colors run

And sends the leaves a-scuttling in my eaves.

The shape of winter *


How like Winter’s youth to be so stern,

And, thoughtless, elbow fall aside

And end sad autumn’s turn.

Like me, awash in careless pride

When young, I’d laugh, and all my bridges burn.

All we can do is look ahead, because — trust me — Time changes all things. As the Chinese philosopher reminds us: This, too, shall pass, and summer will once again reinstate its dominion over the land. And not a moment too soon, so far as I’m concerned.

And also how like me old Winter grows,

When he at last his course has run

And bows to Spring’s red rose.

All arrogance he’ll meekly shun,

And leave the stage where Summer gaily goes.


Who’s going to throw it? * *

But all this takes time, something I don’t have much of (and don’t remind me about the use of prepositions). Yet, sadly, and inevitably, old winter has that all-important ace up his sleeve: He’ll be back.

Indifferent then, he’ll go; not think of me.

He’s sure that he’ll be back next year.

Will I be there to see?

When next he comes…will I be here?

To laugh with him and Summer, just we three?

Good question. But I’m not so sure I like the implied answer.


* Photo:  Andreas Tille

* * Photo:  Kamyar Adl


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Canada Post and kids

Some time ago the Post Office issued stamps aimed at young people — stamps depicting skateboarders and snowboarders, maybe even room-and-boarders; there are a lot of kids into that, just ask their parents. The postal gambit, as I understood it, was intended by the post office honchos as a way of encouraging young people to use the postal system.

Was it successful?

Excuse me while I roll around on the floor, laughing.


Early postal delivery (un-unionized)


Can’t you just see yourself explaining the procedure to a kid? Above all, defining the expression “postal system”? The young lad will probably think it’s a new way of posting comments to chat rooms, blogs, cell phones, iPods, and web sites.


First German Airmail, 1912. When he applied for a job at the post office, I wonder if they told him about this? “Remember, Hans, don’t drop it until you’re right over the house.” *


Once you have established the definition, you then have to get the kid away from his computer. Tough enough job in itself. Then you will have to remind him of the writing lessons he learned(?) in grades 3 and 4, then tell him to handwrite on this piece of paper, insert it into a thing called an “envelope,” then put this sticky thing — which not incidentally is going to cost him half a dollar! — in the top right corner, then take it to the mail box (sheesh, gotta be at least a hundred yards away…).

By this time the kid has gone back to his computer, after looking at you as if you were some nut from Mars, and asking you “… how many microseconds does it take for Joey to get my message?” After you have told him “… er … maybe three or four days …” you will realize you have lost the kid forever.

I’ll send a note to Canada Post and tell them they’re on the wrong track. I’ll e-mail them; maybe they’ll get the message.


* Photo: BArchBot

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An Old Street

Our town has been around for a couple of centuries or more, and many of the streets have changed little and carry aspects that are strangely foreign to today’s eyes. Back then apartments were never seen; condos, townhouses, were just a dream, if that. In those uncrowded times dwellings were private homes, you built a single-family home, and you built it to last. And last they did; they’re still there, partially hidden by tall old trees that were there before the homes.

You pass the park, and then look north: each tree

Nods gracefully and claims a place to sleep.

Each shady pattern flutters anxiously,

Appointments o’er the grass they’ve yet to keep.

Sometimes a bird will call, but little more;

A golden silence rests in shadows laid,

The only sound a child’s small voice, a bee,

A faint screen door.

The noble houses, dozing in the shade,

Each house a lasting line in history.


When your name was Medici you could have a summer cottage like this right in the downtown core. *


The homes were old when Teddy was their king.

Their builders, though long gone, are with us still,

Their cornices and curlicues still sing;

Enduring stone, and taste, their living will.

The homes were there before, before we came;

With family feeling filled, traditions, pride.

Those early merchants worked like dogs to lay

The cornerstone of fame.

And fortune, too; the dollar was their guide.

When Fortune smiled, they boldly seized the day.


The Rothschilds just had to make do with whatever they had. * *


Then sons were born, as sons will often do,

And overnight: bye-bye to fortune, fame.

So many ways to spend their unearned due!

So many ways dilute their Daddy’s name.

A bar (and not the one the lawyers wed);

Perhaps a girl, one sharper than the rest;

Or racing cars — a million ways to spend:

The car, the bar, the bed.

So many ways to say “Goodbye bequest.”

And all produced the old familiar end.

Familiar indeed, and seen in older towns everywhere. The sadly mouldering mansion, relentlessly pushed aside by arrogant tasteless apartments, semi-detached nonentities, crass and flashy condos: Cost a million, worth a dime. And fine old homes lie empty beneath soaring architectural shadows.


Look! On the river! It’s a house! It’s a home! It’s the HORIZONTAL HILTON! You can’t beat the price, and hey: no maintenance fees AT ALL!


Behind the houses’ quiet pride and grace,

The queen beside the jester now is caught:

We see the somewhat raddled diva’s face;

The regal home beside a vacant lot.

What’s left? The once-great houses’ proud façades

Reflect but shades of glorious galas past:

The grandes soirées, the teas après midi;

Such afternoons they had!

The divas then were great, but now miscast;

A vacant lot, the past a memory.


* Photo: N. Rigacci

* *Photo: G. Taylor

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I’m beginning to think that we as a species are on the way out. Everywhere you look, hitherto wild animals are growing more urban, with tastes and attitudes similar to our own. Wouldn’t be too bad if they set up their own urban space, but they’re doing it with ours. Coyotes regularly scoff our small dogs, and leave the bones in our backyards, bones that then get caught in the lawn mower.

While sitting around a friend’s patio one day, we looked up at the house and noticed a raccoon running along the eavestrough. Outraged, the homeowner shouted at it. The raccoon turned, glanced casually down at the guy, then flips him the middle paw and carries on about his business.

Not my friend’s roof. This one’s in Germany. * *

Now, I mean, dammit, where is this going to end? One person has reported that raccoons in her neighbourhood even seem to know when garbage pickup day is. Before we know it, bears will be getting into the act even more than they are now. Next it’ll be elks, and I don’t mean Uncle Charlie and the boys at the lodge.

All these animals aggressively make themselves at home. And do any of them pay their dues? Do any of them offer to pay off my mortgage? Do they take out the garbage? Do they shovel the snow off my driveway? Okay, neither do I, but I’m talking principles here …

Three of the little fellas, just waiting for you to turn your back. *

If, or rather when, the wild animals take over the household chores (and not incidentally negotiate my mortgage — a bear in the bank’s Loans Department would certainly get things done quickly. I can picture it: A giant hairy paw sweeps the manager’s computer off the desk and a voice like a cement mixer growls “25-year mortgage, no interest, and make it fast”), when the wild animals take over, where do I, the so-called breadwinner, stand in the domestic scheme of things? What happens to me? I think I know. When the garbage can gets turned over during the night, it will probably be me, looking for a snack …


* Photo: garyjwood

* * Photo: Carsten Volkwein

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Enjoy the golden years?

So middle class.

They’re made of brass.

And while brass has its uses — ships’ bells and doorknobs, and some people’s necks — there’s a second-class feel to the term. Competitions see gold as the most valued position (winners); come third in the Olympics and you end up with bronze. Note what many might see as a euphemism: Bronze (copper and tin), not brass (copper and zinc); brass, if anything, is an also-ran. So don’t give me the “golden” euphemism for old age (or rather “advanced years,” which is yet another euphemism).

I’ll tell you: Growing old is not so hot.

Sweet youth is sweeter still at seventy-one.

An aging savoir-faire is all I’ve got,

and even that, these days, is not much fun.

My savoir-faire, when all is said and done,

worked well, when I was forty, young, dead cool;

my savoir-faire, now all my days are run,

seems just the empty posturing of a fool.

When young I practised well the Golden Rule,

and did to others before they did to me.

’Twas then I starred in Life’s hard acting school,

but now the roles have changed, at least for me.

His patented shtick — the megaphone — in hand, Cecil B. DeMille (in 1920) directs another “Cast of Thousands,” films that often had biblical overtones. Interesting fashion note: Observe how every man is wearing a hat.

It’s crowd scenes now, if I’m lucky; just one of “A Cast of Thousands!” as DeMille’s theatre posters used to claim. Now I’m just “… that vague figure at the back there, half-hidden by a drape.” Huh. Second fiddle to a drape, for Pete’s sake. Far cry from the good old days. (I’m going to have to stop this “good old days” stuff. First of all, those good old days are gone forever, and truth to tell they weren’t all that good).

To survive, mentally, we have to think of the major advantage that comes with senior citizenship: The government initiates a number of programs that give back some of the money that same government took from us over the years. And any times that see that happen have got to be good times.

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To many this might seem a minor thing, even pointless, but I find it wonderful: Our town has finally completed the boardwalk that extends from the marina near the downtown centre, along the edge of the lake, to the southern end of my street, a modest distance of perhaps 500 metres.

I go out of my way to stroll along it, entertained by the sights and sounds of lakeside. The area is home to a million forms of insect, floral, and animal life.


Today, Cobourg; tomorrow, the Pacific Ocean!


The other day as I walked along the boardwalk, a man and his dog arrived and set themselves up on the sand near the water’s edge. The dog was a Labrador retriever. Now, Labs are drawn to the water as if by a powerful elastic band. The dog immediately heads for the water, and not incidentally the half-dozen Canada geese floating fifteen metres offshore.

I mean, water and birds: For the Labrador retriever, is this heaven? The dog owner has obviously gone this route before and diverts the animal with a thrown stick which the dog retrieves and brings to shore, then returns grimly into the water after those goddam birds. And is again diverted with a stick. When that stick comes ashore the owner, admitting defeat, reattaches the dog to the leash and the two of them go home. The Canada geese remain floating, beaks curled in contempt.

Moments later the Canada geese are again under attack: Some idiot in a hydroplane roars along the shoreline about fifty metres out, speeding toward another larger group of geese and ducks. The hydroplane roars right into them, sending them rising in an irritable cloud of flapping wings and a lot of four-letter honking and quacking.

All part of the daily life of the boardwalk. While not yet crowded, it has rapidly become part of the life cycle of those living in the area. Joggers make it at least one lap in their daily self-torture. Motorized wheelchairs are regularly seen tootling along, their operators handing out large hellos to those they overtake. Lamentably, cyclists also see the boardwalk as another opportunity to knock pedestrians down. But us pedestrians are, mostly, undismayed; the boardwalk is primarily ours, and democratically we are prepared to share it with everyone — birds, dogs, geriatrics, kids, plants, insects, all are a welcome part of our wonderful lakeside world. Until winter comes.


* Photo of Labrador Retriever: mrpattersonsir

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Late Autumn

Where, Oh where, has summer gone?! No longer here, that’s for sure. Feel like a swim? Go to the YMCA.

The lake seems colder now.

Cool refreshing whites are brooding greys; the blues of summer are October’s indigo, and tell us that winter’s wind is just around the corner, a corner few of us want to turn.

And the lake is not the only harbinger of the November-February period. The very trees themselves are already telling us; the summer branches that once whispered in a friendly fashion now knock loudly all night long, and send their leaves along the streets in noisy clouds.

“Autumn Leaves” by J. E. Millais (1856)


They’ve changed from summer green to autumn red,

And now October’s wind invades their bed,

With lustful fingers strokes their willing stems;

They gasp, and rustling lift their golden hems;

His promises at night they know he’ll keep,

And then, with joy, they fall: their final sleep.

But other leaves reject the wind’s advances,

Keep their stems crossed, firm against romances.

Dull green, still holding fast to rectitude,

Yet still they sense a change in attitude.

The wind at eventide will softly call;

The leaves, then, blushing red with lust, will fall.

I watch his rough hands confidently seize

Their throbbing colours, whisk them through the trees,

And having used them, fling them o’er the street.

I hear them softly sighing ’neath my feet.

Now-agèd leaves: they once wore genteel green,

And in their youth was passion never seen.

They graced their trees like proper leaves, well bred;

Sedate; no dreams of love; no thoughts of bed

Or other racy deals the wind suggests.

Yet yesterday he stripped them of their vests,

Their fading summer vests of green once bright.

Autumn’s multi-coloured palette. *


He paints the erring leaves, to their delight,

With autumn’s thick orgasmic brush; each hue

A hint of golden summer’s residue.

Flame red, and orange fires; weak fainting leaves:

They hear his promises, and each believes.

And then the dark October wind, and they,

Do wildly dance away the final day.

In a sense I’m sad to see them go. I remember their younger days last summer. Sweet green — not a touch of brown or red — so full of life, a life now so quickly past. Sad, yes, and doubly so; so similar to me, and the analogy troubles me.

The leaves and I now share a common state:

’Tis fall for them, the same that I await.

We each have coursed our given span, and now,

With twilight falling, make our final bow.

And then! like leaves, enchanted, blind to Fate,

My geriatric heartbeats reinstate

… like leaves, as dust. * *


My love of youth! — young girls, so tall and fair;

October-coloured, too, their lips and hair.

The morning girls set evening feet to dance;

My role’s reversed! October’s in their glance!

’Tis I, the ancient leaf, that spins with lust;

Will find his place at last, like leaves, as dust.

And there’s the icy lake, if I needed a reminder, telling me that at least one more winter awaits. But I’ll wait, too; so long as my furnace doesn’t give me a hard time, I’ll be here to welcome summer once again.


* Photo: 松岡明芳

* * Photo: R. Halim

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