Wake Up Calls

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I guess ever since life as we know it began, it has been the unofficial duty of birds to greet the coming of a new day and acting as an impulse to people to get moving with the increasing daylight. And for many centuries, since humans began raising hens for eggs and food, that has been one of the functions of the male, the rooster proclaiming his territory. So it remains in much of the world.

The last couple of mornings I have woken with the birds. No, not the crowing roosters; those aren’t allowed in the city – they might disturb some people. However, nature provides her own birds. Most mornings it is robins, often sparrows, occasionally cardinals.

This morning was a combination of all three. Before four o’clock, hours before the sun was scheduled to rise and without even a hint of daylight touching the eastern skies, one robin placed himself (yes, it’s always the male) on the utility wires leading  into my house just below my bedroom window and began to shout his half-dozen-or-so note song. More than loud enough to wake me. Loud enough to disturb several males in neighbouring territories who felt compelled to answer. I didn’t have the heart to complain or shush them. Birds being birds, as they should. I was grateful enough that, after a trip to the bathroom, I could go to sleep again.

When I did get up a little later, dawn was breaking. The robin at my bedroom window had seemingly moved on. When I got downstairs and began making coffee, a different wake up call came through the kitchen window.  My neighbour has a locust tree in a corner of his yard, and this morning a bright red (male, of course) cardinal had claimed a perch there and was whistling his song to the sun, his challengers,  me, and all the rest of the world.

I don’t know whether or not to feel blessed by this multitude of bird calls urging me on and motivating me this morning. Perhaps I should wait for the morning visit by a flock of chittering sparrows.

Ah, well. They may banish roosters from city back yards but they can’t stop birds from singing: Good morning, may your day be bright and cheerful!

Summer Fruit

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It’s been a hot couple of days and I was out and about on my bicycle today; a special purpose – to take in the musical presentation (the regular Wednesday noon hour summer concert) at Whitehern. Today’s featured musician, Doug Feaver.

Satisfied by the good music and the good friends there to share it with. I returned home. All I really wanted was a long, cold drink and I knew I had more than a litre of peach drink in the fridge waiting for me. All went according to plan – and then some!

You see, I had forgotten what else I had put in the fridge. A couple of days ago I had bought some plums. The first one I tackled was hard, not yet sweet and juicy the way I like my fruit. Therefore, I had wrapped the two remaining in a paper bag – the one my pharmacist uses to present me with my medications seems to work fine; besides, then I can believe the fruit is there specifically for my health – and stored them in a kitchen cupboard. After several days, I figured they were about ready to eat and moved them, paper bag and all, to the refrigerator and promptly forgot them.

When I took out the container of cold drink I found them again. So, along with my liquid refreshment, I decided to eat those plums before the became too soft. Ooooooh, la-la and di-da!

They were at a point I could not imagine. I sank in my teeth and they cut to the stone – not an easy task for these store bought devises! The flesh of the fruit was dark crimson all through, firm yet soft. And juicy? I thought about grabbing a paper towel, then a dishtowel, then said the heck with it!

I wore the stained shirt into the shower. The sweet sticky juice washed off most of my face and upper body, but I’m not certain of the shirt!

The experience was worth it! Ah, summer  fruit. Bring it on!

… a loaf of bread …

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          A great many years ago my lady and I were traipsing around the East Coast, in Nova Scotia I believe, when we stumbled upon a food that took both of us by surprise. I don’t remember what attraction we were visiting but we decided to eat lunch in the attached tea room /restaurant. The main course was the stuff we usually dined on at the time, seafood of one sort or another. Whatever it was did not impress. What did impress, and stayed with us ever since, was the small loaf of home-made bread that came with it. When we asked, we were informed that the cook had brought some in. The rich, dark, slightly sweet bread, baked in a circular pan was her own oatmeal molasses bread. We sent her our compliments and bought the two loaves left to take away.

          The taste and texture of that marvelous bread remained with us for the longest time. Although we didn’t usually get bread from a bakery, any time we did my lady would ask if they made oatmeal molasses bread. We never did find any in any commercial establishment, nor come across anyone who made it at home. My lady did find a recipe and tried to surprise me for a birthday once, but either she or the recipe lacked something. It was a pitiful flop, and soon forgotten.

          This Friday I was coming home from Dundas. I needed some groceries, including bread, and stopped in the large new Fortinos in West Hamilton. I picked up some milk and meat, then stopped to pick out a loaf of bread. There, among the loaves of store-baked breads (not the commercial bakery stuff) were two loaves of a dark-crusted bread labelled “Oatmeal Molasses Bread.” My mouth watered; I immediately grabbed one.

When I got it home, I inspected my treasure. I cut off the end. Something was wrong, but something was oh so right too. This loaf had the right colour, the right smell, promised all the delights still engraved deep in my memory, but …   The bread I remembered was firm and dense. This bread was light,  almost airy, as if too much yeast had been used or the dough hadn’t been punched down often enough. However, I did not let that flaw stop me. I made a special little trip for a small tub of butter (you shouldn’t insult a great bread with other spreads) and lunched on bread and butter. Mindfully, I have made the loaf last for three meals. I have come close to culinary heaven. Again.

          Only the two flaws to stop perfection from touching me. As I said before, the loaf was softer than I would like. The other? My lady is no longer here to share this experience.

          This will not be the last time!

What? Me Worry?

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A funny thing happened to me downtown the other day. I lost a tooth. Not like a little kid whose teeth are being replaced naturally – those come loose, fall out, leave a gap and room for the next one. No, I had gone through my allotted sets of natural teeth and am currently working on  my fourth.

Now this is a relatively new set of teeth, aged thirteen months (approximately), and had settled well in their new environment. They have been treated well, bathed at decent intervals and kept clean, and never asked to perform tasks for which they have not been trained. Even the materials which they handle every day has not placed excessive strain on them. I thought we worked together well.

And then I was betrayed by one, one half of the leadership team at that! Without prior complaint or warning, the left top incisor disappeared. Suddenly. In public, in the midst of a crowd!

It happened at Soupfest, Hamilton’s annual taste of winter competition where eating establishments vie for best and most creative soup titles with proceeds to charity. I had supped on a broth with venison and veggies, savored a wild boar and kangaroo stew, basked through a bowl of sweet coconut curry, and was sipping an intriguing garlic, ale and Stilton liqueur when my front tooth abandoned me.

Oh, the shame and embarrassment! To be left looking like a double for MAD magazine’s famous cover boy, Alfred E. Newman! My own famous smile sullied in the sight of all the world!

I rushed home. I refused to smile for days. To heap insult upon injury, a crippling snow storm kept any semblance of help away from its office, while I was forced to brave the elements to fulfill contractual obligations. I could neither hide nor hibernate.

Finally this morning I came face to face (what’s left of mine) with the denturist who fashioned this mutinous tooth. I know where it’s hiding but I have abandoned it. That tooth may suffocate in the stench of my lower bowel; I hope it doesn’t see daylight again! Meanwhile it is being replaced by one worthy of its function and title: the Most Honourable and Gracious Front Tooth!

So there.

Walk Into White

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About noon today I went for a hike with a small group of friends on a section of the Bruce Trail lying between Felker’s Falls and the Red Hill Creek Expressway, toward the Glendale series of waterfalls. The cold was no real problem (except when a burst of wind would break through a clearing) and snow was falling. It was not one of those bright, shiny, new-glistening-snow-underfoot-and-all-over-the-trees sort of days but even in its dull gray whiteness it seemed special.

The snow underfoot had fallen in the last few hours and lay undisturbed except for the occasional dog and his walker. The snow, still undisturbed by gusts of wind, clung to tree branches. The air, too, was often more full of snow than of light. For a short time I separated from my companions where the trail took two different loops to reach the same spot. And then everything came together in a special way.

Suddenly I was in a private space. The terrain, the muffling snow on the ground and in the air, the silence of wind and wildlife, all combined to make me feel alone. So wonderfully alone, one. Even the dim light, the cool air, and the silence were part of being alive. For that moment, nothing else mattered.

Such little miracles happen every now and then; I savor them, hold them close, often try to turn them into poems. This one also will not be forgotten.

To emphasize it with a strange contrast, I went to a concert later in the evening, a performance by George Sawa of traditional and more recent compositions for the Egyptian Qanun. The multi-stringed psaltery-type instrument was accompanied by percussion instruments, and they in turn accompanied a pair of traditional dancers. This too was spellbinding.

The perfect end to a mystic day.

Two Faces of the Guitar

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This weekend so far has been a guitar experience.

Friday night I caught most of a concert by Michael Pickett at the Artword Artbar. Michael is a bluesman who started out with a full band but now performs mainly solo. I’ve been going to his performances locally for some time now, especially when he plays in intimate settings like the Artbar.

His presentation consists of voice, accoustic guitar, and racked harmonica with only a few production tricks like reverb used occasionally. His style is vigorous and ideosyncratic. What I especially like is the way he uses one of his guitars, a National Steel. It’s one of those guitars from the ’20-’30s with a full steel body, steel strings, and a Dobro cone resonator. It’s a marvel to see and hear him attack the instrument, to hear the instrument’s response to a master’s hands and fingers. The music reverberates throughout the room; there is no space for other sounds to exist.

For this I want to thank Gwen Duncan and the Tribal Gallery.

Saturday afternoon I attended another concert, one that was similar in some respects but so different in others. The setting was even more intimate, thirty or so people gathered in someone’s home for a house concert. Again the performer was a single person, not a band or ensemble. Again the main instrument was a guitar. And that is where the similarities end.

David Leisner presented a program of music on his concert guitar, most of it written especially for the guitar. Whether playing a Bach arrangement or his own composition, he was the consumate musician – aware of his music, his instrument, his audience, and the synthesis of all those elements. There was no way to escape the spell in which we were held; his technique and arrangements had us transfixed.

And I came away  with the same emotional high. Two different performances, styles of music that could not be more dissimilar, presentations so contrasting. But in both cases the energy and the power innate in music as such moved me and gave me joy. Even thinking about it creates a glow.

And for the David Leisner concert I have to thank Emma Rush and Guitar Hamilton.

The Creator I thank for life and for music.

The Awesome Arctic Adventure

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I do a bit of hiking when I can.

Now, that’s not an understatement. I like walking in the outdoors through various types of terrain, toward a specific destination or not. But, I am not a fanatic. I don’t equip myself with special gear or special clothing. No gung-ho, mountaintop-or-bust attitude. Often when my wife and I were tenting I would explore the area on foot while she lazed about the campground. I still have the desire to get outdoors but I’m level-headed enough not to do it solo at my age and physical condition. I’ve become part of a wonderful, friendly, and informal group who hike. (Check them out: Trail Blazers – Explorers of Southern Ontario.)

There was a hike tentatively planned for this past Saturday. When Saturday arrived it was a day full of falling snow and blowing wind. Most people would have cancelled their participation; some did. But a hardy group (some may have thought “foolhardy”) gathered anyway. We had a guide waiting at the park we were to visit; people were expected to come down from further away; we saw no easy way to cancel and not cause undue confusion. Therefore, a handful gathered together in Hamilton, drove through dangerous snow conditions on the QEW to Short Hills Provincial Park just outside St. Catherines where we met the rest of our party. Seven adults and two youngsters.

Now slogging through knee-high fallen snow and air full of falling snow that whipped exposed faces on the higher ground may not sound pleasant. However time spent with an intimate group, whether friends or strangers, all involved in the same activity certainly diminishes any effect mere weather could have. It didn’t matter that the walk seemed longer than first perceived. It didn’t matter that the main attraction, Swayze’s Falls, was frozen solid and snow-covered. It didn’t matter that the snow and wind kept all winter wildlife out of sight. We enjoyed each other.

We enjoyed and helped each other on the trail and in the snowbanks. We talked and laughed in the cars, the parking lot, Tim Hortons. And we laughed and commiserated with one who got lost, came late, didn’t hike at all, and was still one of us.

And that’s friendship in a true form.

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