These are seemingly unrelated topics at first. What they have in common is their connection to my life lived in rural BC. This land calls to me with images of loveliness, brilliant green in spring, vibrant colors in summer and the serene monotones of fall and winter. On the surface, deceptively romantic, but really it's a struggle everyday. Routine items, like keeping warm and dry, growing food and running a variety of appliances with electricity become these large choreographed performances. The latest venue played last night as the heat seal from the wood stove crumbled into my hands right after I had filled the firebox for the night. I could not repair it and when the door was closed without the seal the air whipped in the gaps and over the wood filling the stove with bright orange flames. I could tell it wouldn't be long before the stove reached a dangerous temperature. Pulling the fire apart was the only solution I could come up with so I called my son and we pulled each log out, dousing it with water in a metal bucket and hauling it outside. We successfully emptied the firebox of wood while filling the house with smoke. Our eyes and throats burned and I couldn't help but wonder if there had been a better solution. After an hour of airing out the house, I finally headed to bed. It was after 11:00 p.m. and I had some trouble falling asleep. I kept thinking about how great it would be to sell the place and move somewhere...easier. I decided to open my window and put on an extra quilt. The weather was mild and the fresh air felt soothing on my throat. At some point I must have drifted off because the next thing I remember I was waking up to the sounds of a discordant chorus of coyotes with the neighbor dog singing back up. It was 2:20 a.m., only 3 hours remained until the start of the next day. Bring it on! I thought sarcastically before I drifted off again.
Sitting alone with my tea Saturday morning is something I enjoy. This morning as I sipped with both hands I looked at the moon-shaped scars on my left hand, then an arrow shaped scar on my right thumb. I don't have many scars, but the ones I do have are connected to my encounters with wildlife. As a kid I spent a lot of time trying to enter the world of small rodents. Any free time consisted of walking around the family's 160 acre land with my head pointed toward the microcosm on the ground. I remember digging into tunnels the width of a golf ball trying to see how small creatures decorated their homes. I meant no harm and reasoned that the owner would instinctively understand so I was surprised one day when I received the injury to my thumb from a set of tiny, sharp teeth. It happened so quickly that I didn't get to see the resident owner with much clarity. I marched over to my Dad to declare my disappointment but his face clouded with worry and he began to pelt me with questions, "how big was it?" and "Was it frothing at the mouth?". The whole entire event was confusing and I quickly categorized it as an exception to my rule. Many years later I received the scars on my left hand through much the same kind of denial. On this day the dog was barking furiously at a brown furry lump half his size so my brother and I went to investigate. The lump had one good eye and as he turned to look at us I could see the terror and desperation in it. I decided to act. I ran to the house, put on several layers of work gloves, had my brother hold the dog back and approached the lump. He was a muskrat and I knew he belonged at the pond behind our house. I reasoned that with my gloved protection I could pick him up and relocate him to the pond before he even knew what had happened. Well, his teeth were larger and sharper that the mouse. He bit through all 3 sets of gloves and deeply into the flesh of my hand. I tossed him down and he took off with the dog in pursuit. Amazement turned to worry as the wound wouldn't stop bleeding. We were alone that day, so we did what we had seen in some movie somewhere and tied a tourniquet around my bicep. The bleeding stopped quickly after along with the feeling to my arm. It's colour drained and it began to feel cold. Apparently the 'sock' was effective, but a little too tight. It was removed an hour later by an amused Doctor and two unamused parents. I no longer approach wild things in an attempt to understand them, instead I try to incorporate their natural world into my art. I share the same world with them, yet their ability to integrate with their surroundings in a way that works within the ecosystem is something I still cannot do. I want to know what they know so that I can live and die an integrated part of the world, as they do. I am deeply embarrassed for humans that we have let hedonistic desire pervert our existence in this world. I see what a mess people have made and wonder if it will ever change.
This is a tale of a tail that involves a cat and a mischievious little brother. It happened in the 70's when each day brought some new experience to ponder. The bitterly cold winter was fading into memory and the buzz of farmyard bugs was in the air. We were bored. As we sat on an old set of wagon wheels, the scuzzy barn cat jumped up and demanded attention. My brother absently began to pet him following the length of the cat's back right up to the tip of his tale. Scuz began to purr his appreciation and came in close, putting his scent on us. He leaned into the next stroke, his little motor purring hard. As my brother passed over the tip of the tail we heard a sickening 'snap' and there, in my brother's hand was the cat's tail! A look of horror spread over his face and he exclaimed "oh, no!" The cat continued to purr and looked questioningly toward my brother as if to say, "why did you stop?" He didn't seem to notice that his tail was now in my brother's hand! It had been a cold winter, and the tail no longer had any life in it. In the meantime, our boredom turned to panic as we tried to think of a way to explain to our parents why the cat had no tail!
We recently returned from Grande Prairie where we visited family and the prairie landscape. I forget how much I miss the prairies until I am there again. The wind always blows, and you can see for absolutely miles. There is nowhere else like it. I took my family out to Kleskun Hills which is near the farm where I lived in the mid seventies. The Kleskun park now has a bit of a heritage site with many buildings and bits from history. I was thrilled to visit the Hubert Manning house, built in 1914. Mr. Manning was our neighbor for a time and I have fond memories of him. Inside the house was a book with stories about this eccentric man. They were much the same as my own memories. I'll treat you to a story now.
One time (this is how all good stories start), one time we were at Mr. Manning's house for a visit. I think we might have brought him some water as he had no running water. He invited us to tea and told us stories from his home in Ontario. My brother and I were so fascinated buy his tales of collecting and making maple syrup that Mr. Manning wanted us to taste this golden liquid for ourselves. He had several jars left in his cellar, he said and if we would only wait a moment or two, he would dig them up, literally! His cellar had collapsed a while ago and he had to go into the hole where his stairs once were to dig up whatever food he needed. After a lot of grunting and dirt flying out the hole, Mr. Manning reappeared like a large gopher with a dirt covered jar in hand. The lid was rusty beyond recognition, but inside the glass we could see the golden liquid! My mouth watered in anticipation! After wrestling open the lid, Mr. Manning flew over to his bread box and pulled out a crust of bread. He generously poured the liquid over the crust and divided it in two. As I bit into my piece, an overwhelming taste of mold invaded my mouth. The bread was very moldy. With tears in my eyes I continued to eat the crust and thanked Mr. Manning for the taste. He looked at us, beaming that he could share a delight from his home. He didn't notice my tears as he had very poor eyesight. The moldy bread and tea with ants floating in it has become one of my favourite memories.