Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fat cat in the sun

Spring sun floods through bare trees from its higher vantage point in the sky and paints large golden squares on each floor of our house, spilling generously over windowsills.

I walk through the kitchen in my bare feet, feel the scratches and roughened surface of the wooden floor gouged by dog claws in mad scrambles for fallen food or to chase cats or to announce unexpected visitors, feel the change in temperature as I step into that sun-painted square. It is as though I have walked into a warm puddle of water collected in a dished rock at the edge of a sun-drenched lake and I stop, almost involuntarily, to enjoy the weight of that warmth and remember after such a long, cold winter.

And Cleo who I maintain has the capacity to be dainty and graceful with her tiny white feet and her delicate features and pretty patchwork colours of dusty gray and orangey beige, sprawls in the sunshine like a great whale. Her stark white belly, wide and blinding so you can not stare for too long or you see the ghost of her image everywhere you look.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

And then it snowed again

Great white sheets of it so the world looked descended upon by a thick grey fog. There were stories of abandoned cars and devouring snowdrifts. Roads were closed, snowploughs tucked safely away as winter stormed on.

The space between snowbanks on our road quickly filled in, narrowing and deepening, until, from a not too far distance the white expanse became indiscernible from any other white expanse and Murdoch and I owned all that we could see. I let him run down the middle of the road unleashed, which I have not done since my trusting days of five years ago before I realized the extent of his deviousness. But whom could we possibly meet on a day like this?

I called to him anyway with an edge of panic as he ran ahead, becoming a small black shape threatening to disappear in that grey curtain and he stopped and turned and ran back. We crashed in to each other and fell into a towering snowbank and then I threw snowballs for him to leap after and catch all the way to the end of the road. The snow on the trail there was up past my knees, so we played in the drifts that swept the circumference of the turnaround before trudging home.

It snowed all day, heavy and serious, and there was homemade soup and cookies and tea. We let the snow pile up outside the door and watched trees turn white against the vague grey shapes of others in the distance. The storm slowed in the evening and overnight, it cleared.

The next day, the sun came out, the dogs played, and Murdoch ate too much snow.

And then it snowed again. But not as much.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April snows

For maybe a day there are dry roads and tree branches devoid of snow and melt water no longer dripping from the roof a steady stream as though it is raining in just that one place below the eaves. For maybe three days there is the smell of fresh earth permeating the layers of snow and songbirds happily proclaiming the arrival of spring and all things green and new. For maybe a week we think winter might be over.

And then we awake one day in the middle of April to snow whipping past our windows on the leading edge of a mini-gale and the forest completely camouflaged in white again; not a speck of green to be seen beneath the new thick coating of snow making trees appear twice their width and burying the already white forest floor by at least another foot. We have not seen the pine-needle-strewn ground since November.

As I clomp swishingly out the door in my heavy boots and snow pants, pull on my toque and stuff my hands into oversized mittens, I wonder if perhaps summer has decided to sit this year out, if perhaps winter is all we’re going to get and the snow will stay forever.

Murdoch says he is completely fine with it as he leaps joyously into the growing snowbank beside our deck and gestures eagerly towards the shovel in hopes I may throw some snow his way. He forgets about mud puddles and swimming holes and lush green grass for grazing. He forgets about warm pools of sunshine gathered on the dry boards of the deck and breezes that smell like fresh cut grass and sounds of the ocean crashing through leafy treetops.

That all feels like years away now, a remote memory or something just imagined. So Murdoch and I head out for another snowy walk up the trail at the end of our road beneath a powder blue sky with the pale disc of a sun behind the thinnest layer of cloud making it feel like the perfect spring day, warm and fresh.

If I close my eyes, perhaps I could convince myself on this still, quiet afternoon that the season really has changed, that there are buds on the trees and great puddles on the trail and worms squirming about in the mud and grasses greening along the edge of the beaver pond and that I am not standing in the midst of a landscape that has been plucked right from the middle of winter.

But then, with a fresh coat of snow it is all so beautiful, even if it is April.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The adventure continues

It snowed the day we bought our sailboat. Heavy grey November sky, cold seeping through rubber soles from the frozen ground, brown cropped grass shriveled into itself, hibernating. The boat towered overhead, nestled in its metal cradle brown with rust, the sea blue keel an upside down fin of a whale.

My hands were numb by the time we finished talking about the boat, climbing about under tarps, checking it over, and then the white flakes drifted in, fat and serious-looking. They whisked past the window as we drove away.

“This is for Bear,” we said as soon as we knew we were going to buy the boat, a 22’ Hurley, ocean worthy and perfect for Superior. We will call it Bear’s Journey, or something like that, we thought, and when Bear is gone she will still be with us in our travels as she always has been.

We hauled it home a couple of weeks later through the rumblings of a snowstorm, up the mountain and into the woods where wet snow clung to trees and slopped onto the roads. We tucked it away amongst the trees beneath its grey tarp for the grey winter, and somehow it disappeared, this wall, grey camouflaged by grey.

Visions of sparkling blue horizons, snapping white sails, calamitous spaces where land meets water, faded as we turned to other things, enjoyed our days with Bear as the snow fell and waterways froze and winter settled over everything.

The boat hid quietly under its tarp, the sails sat in their bags in our bedroom. We stashed cushions wrapped in garbage bags creatively around the house and in the crawl space we carefully stacked every piece of wood, metal and glass imaginable, all of it stripped from the boat by the previous owner. A project to look forward to, we said, after.

Our adventure started on the water all those years ago now, that day on the pond in our canoes when Bear told us we three were supposed to be together and Morgan leaned over the side of a small wooden footbridge and said, “Let’s run away together and be writers.” In the warmth of the air infused by spring sun and the smell of black earth and last season’s bleached reeds and wet dog, how could I say no?

And we did run away together, the three of us. We paddled our canoes and lived in a tent and traveled from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Superior, exploring countless lakes and rivers in between. We never really thought about the day when we wouldn’t all be together because it was too perfect.

What comes next? We wondered when we realized we three, who have been inseparable from the beginning, were soon to be separated. Our adventure can’t be over, not yet. And then there was the boat and gut feelings and a brilliant idea.

We do not know how to sail, but how could we say no?

In the days after losing Bear a friend sent us this poem which I have to share because it is so perfect:

Gone From My Sight ~ by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side, spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast, hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me -- not in her. And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


It was a few days after we lost Bear, the house oddly empty even though the cats scampered up and down the stairs, wrestled in the kitchen, and Murdoch burst into the room, tail straight up and rigid, to intimidate and stomp down the commotion.

Outside the sun shone thinly through a gauze of cloud on to the cold snow and the bare trees. Murdoch stared meaningfully at me, a most vocal dog but not a peep when he has to pee.

“You need to go outside?” I asked, and he pivoted on one leg, looked back eagerly over his shoulder, and shot down the stairs.

“Well,” I said to him as we stood side-by-side at the front door and I reached for his collar. “You have some pretty big paws to fill.” Then I hugged him roughly and opened the door, letting in a blast of cold as I clipped him on to his line.

Of course, I don’t actually expect Murdoch to live up to who Bear was. He is far too much his own dog, but I explained to him later that his attitude was going to have to improve.

“No more Grumposaurus Murds,” I said as I knelt in front of him and he stared back at me, brown eyes through sprays of black eyebrows. He was humouring me, I knew, looking interested but already thinking about his next conquest, those white rabbits that hop around everywhere leaving enticing tracks in the snow, or that treelimb he almost dislodged yesterday, or maybe, finally a deer, before it flicks its tail and disappears on spindly legs amidst the spindly trees.

“You are the dog now,” I continued. “You have responsibilities.”

I shifted to sit by his side and slung my arm over his shoulder. “You have to be much more cuddly,” I explained, and he grumbled quietly in his throat. So I hugged him harder, wrapped both arms around him and then planted a kiss on his cheek. His grumbles grew to growls.

“No,” I said sharply, and hugged him once more before letting go and then we sat and stared at each other.

It has been almost five years since Murdoch came to live with us and this has been going on for at least the last four. The first time I ever managed to hug Murdoch was probably about eight months after I found him and I only managed it then because he was so exhausted after a full day of trekking through knee-deep snow that he couldn’t move once he’d finally collapsed in front of the fire.

Murdoch is not a cuddly dog, and from the beginning I’d resigned myself to the fact that he was not going to be huggable like Bear, but then I had Bear so it didn’t really matter. But now, I tried to explain to him, things are different.

And I’ve been working on him these last four years, spending more time on the floor with him, petting him lots, touching his feet when he'd rather I didn't, resting my head against his shoulder, hugging him more and more, pushing him a little farther each time. He’s not always terribly impressed, but sometimes I manage to slip in and out before the grumbling starts.

“No more Sir Grumpsalot,” I said as we sat there and scowled at each other. I tried to be serious, I wanted him to understand the gravity of the situation but as he eyed me through those ridiculous eyebrows, I couldn’t help myself. I reached out and pinched his cheek, leaned in and kissed him quickly between the eyes and before he could react, before he could so much as twitch his lip, I turned and ran up the stairs to the kitchen. And I left him sitting there, slightly bewildered, a little black dog and his grumpiness.