Duck Nuts! A Picture Puzzle for You

Gone are the sounds and bustle of the throng.
Campus is all too eerie these strange days.
Still, if you visit and take the time to look around
there’s beauty everywhere to meet your gaze.

Now as the days are growing ever shorter
and summer wanes while life slips into fall
if you drop by you’ll get to discover
perhaps the greatest little treasure there of all.

At Burton’s Pond there’s pigeons and ducks aplenty
while through it all one stately brown goose struts.
But all waddle over if you toss about some seed,
or as I call it, “sprinkling round the old duck nuts.”

Now, since this is a place of higher learning
our avian friends, without that much ado,
decided to flock; get their ducks all in their rows
and craft a little puzzle, just for you.

So go find it through the photos in this album.
But if you “get it” please don’t give it all away.
Instead type “Duck Nuts!” as a comment or reply here
and drop off a few some cold, cold winter’s day.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/Rd3nD6ysEwbTf4S89



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Social Distancing–Can We Manage our Public Spaces with Wellness in Mind?

Yes, it’s CRITICAL to practice social distancing right now if we are to curb this outbreak. That said, the lifestyle that it necessitates is otherwise frightfully unhealthy and will, without, doubt grow a dark harvest for months, perhaps years to come owing to the emotional trauma we endure, and as, one by one, our good habits get kicked to pieces, replaced by…what? These days it’s hard not to be sedentary and to indulge far too much in whet’s in the cupboard and the fridge. Left unchecked for the three or so months that lie ahead of us I fear for what will happen.

Right now, we, collectively, are rightly focused on (to use that by now overworked term) “flattening the curve.” Singularly so, I argue, at the cost of our long-term health and happiness. Parks and other public outdoor spaces—municipal, provincial and even national–have closed, and there’s a growing sense of vigilantism and hatred directed at those who dare to venture outdoors, to their backyards and to the streets.

Stay in! Lest you endure the wrath of us who see you through the glass.

And yes, there’s a truth in it. The parks and other outdoor spaces are closed out of necessity. Far too many people were gathering there, so much so that safe distances could not be maintained. Furthermore many—the stupid ignorant ones—were obviously flouting the rules and guidelines, gathering much too closely.

At the time there was no choice.

But does it need to stay that way? What of the cost of barring people from simply getting out? What of the inexorable physical decline that results from being cooped up for weeks and months on end? What of the increased tensions that will result as people simply spend too much time together? What of the long-term trauma that will result from the equivalent of solitary confinement (and yes, I am aware that there’s the Internet and telephones, duh).

Let’s for a moment consider the effort and thinking that’s gone into the current response. Governments at all level have enacted measures to ensure that businesses and other organizations have either closed operations or have put in place measures to protect both employees and clients. The federal government is also working to financially support its citizens through the crisis. The health care system, at the front lines, is performing the herculean feat of responding to the increased demands and, at the back end, is performing the no-less admirable task of diligently tracing the contacts of all those known to be afflicted. A solid, thoughtful, and hard-worked effort overall.

But what about wellness? Can’t we ask for much the same? Do the public spaces have to be closed or are there options? Managed limits and quotas for admission, perhaps? Staged openings? Can we, for example, take advantage of the greatly reduced traffic volumes and simply open entire streets to pedestrian traffic? Surely these measures are doable!

And for every excuse you can think of for why we shouldn’t do this, please think of the cost associated with not.

For my part I am grateful that I am still allowed outside for a quiet walk, once a day. It’s a big part of what will get me through this.

Posted in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Society and Culture | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Book: The Ones You Meet Crossing Over

via Book: The Ones You Meet Crossing Over

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A Handmade Christmas Gift

Writer’s block–it’s a thing we’ve all experienced at one time or another. This past month I had a particularly lingering case. Each year at this time I write a short recitation for Christmas and inflict it on my co-workers. This year, though, I just could not get it together. Four or five attempts at starting something were abandoned for being either too lame, too preachy, or just…bad.

Then a few weeks back I had two special visitors. Josephine dropped by the Teaching and Learning Commons with her dad. It was such a pleasure showing my father in law around and chatting with him!

I’ve known Alex Best since I was 5. In 1966, when we resettled from Red Island to Southern Harbour it was he that built our new house. Fifteen years later I started dating his daughter. I think he’s forgiven me. In the 52 years I’ve known him I’ve seen Alex face, and overcome, many, many challenges. Not just that but in each and every case I’ve witnessed he’s come through with grace, with a loving heart and with an ever-stronger aura of hope.

That evening after work, as I thought about the visit, it occurred to me that his ideal is something we all should strive for. With that thought out there, this year’s recitation pretty much wrote itself. I’ve attached it in case you are curious.

Posted in family, poetry/songs | 6 Comments

Killick

A rock, some wood, a few nails or rope
and of course the fisher’s skillful hands.
An anchor is formed—an ancient thing—known
by those who, before us, worked the sea and lands.

The fisher’s treasures solidly grounded; kept in place
withstanding the unexpected—a boat securely moored,
and fishing gear held fast against unwanted wind and tide,
their continuing bounty that much more assured.

Yet, this killick that withstands whatever nature has to throw,
and was such a part of my generation’s days of childhood
is such an unlikely, weird and unexpected thing—
after all it’s really just an anchor made of wood!

Perhaps you have killicks too, but not those made from wood,
but just as subtle, unexpected, touching close to home.
Think—the times you faced the many storms, tides and currents
that cut through, and you stood fast, held ground, moored in place…
…by killicks of your own.

Perhaps this little wooden model killick will help you think of them.

2018-06-03-13-15-55

 

The one shown was hand made by Alex Best, 82, of Southern Harbour (my father in law) in 2018.

003.JPG

Posted in Newfoundland and Labrador, poetry/songs | 3 Comments

Gratitude, Found

I was asked today
To name three things for which
I am most grateful.
On my list was that, as I age,
I am more attuned to the beauty around me.
Walking home today past a few old pines,
a thing I’ve done thousands of times,
I noticed for the first time
the subtle but ragged beauty
that’s grown through them.
Here, in the car, that gratitude finds me.

Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature

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Resettlement: Fractured yet Whole

“Oh, poor old Red Island,” dad would intone in a voice heavy with regret. He’s been gone almost thirty-five years but I can see him now, hunched forward in the old wooden rocking chair, the same one his mother and grandmother used, but in a place and time far removed. His head, downturned, face cupped in his frail hands and his shoulders slumped. There was no mistaking the grief, the heartache, the loss felt for a time that was but would never return.

And my mother’s quiet demeanour; she, too, seated, knitting probably, in a rocking chair but of a much more recent vintage. Try as I might, I cannot recall reading the same grief from her. But, yet, who knows? It’s also been such a very a long time–almost thirty years now–since I was able to share those by now precious and rare moments of her quiet wisdom.

They were so different in so many ways. He, though well-travelled, was born in that small remote place he longed to return to. He’d left home at an early age to attend St. Bon’s in far-away St. John’s and then attended the Normal School in that same city. Following that he’d taught school in Mount Carmel and Lawn for a while. In the mid thirties he’d spent five years in Boston to a) work in a Western Electric radio factory or b) support his sibling’s education by assisting his dad with some rum running. Believe whichever version you want. Once the family was squared away he returned and resumed his career in Corner Brook. Following the construction of the Argentia Naval base, however, forces–the church in particular–conspired to bring him home to reestablish some sense and order in his by-then chaotic hometown. There he settled until, for whatever reason, in 1958, by then in his mid fifties the desire to start a family took over.

She, too, had quite a story. Born in Cork, she’d been raised in Dublin and had lived her life there. Like him, she had also traveled extensively, but never once wavered in her desire to remain at home. …Until that personals ad in the Winnipeg Free Press–a story I’ll save for another time–changed all of it. Long story short, at the age of thirty five the erudite city-dweller married a bayman nineteen years her senior and left the rich culture of Dublin for what must have been the alien landscape of remote, rural Canada.

resettlement-03-wedding

They had a daughter, and then a son.

resettlement03-kids-young

Then came resettlement. I would have been in kindergarten but there was none of that in Red Island. As such I was too young to understand at all what was happening. Still, there are memories, whether they are real or have been constructed after the fact I do not know. I know them well though; fragments, joined into some sort of a rag-tag whole. Talk of moving. Angry voices of the men and women who lived there. Word of a place called Southern Harbour. Boxes everywhere. Our tom cat, Malcom, in a one of them with a net on the top. The Glenda Denty and a long trip over water. Malcolm’s pitiful mews as he endured what must have been a terrifying ordeal. A whole new place. Alex Best, his family, and his wharf. A new house, just barely finished and the beautiful smell of fresh-cut spruce lumber everywhere. Starting school.

The years passed. The old school was too small. Another was built. When it became over crowded, another, constructed from the bunkhouses that had been used while constructing the phosphorus refining plant at Long Harbour, joined it. Yet another–a high school–was built and then added on to. All the while the people kept coming. Some, like my Dad, built new; our three-story house in Red Island was too big, too old to be moved. Most, however  brought their dwellings in on a float. The sight of a house in the beach at Whiffen’s Cove–a thing that would be wondrously unexpected today–was commonplace. So, too, was the activity that would inevitably follow. A tractor, huge logs for rollers, and swarms of willing, helping hands. The noise, the smell of diesel, the shouts of men as they coordinated the move, all just part of so many days. And the mud–mud everywhere. What else could you expect from dragging houses over a hastily constructed dirt road, one that just a year previously had been little more than a path? Wooden cribbing was, as often as not, the base and the scraping of the tractor and the logs exposed it time and again, revealing the underlying muck and bog, stuff that found its way everywhere.

Electricity–sort of. It failed often and, in the winter, the oil lamp was all we had to read–or knit–by. Running water–again sort of. In the winter the pipes would freeze so dad and I would have to fetch water from the well each day. “At least we had running water and electricity in Red Island,” Mom would mutter.

Community, a word we so casually toss around without hardly a thought to the riches that lie within it. Southern Harbour had existed before resettlement and already had well established families; Bests, Whiffens and Leonards had lived there for generations. Now they were joined by so many more. More names, and more places of origin. At first, a community as rag-tag and as scattered as my memories of that time. Turf wars, suspicion, old rivalries–at least those seemed to be the dominant things. It was rough. Fights and conflict of all kinds were the order of the day. Through it all, though, a community emerged. Compromises were made, families intermarried, new, lasting friendships were formed and old wounds started to heal. The electricity became dependable, a municipal water and sewer system was constructed, the roads were paved and, the year after I graduated from school, a gym was finally built. Thanks to all of that as well as a decent fishery and a brand-new oil refinery the community started to flourish.

I left.

resettlement04-me

I was sixteen and done with high school. Like my sister had done the previous year I left to attend University at St. John’s–a thing my Dad had done himself when he’d been about that same age. My sister never came back, except for the scattered visit.

I returned.

southern-hr

I finished my bachelor’s degrees the year grade 12 was implemented in this province. My former school needed a math / science teacher and I was given the nod. For the next nine years I learned my craft, taught school, volunteered my time, started a family and, thoroughly enjoyed my rural way of life. Then something changed. It was probably not any one thing, not *solely* the decline of the fishery, the dwindling student population, the fact that many of my friends and colleagues were moving on, the reality of my own growing family. Regardless, from somewhere there grew an overall restlessness, a growing emptiness, a sense that, somehow, I was ready to move on.

I left again.

resettlement06-move-nineties

A new resettlement, this time one that was not so much overtly a product of forces from the outside  This time the force was tacit, a thing that existed just beneath the surface of my consciousness. It was just as powerful, though, and it carried me away to a wonderful, exciting new job, back to the city, a place I continue to live in to this day, some twenty-five years later.

Looking back, it’s clear now that the choice to leave had nothing to do with the quality of the personal life I led. Sure, it was a small community with only a few amenities. It had a powerful, defiant spirit, though. Besides, shopping, healthcare and such, while not truly local, were only a relatively short drive away in Clarenville. No, it was more about the work, or rather the career that I saw. Enrollments were steadily declining. In the mid 1970s, when I was of school age, classes ran about 30 per grade level. In 1992, my last year there, only 4 students were registered for kindergarten. It has not changed much since. In the local area, there are five communities, and there were once six schools. Now there is one centrally located k-12 school.

And now, here I am, beyond middle age, more or less settled, at least physically and wondering just where is home. Is it the place I have lived in for this past quarter century, this smallish house, in a tiny building lot tucked away in an obscure cul-de-sac in Mount Pearl? A community that, on the one hand proudly boasts of the services and such it can offer, and how they’re so much better than those provided in nearby St. John’s, while, at the same time, enjoying the protection and added services afforded by its much larger neighbour.

Or, as some would offer, is it “where the heart is?”

If so, that brings up an even harder question, just where is that heart? Is it here with me all this time. After all, I’ve been married for almost thirty years and have raised four children who are, at least in this very moment, right here with me–a thing that gladdens me greatly.

So why the other house, then? You see, when I left Southern Harbour I hung on to my house. It was the family home Dad had built after resettlement and I’d done a major upgrade on it just before getting married. After I left, I rented it for a time and, when I was able to get some extra work freelance writing, I was able to use it as a summer home. That ended, though. Vandals did considerable damage to it and, with a growing family, I found myself financially unable to get it back in repair. Logic dictated that I should sell it, but I’ve stubbornly hung on, even though, frankly, I’m unable to do what is needed to put it into usable shape.

So why then? It’s not that I’m normally given to irrational acts. This, I suppose, is just one of those times when I ditch common sense, for whatever reason. I find myself unable to let it go even though it would be the most sensible way to go. I could laugh it off, assert that I’m Irish, after all, and, as such, well used to living a life where not everything adds up. It’s true, at some level, but, admittedly that’s just ducking the hard question. The answer has more to do with being whole than it does with ignoring inconsistency. In the same way that Dad left a part of his …spirit? …heart? *whatever* in Red Island, so, too did I when I left Southern Harbour. As long as the house remains, though fractured I am more-or-less whole.

At least for now.

Just next month my first born, now twenty seven will be leaving this province to take up residence in Rossland, BC. He’s educated as a professional engineer but, sadly, the province he loves so well does not love him back. Like so many before him he’s uprooting and heading west for lack of suitable work here. My second born, now twenty five, with a completed Commerce Degree, and also unable to find work, is planning to make a similar move in the near future.

The cycle continues and I imagine, sometime in the not too distant future, they’ll be relating the next chapters of this same story of resettlement.

For now, this one is complete. After I upload this post I figure I will sit here on the couch, cup my face in my palms like Dad used to and ponder how everything changes yet manages to retain those all too familiar themes of loss, regret and a longing for something I cannot ever have.

Posted in Newfoundland and Labrador, Society and Culture | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Frosty

Yesterday evening the snow began, gently falling, falling, falling all night long. At length I turned on the Christmas lights even though I’d not planned to do so until Friday. Sometimes you just go with what you see before you.

We sat on the couch and watched “Frosty the Snowman,” each of us remembering the many times we watched it, or, rather, chuckled while little pairs of eyes, perched all around us, lit up with delight at the familiar tale of magic, perseverance and, maybe, forgiveness.

Today the snow has tapered ff, a thin quiet blanked has settled over the hilltop where I live. I can hear the neighbor’s kids playing outside–they’re now about the age mine were when Frosty would bring such great delight, time after time.

The sun is starting to break through.

Sometimes we wonder, when we find ourselves deep in the many struggles that life visits upon us, whether it’s ever possible to catch a break. But then, from time to time, the clouds just open, the sun shines through, and hope is renewed once again. Yes, of course you know that more obstacles lie ahead but through that window of fair weather you can see, even if momentarily, that the journey ahead as navigable and that it’s all been worth it.

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Raking the Shaggin’ Leaves

Doesn’t seem that long ago the tree was strong and leaves were green.
But with each day,  more bare spots appeared where leaves were once to be seen.
Now in these short November days they’ve gone from green, to rust, to brown.
Fallen leaves like memories of summer passed are scattered all around.

For all my life, my true calendar has been built around the new school year.
But I’m not too stunned to see the irony growing from the sight of trees so bare.
I start anew with September’s promise, plans for the next year all arrayed.
So just how can one feel a sense of life renewed as the summer’s colours fade?

I’ll readily admit I’ve never been concerned about being all that conformist.
Friends, in fact, often ask me why I so often come at things arse-foremost.
Frankly it doesn’t bother me and, to act in my own defense,
point out I’m Irish, and as such, used to a life where not everything makes sense.

The cool wind whips the leaves along as through the mess I traipse
admiring what I see all around, the myriad of shapes.
Some perfect, pressed just right, others less than that may be.
Still others torn and battered, ugly as sin and sorry sights to see.

leaves-smaller-2

Can’t help but to compare each leaf to memories of the year gone by,
realizing each can be associated with times of sorrow, stress and, yes, even joy.
I stop my raking, lean on ‘er like a highway worker on this day so calm and placid
thankful the kids are nowhere near, lest they think I’d be dropping acid

Last year was often a time of joy, I saw new things, made new friends.
Managed to screw a few things up, but for some, then made amends.
Said goodbye to some who were dear to me, some of them forever.
Experienced success and failures too in my sometimes ill-advised endeavours.

At length I find myself back in the yard, rake in hand, out of my inner space
Less grumpy over the leaves, even the ones that blew in from my neighbour’s place.
And left thinking if these represent the memories, just lying chaotically arrayed
then why the hell am I bagging them up to molder and decay?

After all, confined that way they’ll not transform nor to the ground and air rejoin.
Perhaps a compost heap is just the thing, besides, it’ll save little coin.
And so, too with those memories, I should ruminate less, and, instead
just let them transform and integrate naturally with what’s already in my head.

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And on it Goes…

All our moments are filled with richness;
a wealth that can be constantly tapped into;
a means for transformation.
The senses, should we choose to acknowledge them,
surround us with fragments from the current place and time in which we dwell.

Yes, there are those who do not take notice of the here and now
and choose, instead, to make the journey, blinkered, race-horse fashion,
and racing toward a destination set by others–their loss, but I digress…

Over this rich tapestry of the moments at hand,
our own consciousness layers in memories and values;
a context,
no,
a scaffold
on which to attach the present to the past.

That sense of self, though, is such a fickle, fleeting thing.
That which on one day seems so clear, so solid, so real
may drift away,
subsumed, perhaps by either new events
or pushed aside by the ever-changing array of needs and wants;
the ebb and flow of daily life that often just carries us along…

Posted in family, poetry/songs, Society and Culture | 2 Comments