Sunday, August 29, 2010

Down on the farm

In the movie Notting Hill, one of my favourite romantic comedies, Hugh Grant’s friends fix him up on a blind date with a fruitarian who eats only fruit and vegetables that have harvested themselves.

“These carrots,” she announces at dinner, “have been murdered.”

I’m a long way from being a fruitarian. Since the first arugula leaf grew big enough to spot against the dirt, I’ve been happily chowing down on the produce from my allotment garden. Radishes and beets have been uprooted to feed my appetite. Mesclun mix has been relentlessly snipped and devoured. And for the last month or so, green and yellow beans have made their way onto my plate too. Well, a lot of them end up in me before we get to the plate stage, but only because they’re irresistible.

Then a couple of weeks ago, my husband came home after a solo foray to the farm. He put his hands on my shoulders.

“It’s about the beans,” he said.

My mind raced from images of rampaging blacktail fawns to the raven that had been hanging around suspiciously, clearly up to no good.

“The sunflowers…” His voice broke.

Oh no.

I’d planted them for their cheerful blossoms and to act as scaffolds for the beans to climb up, and it had worked beautifully.

The vines twined up the sturdy stems, reaching for the sky, while the sunflowers burst into a spray of blooms like fireworks about seven feet above the earth.

Had some wild beast gone after those bright blooms and tender little beans?

“The stalks…” He hesitated again.


“They’re still growing, you know?”

I did know. They had managed to stay ahead – barely – of the steadily climbing bean vines.

He finally choked out the story. It turns out that the sunflower stems had not only grown up, but also out, and where a vine had twined as close as an obsessive lover, the expanding flower stalk had snapped the bean plant.

“It was just hanging there. Drooping.” He shook his head sadly.

There are mutterings amongst the neighbour’s peas of citing me for involuntary pruning, but they can’t charge me with murder.

I ate the evidence.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Smarter than the average bear

I woke with a start, recognizing the sound that had awakened me even as I came out of sleep. I listened but there was nothing more. No grunting, no heavy breathing, no tearing plastic.

Outside my tent the campground was dark, even the starlight filtered out by the canopy of Douglas fir and broad-leaf maples. And silent. No kids, no barking dogs, no players dealing one last hand of Crazy Eights.

Lying completely still, I continued to listen. There would be something. The bear that had snagged my food bag off the bench of the picnic table would give itself away sooner rather than later and I didn’t want to draw its attention away from the tropical-fruit trail mix and Minute Rice. My mind raced back over my bedtime preparations. Had I purged all the food from my panniers before I brought them into the tent?

Rebars. Yes. Gatorade powder. Uh-huh.

Wait! Tea bags? Yes, they were with the bouillon packets. Whew.

What else was there? I ran through the list. It was all outside.

But my toiletries…. What had I been thinking? Ivory soap, unscented deodorant, okay, those weren’t going to be big draws, but my toothpaste was right beside my head! I couldn’t smell it, in its tube in the little zippered plastic bag, but a bear probably could!

I’d been sloppy because this wasn’t a wilderness site.

This campground was populated by RVs and car campers, picnic tables with tablecloths and bottles of mustard and relish, and propane barbecues on which large men cooked burgers. It had the same kind of garbage cans I had at home – suburban wheelie-bins, not bear-proof caches.

Still, something out there had just nabbed my breakfast, lunch and dinner and it could be a matter of time until it came looking for my organic fennel toothpaste for dessert.

On the other hand, wouldn’t any self-respecting bear head for those garbage cans redolent of meat and barbecue sauce? Of course it would.

I settled into my sleeping bag again, adjusting the pillow of clean T-shirts beneath my head. As my brain slowed, so did my heart rate and I drifted off again, only to jerk awake at the sound of my food bag hitting the dirt. Again.

My heart hammered as my brain whirred. I knew that sound. I’d already heard it once that night. Why was I hearing it again? Clearly the bear had, what…picked up the bag and dropped it?

Just like the last time, there was silence once more. No chittering raccoon, no snuffling bear. No paws padding over the hardpacked pea gravel. Nothing but my own pulse scampering through my ears for a hiding place in my head.

Garbage cans, remember? I told myself. Broiled chicken is much more appealing than toothpaste, and raw camper is way too much work.

I felt for the flashlight, carefully unzipped the tent door and flicked on the bright halogen bulb. No eyes shone back from the darkness, nothing skittered away, no gleam of white showed where the bag had landed.

I turned off the light and retreated. I wasn’t imagining things. The bag was gone. Something was out there. I lay in the dark, worrying.

When I woke up, dawn washed everything in a pale grey light. I peered outside and, sure enough, my food bag was not lying on the bench on the far side of the picnic table. Nor was it on the ground beneath, or anywhere else that I could see. There weren’t any bears, either, so I scooted out of my sleeping bag and slipped into my shoes. When I straightened up outside the tent, it took a few moments for my higher perspective to do any good and I finally spotted a flash of white.

Rounding the picnic table and jumping down the two-foot bank from my campsite, I passed a cedar tree in a couple of strides and was looking at my supply of Minute Rice spilled across the dirt like two cups of tiny beige droppings. The Gatorade was untouched, as were the Rebars and tea bags, but a twist-tie clutching a frill of plastic like an Elizabethan ruff was all that remained of the trail mix.

Like a wilderness CSI agent, I examined the shredded edges of the bags. The creature that had pushed, pulled and dragged a couple of pounds of food off a bench, across seven feet of campsite, over a ledge and another four feet around a tree was not a bear. But we knew that. Not even a raccoon. Knew that too. No dog, no whiskey jack.

The beast that had awoken me – twice – and trapped me in fight-or-flight indecision in the fragile protection of my tent, was a ravening pack of mice.

Decoration by Dad

Sunday, August 15, 2010

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming

Somebody left the door of the bat cave open and I've escaped.
I'm off having an adventure at the moment, but I'll be back next Sunday and I'll tell you all about it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This one's for the boys

Your name or mine?

She loves you madly and wants to have your kids. She also wants to keep her name. Understandable desire or red flag?

When John Westover got married in 1978, his bride kept her name. “She had a heritage and a life that pre-existed me,” he says. “I never saw it as a problem. In fact, I kind of liked it. She was holding her own ground, and that I liked.”

Historically, many Canadian women stop using their maiden names and start using their husbands’ when they get married. The tradition is still strong and many women, particularly younger women, still do. But what does it mean if your new wife doesn’t want to take your name?

There are probably as many reasons as there are brides: cultural identity, professional reputation, family ties, children from a previous relationship, or maybe her name is just shorter or easier to spell over the phone than yours is.

Or perhaps she looks at it the other way around: is there a good reason to change her name?

Would she love you more? Would you love her more? Would you feel more married?

Westover, a registered clinical counsellor, says that names haven’t been an issue for any of the couples he has worked with in his decades of practice. It’s generally socially acceptable for a woman to use either her original name or her husband’s and it isn’t a major problem for most people, although traditions still hold a lot of power.

Sometimes a husband’s parents are hurt or offended if a daughter-in-law doesn’t use their last name, feeling that she is distancing herself from them, refusing to become part of the family. Relatives on either side might not acknowledge her choice, referring to her by her husband’s name.

On the other hand some people, like Pamella Moore’s new mother- and sisters-in-law, don’t see why anyone would make the change. They wondered why she bothered.

Moore says that her decision to take her husband’s name had more to do with business than anything else. She and her husband Michael work together designing and building custom furniture, and it just made sense to her that they both have the same name. Before she and Michael married, Moore had used her former husband’s name for 16 years but didn’t feel that it belonged to her and she didn’t have any strong feelings about going back to her original family name. Names are surface things, she says, they don’t define who you are.

Michael Moore concedes that it would have felt a little weird if Pamella had kept her former husband’s name, but says that it was entirely her choice to take his name.

He points out, however, that it’s a lot of work to make the change: everything from her driver’s license to bank loans, from the name on her Social Insurance Number records to her library card, from the deeds for their house to credit cards and cheques, must be dealt with.

The logistics of making the change was one of the things that Gabrielle Leja considered when she got married. Her name held strong family and cultural ties for her, so she wanted to keep it, and the time and effort involved in changing all of her documents made the decision even more logical.

Leja’s husband Doug Lamb had no objections. He says that there were several factors involved with Gabrielle’s decision, including their different religions and the fact that they were both established professionally and socially before they got married.

While women may have any number of reasons for changing or keeping their names, men seem to have only one for accepting their choices.

“What did it matter what name she chose?” says Spence Partlo, who has been married for nineteen years. “I have her heart.”


This article has also appeared in Groom Magazine

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Killer Songs

I got the diagnosis from my friend Alice Valdal.

Earworms, she said. Those songs that get into your head and, like a nagging cough or a bad boyfriend, won’t leave.

Now I have a name to put to the creatures that wind around in my brain like an eel in a reef, just a fraction exposed at any one time and the rest a mystery to be ousted only by much patient urging.

A few weeks ago, it was a couple of lines from Taylor Swift’s Love Story that possessed me. I finally had to track down the video on youtube so the fragment could find its way to its family and leave me alone.

Then, about two o’clock last Wednesday morning, Thomas Fersen’s Elisabeth moved in. I love this song – it’s got a serious tone that overlies the quirky story, but you have to listen to get the full picture. Did I mention it’s in French?

So I’m lying in the dark, trying to remember whether the erstwhile beau’s next line is “if I’m lying, may I turn into a toad” or if this is where he offers to become a mule.

After a long struggle I did manage to bury all the animals (along with the boyfriend’s hopes of reconciliation), but another Fersen character came to the funeral and I found myself despairingly sharing headspace with the manservant who gloomily recites his résumé to the police as they arrest his employer, Monsieur l’assassin.

These are (obviously) catchy tunes and clever stories but my French is simply too shaky, especially in the murk of three o’clock. So then the dilemma became whether it would be better to get up and listen to the song in the hope it would vacate moi, or whether that would anchor it firmly in place.

After a long fight, with first one side and then the other gaining the upper hand, I found the solution. I recruited Monsieur and his garrotte.

The earworm is now in deep hiding or a shallow grave and I can’t hear a thing except…is it…Here it goes again?

OK Go better watch out. Monsieur’s on my speed dial and he’s got a day pass.

illustration by Ray Goldsworthy
dba Dad