Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bridging Generations

I often wonder how my parents would have embraced their adult grandsons - aside from with gusto, that is.

Mom was able to greet and know each of them shortly after they came into the world but she passed away when Alex was a year and a half, and Jeffrey was soon to turn five. My sister has two beautiful daughters, both of whom our mother knew and adored - her firstborn grandchild and her last. All four of her darlings lost Nanny from their lives much too early.

Dad was a favourite uncle to many of his nieces and nephews, friends' young children, neighbourhood kids and the many little tykes who frequented his store. He was enchanted by children and often made it his duty to collect a smile, giggle or full-out belly laugh, mindless of anything else that might be going on at the time (like a mouthful of pablum). It's one of my saddest regrets that Dad passed away before any of his grandchildren were born.

When I look at the men that my boys have become, I know that the two of them would evoke enormous pride in both of my parents, yet there would also be pause for concern.

Jeffrey is a soldier and third year student at RMC (Royal Military College) in Kingston, Ontario. One day, all too soon, his training and education will lead him to a foreign country where, as an Officer, he will be expected to lead his men and women safely through their dangerous missions. I don't need to explain the mix of emotion.

If the adult Jeffrey were to walk into my father's store of thirty-five years ago, my Dad would give him a hearty, excited handshake which would immediately evolve into a warm hug. He'd claim him as his boy and he'd make sure that he was introduced to all of his regular customers as such. He'd be bursting with pride. Dad also had a military history during the time of the second world war, but he was never sent overseas, having developed diabetes in adulthood. He would have felt that kinship with Jeffrey and possibly a sense of satisfaction that his boy would be living out one of his dreams. He'd love the logic of Jeffrey's thoughts and the confidence with which he expresses them. He'd be proud of his achievements, and hungry to hear the stories that Jeffrey will have accumulated over the years. They might share their respective memories under the stars.

My mother would be taken with Jeffrey's accomplishments but like her daughter, her pride would struggle with worry when she'd pause to consider what the world has in store for our boy. So she'd fuss over his hair, snip a loose thread on his uniform and ask right out loud if they feed him well and if he's dressed warmly enough. Nanny would marvel at how well-spoken he is and how he carries his smallish frame with a soldier's confidence. She'd be impressed by the wide range of weapons and strategies he has learned to employ. She'd wonder how he grew from a sweet, gentle, humourous, inquisitive, socially-conscious child into a soldier. Then she would think about it some more, and she would realize that he's still exactly that boy. She'd absorb his every word about his world views but she'd want to hold his solid body, and protect him from danger. She'd fear the day he'll be deployed. She wouldn't be alone.

Alex is a budding musician. He first laid his hands on a guitar about four years ago, and it's been as if his fingers instantly meshed with the strings. My son and his guitar will never part. He looks the role of the metal head musician, with his waist-long blonde hair and bearded chin, and his chosen uniform of jeans and black t-shirts, which display his favourite metal bands' logos. He looks exactly like the kind of customer who, if entering my Dad's store, would have made my father's radar beep. He would assume the worst about this boy. Perhaps deem him as a drug-user. "You know - the kind who buys cigarettes AND rolling papers." He might even try to shoplift something. Dad would keep a steady eye on him. But of course, that's not Alex. My Dad's grandson doesn't smoke, and I don't believe he's rolled too many joints, and he certainly wouldn't steal. He's a bright, engaging, very funny and talented guy, and my Dad would probably chide him constantly about his "girly hair" while encouraging him to play a lick for anyone who'd listen. A sense of humour is the bridge which would connect them immediately. They share a look in their eyes which deceives their attempt to pull one over on you. At the core of both men, lies a loving, light-hearted, playful child.

Upon meeting Alex at eighteen, my mother would first be struck by how much he physically resembles his grandfather. Tall, lanky and smiling blue eyes. Her own eyes would fall to his hands and she'd remark that he has a musicians long, slender fingers. She used to say that even when he was a chubby baby. She was right. Alex acquired his musical talent from his Nanny who played piano quite well. It is her piano which now sits in my living room, and I have little doubt that one day it will find its home with Alex. Mom would love Alex's humour and marvel at his talents. He's quite artistic and that came from her creative genes. She'd want to like his choice of music, and so she'd find a way to make it sound appealing to her, by focusing on his fancy finger work. She'd want to feed him and talk to him about his dreams, and caution him about the dangers he may encounter in the world. She'd melt in his hugs.

As I think about how my mother only knew her grandkids as very young children, and how my father never knew them at all, I realize that as a Mom of 53, my young sons may not have children of their own at a time that would allow me to know them as adults either. I would hope that one day, they would portray what they would imagine were my thoughts and feelings to my grandchildren about who they have become.

And while my boys are at it, I hope they know every day just how supremely proud I am of both of them.

Morning and late afternoon to early evening walks always bring out the best colours of the day. Below are a few photos taken during some of those walks over the past few weeks. Please click to enlarge the photos. If you use Firefox, it seems we now have to click twice - once to get the image in a separate window, then wait for the magnifying glass to appear and click again.

One gray afternoon after driving through patches of rain, a brilliant rainbow greeted us upon our arrival. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

As long as the weather remains reasonably mild, we tend to see the Great Blue Heron at some point during our morning walk. Seconds earlier, this one was on the near side of the creek, but flew across the water when Benny startled him. He immediately began preening much like a cat does with its "I meant to do that" kind of expression. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

Approaching the field on an afternoon walk, the sunlight saturated the growth around us with its golden warmth. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

Close to the creek, the colours contrast against the blue of the cool, running water. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

This tree overlooks the creek as the afternoon sun paints the landscape, resplendent with a blend of colours. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

Walking into the cedar grove, the late-day sun works its magic. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

One afternoon, the air temperature must have dropped slightly. As we walked away from the creek to go back home, we could see a fine mist beginning to form above the creek and breeze over the path. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

By the time we reached the path just a few meters away, the air was filled with this golden cloud. Here two people - one on bike and one on foot break through the haze. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

Evidently the cedars in this photo have a hidden talent. They can sing. Head on over to Frank's post "Singing Trees" to read about it. (Please click, and then click again to enlarge)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Road (more or) Less Traveled

Earlier this month, we spent a few days up at the cottage. As would be expected from a Canadian October, the nights were cool and so were most of the days. Add clouds to that scenario and you'll understand that it wasn't exactly reminiscent of the summer days spent lounging comfortably in a rocking boat, waiting for the next fish to nibble the line. In fact, there were no boats readily available, so any fishing would have to be done from the dock. We had lines, bait, lures and a net ready for the hapless walleye who might sacrifice itself for dinner on any given night, but alas, there were none that ventured toward our hooks.

Yes, the summer was clearly over but the autumn air beckoned to share in its own adventure, and how could we refuse? The cooler, crisp air lent itself to other activities such as long walks, playing cribbage, building campfires, playing fetch with Benny and trying to keep warm - all of which we did semi-frequently.

Each morning, I found myself reluctant to leave a warm, cozy bed but Benny would awaken raring to go, testing the silent air with the sounds of his occasional whines. Since I was the only other conscious being in the cottage, I decided that it wouldn't hurt the two of us to take an hour-long hike along the hilly country roads. I left Frank a note, and with camera over my shoulder, we headed up the cottage path.

I kept Benny off leash just until we got close to the main road. Traffic was minimal (two cars an hour), but Benny doesn't always come when called and I wasn't willing to take any chances with him. (please click to enlarge)

On some mornings, sunlight filtered its way through the trees, rewarding us with occasional patches of warmth. (please click to enlarge)

If the sunlight hadn't warmed us, maneuvering the frequent rises and dips in the road saw to the task. Benny looks back at the hill we just climbed. There were many more just like it up ahead. (please click to enlarge)

One of our walks brought us to a lake about a mile or so up the road. Somewhere in the tree above, a squirrel scolds Benny for trying to chase after it. I was glad that I hadn't unleashed him. (please click to enlarge)

A view from the water's edge. The shoreline was sheltered from wind, and the temperature suddenly rose to that of an early summer's day. I peeled off a layer and sat for a few minutes, soaking up the beauty of this gem of a lake. Benny thankfully showed considerable patience - my reward for allowing him to stop and sniff at will along the way. (please click to enlarge)

Back at the cottage, Frank had awakened during our absence, and had a steaming hot cup of tea waiting for me. Benny had the Magic Wall waiting for him. Every time he heard the heater click on, he hopped up in this chair to bask in its warmth. (please click to enlarge)

Occasionally he'd straddle the chair and table so that he could warm his back end. (please click to enlarge)

The long walk and the relaxing heat made for one tired hotdog. (please click to enlarge)

Over at the dock we made a few half-hearted attempts to lure some unsuspecting fish. Mostly we just sat and enjoyed the morning while the worm did the work. (please click to enlarge)

In the water, a browned cedar frond floated in with the waves and washed up on the rocks. (please click to enlarge)

Nearby, a fresh growth of green foliage creates a vivid contrast against the wet rock below it. (please click to enlarge)

What is this strange spiraling object? It's not Benny furiously chasing his tail - he refuses to wear chartreuse. It's not a hummingbird going berserk or a dragonfly whirling out of control. Any guesses? (please click to enlarge)

It's a wet, spinning tennis ball after it's been bounced off of the dock. (please click to enlarge)

As the sun descends, its golden reflection is mirrored in the lake below. (please click to enlarge)

Time to bring in the rods for the night, and just sit back and enjoy the fire. (please click to enlarge)

On our last day, after locking up to head home, we discovered that we'd forgotten to add an overripe tomato to the already-sealed trash bag. As we left another fine time at the cottage behind, we stopped along the path to deposit the tomato in this tree stump where we'd left a partial watermelon the previous month. Our offering to the woodland creatures. (please click to enlarge)

Goodbye cottage. We'll see you again next year. (I'll bet you'd look beautiful in winter...)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shades of Autumn

There's no holding autumn back now. Subtle hues of honey and bisque have deepened into mature tones of amber and bronze. Fiery shades of scarlet and orange ignite and sear the countryside with their flames.

It's a particularly vibrant autumn this year. The sun's warmth carries the scent of fallen leaves, and where I walk, sweet-smelling apples are strewn across the path. The light fades early these evenings, and the nights are crisp and fresh. Indoors it seems right to have a pot of soup simmering on the stove, and if I enjoyed baking, there'd probably be an apple pie in the oven. Today, it's sunny but cool, so grab a jacket and zip it up. We're going for a walk.

The park path which winds around the lake displays its autumn foliage. You can see that there are still a large number of green leaves, and the grass is still healthy and lush. This is the reward from summer's frequent rain. (Please click to enlarge)

A small grove of trees proudly display their scarlet apparel. (Please click to enlarge)

At the base of a tree, a cluster of mushrooms appreciate the moisture from the earth around them. They explode in brilliant shades of copper and caramel as they peer out into the late-day sunshine. (Please click to enlarge)

There are many apple trees along the way. The fruit is sweet and tasty, but by now, all of the low-hanging branches have been picked clean. This duck was trying to grab this one out of the water, but was unsuccessful. (Please click to enlarge)

As the brilliant autumn leaves are reflected in the lake, this duck appears to be swimming in crayon-drawn colours. (Please click to enlarge)

Similarly, this cormorant preens before a backdrop of vibrant hues. (Please click to enlarge)

Up close, one could almost imagine that the lake is on fire. (Please click to enlarge)

The grass is dry. Let's sit for a bit and enjoy the beauty of this little pond. Can't you just feel your shoulders relax? (Please click to enlarge)

At the base of this stem, the leaves blush with tinges of crimson. As you look toward the tips, the red bleeds through and ignites the fronds. (Please click to enlarge)

The warm glow of red-orange maple leaves are classic Canadian autumn to me.

Back at home, vines grow across the fence, providing a colourful wall between my back yard and the neighbour's. (Please click to enlarge)

A purple leaf emerges from the green vine along the fence. (Please click to enlarge)

Now that our outing is done, grab a bowl and we'll have some butternut squash soup. The crisp, autumn night air will soon be upon us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gimme That Thing

"Jack Russell Terriers have the reputation of being aggressive towards cats."

When I first read those words, my heart sank. I knew that Benny was probably going to end up as a regular fixture in my life, and part of my life was already being shared with two cats. What if this puppy grew up to be one of the hostile ones? What if the tenacity which he had already displayed in other areas would steer him to dominate my furry guys? They'd be miserable. They'd be in danger. They'd run up huge vet bills.

Benny was just a few months old when he first crossed paths with Skittles, my tiger-striped tabby cat. Ready for action, he bounded up to Skitty who glared at him and promptly hissed his distaste for the furry foreigner. My worries were laid to rest. Benny let out a yelp as if his tiny tail (which took shelter between his back legs) was on fire. He ran behind the first set of human legs he could find and trembled. For all of thirty seconds. Then he inched around from behind those protective legs, and tried to nip at Skitty's hindquarters .

Thus began their regular game of "Chase me. I hate you!" Benny regularly tries to convince Skitty to take turns at being the chaser and the chased. Skitty spends a ridiculous amount of energy faux-hissing and growling, and swatting at Benny with his claw-free paws. Skitty could go elsewhere. He could retreat to any number of areas in the house to avoid what appears to be a hate-filled confrontation but he doesn't. He often seeks Benny out. The little stinker actually enjoys the challenge, despite all of the spits and yowls that come from his furry little face.

The game only winds down when both creatures are tired enough to ignore each other. Then miraculously, their tolerance levels increase enough to allow them to fall asleep near each other on the sofa.

As you'll see in the video below, Benny does in fact bite at Skitty. He goes for his tail, his ears and his ever-swatting paws. But you might notice that he's also very gentle, and that his stubby, wagging tail exposes him for the playful clown that he is. The video was taken when I was getting ready to go up to the cottage. Skitty is lying inside of a small overnight bag and Benny just wants some chase action.

I'll post some photos in a few days. Until then, I hope you enjoy these crazy critters.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fiery Skies

This is the final post of a three-part series of photos taken during our September visit to the cottage. If all works out as planned, you're reading a scheduled post, and I'm back at the cottage for what is probably the last time this year. So please keep in mind that if I've not been to your blog, or answered your kind comments in mine, I'll be back soon, and do my best to catch up. Thanks for your understanding and particularly for coming by for a visit even when I'm not here. Pour yourself a drink - whatever you prefer, and make yourself comfortable. I'll see you in a few days.

The following photos were taken during the evening hours - though not necessarily on the same day.

The late day sun casts its golden glow into the woods behind the cottage.

Nearby, Benny bravely attacks approaching waves.

Ultimately, he rescues this birch branch - perfect for stripping to its bare wood.

Some evenings, we sat by the fire and watched the sunset.

The sky was ablaze with colour.

A delicious mixed drink warmed our bellies.

A view from the cottage.

The end of a perfect day.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Liquid Gold

This is a scheduled post, so if I don't reply to your comments, or visit your blog for a while, please know that it's because I'm away for a few days. I'll do my best to catch up upon my return.

Below are a few more photos from our September trip to the cottage. They kind of pick up from where we left off at the previous post below.

As I mentioned last time, we considered taking a hike into the woods. We weren't planning to go far - just around the bend of the peninsula which separates the cottage from a nearby bay. It was probably less than a kilometer away, but through semi-heavily wooded terrain.

The area surrounding the cottage is woodsy. A hike along the irregular shoreline can be a tad arduous. Trees growing close to the shore display their exposed, gnarled roots. (please click to enlarge)

We headed out one afternoon, in order to locate a bald eagle's nest which we'd seen from the boat over the past couple of years, while out fishing. There had been semi-recent sightings of the birds and we thought we'd like to explore the area around the nest. (please click to enlarge)

We found several different kinds of vegetation along the way, including this unusual pink-capped fungi. (please click to enlarge)

And this miniature, vivid orange mushroom. (please click to enlarge)

Once we approached the point where we believed the tree should be, we looked up and soon found the uninhabited nest. We wandered around the base of the tree, looking for signs of the eagles' existence. Frank's own eagle-eye soon rewarded him with a worn but lovely, large feather which had clearly belonged to a most majestic bird. (please click to enlarge)

One of the good things about being at the cottage after the summer months are over, is the privacy. In part, this meant that we can wander over to the neighbouring property to admire their flowers. These people had a lovely garden set into the rocky edge of their land. They made perfect use of the natural setting to plant flowers and set up a statue of St. Francis of Assisi - the patron saint of animals and the environment. Benny took one look at the statue and started barking his fool head off at it. (please click to enlarge)

Benny was equally stymied by this little cast iron boy, fishing off the side of the shore. Frank tried to convince him that it was inanimate, but he wasn't buying that. (please click to enlarge)

At their shoreline, a tree grows almost diagonally out over the lake. (please click to enlarge)

The folks who spend their summers here, were clearly not done for the season, and would likely return shortly. There were reminders of the young children who played here, probably just days earlier. This makeshift table displayed toy trucks, and on the arm of an wooden chair, we saw a small collection of nickels - just sitting there. A couple more were partially embedded in the earth nearby - probably as a result of the previous night's storm. We gave our thanks for the look-around by adding a few more nickels to their collection. (please click to enlarge)

A view from inside the boathouse, looking out over the launch, and between Benny's legs, to the lake. (please click to enlarge)

Remember that stop over at the liquor store (see previous post)? A couple of lime slices adds the perfect touch to a pre-mixed Mojito. (please click to enlarge)

And for the cooler weather, just have a sip of this liquid gold. (please click to enlarge)

Please watch for the next scheduled post, coming soon!