"Someday's gonna be a busy day..."

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Jagged Circle

I did chores the other night for the first time in ages, and parts of my body I’d forgotten about are groaning at me today. Only it’s not the body aches that are troubling me so much as a slight emotional hangover. I think it’s soul-ache.

When I go to the barn these days, I’m used to things like the smell and stubborn cows and tripping over cats. I thought I’d also become more hardened to unpleasant incidents, like watching my husband stick his entire arm up a cow’s hoo-hoo or discovering an accidentally squished kitten, but sometimes I still grapple with the whole death-as-routine-occurrence thing that seems to be an established part of country life.

My in-laws are kind, generous people. They’re not callous or indifferent to their dairy cows, just practical. On a farm, you do your best to look after your livestock and keep them healthy, but sometimes, even your best efforts fail. That’s life. Nothing to get upset about.

On this particular night, D and I were doing the milking. D always milks the south side line of cows and I always milk the north side. My line of cows was looked after for the moment, so I wandered into the calf barn where my in-laws keep extra milk cows and any cows that are getting ready to pop out a new addition to the farm. I was hoping to find some kittens to coo over, but there weren’t any. Instead, a newish-looking calf gazed at me placidly from the first stall, and there was a cow with a newborn calf lying beside her in the second stall. I went over for a look.

The calf’s head was covered in straw, and I thought, “Huh, that’s weird.” The cow lay behind her calf, her nose barely resting on the calf’s ribs. My first instinct was to squeeze between the bars of the stall and brush the straw off the calf’s head. I had my head through the gate when I realized the calf wasn’t breathing. Oh, man.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to the cow, who looked at me with her big, unblinking cow eyes. We stared at each other for a few moments and then I went back out to where D was scraping poo out of a stall.

“Did you know there’s a dead calf in there?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said without looking up.

“Oh.” I wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Must have been born this afternoon when nobody knew about it,” he said, leaning on the scraper handle. “Not good.”

We’d all been at the Pavilion for a dance that afternoon, D’s mom and brother included, so no one would have been around to help Mrs. Cow or her calf. D made his “What are you gonna do?” face at me and went to change a milker. I sighed, and went to change my own milkers, although what I really wanted to do was go back and hug the cow.

A little while later, I saw Carman go into the back barn with a bottle of milk for the calf in the first stall. I followed him. I watched as he tickled the calf’s nose with the bottle. It smelled the milk and started going to town on the nipple.

“You’re gonna have trouble feeding that one,” I said, gesturing to the poor lifeless thing in the next stall.

Carm shrugged. “It’s a bull calf anyway.”

“It’s still sad,” I said.

“It’s only worth seventy-five dollars.”

“Oh Carman!” I protested. “It’s still a life!”

He did that thing where he nods and shrugs at the same time, which is his way of humouring and dismissing me simultaneously. I love Carman like a brother; I think he’s fond of me. But sometimes we’re on a totally different wavelength. I could picture what he was thinking as though there was a thought bubble above his head: “Kimmy, what are you gonna do? Shit happens. It’s a farm, not a petting zoo.”

I looked over at the cow, who was still quietly resting her nose on the body of her little bull. I thought she looked vacant and sad, but then again, all cows usually look that way. I figured I was probably projecting my own experience with infant loss onto the cow. I didn’t even know if cows could experience the sensation of loss or sadness; still, I couldn’t help feeling bad about the whole thing. If we hadn’t gone to the dance, maybe someone would have been able to save the calf. I sighed, blew a kiss at Mrs. Cow and shouldered past Carm to finish my half of the milking.

I was nearing the end of my line when I noticed Orangie, one of the Jade’s favourite barn cats, scuffling with something in the feed room. I hung up the milker and went to investigate. Orangie had cornered a terrified starling and was doing what cats do, which is play with and torture their prey until it dies of fright.

“Naughty!” I yelled and grabbed the cat by the scruff, hauling him off the bird. His orange legs windmilled as he attempted to lunge out of my grasp and claim his prize. I nudged the starling with my toe to see if it was alive; it was, barely. It fluttered crookedly down the aisle with its neck hanging at a weird angle and one wing twisted beneath its breast. Oh, man.

Orangie was not pleased with my disciplinary actions and struggled with every ounce of his lean, muscled barn cat body. I bit my lip and hung on to him, watching the injured bird shiver and limp in a circle. I had a few choices. I could put the bird behind the house and hope it would recover before something else devoured it; I could give it the gift of merciful, quick death by shovel; I could let Orangie do what he was born to do, which is stalk and kill birds. I let Orangie go.

He shot away from me, quick as an arrow, and snatched the bird off the floor by the neck.

“Just do it quickly, if you’re gonna do it,” I admonished him. He narrowed his glinty green eyes at me and trotted off to finish his job in private. I sighed. This was the longest two hours of chores I’d ever done. What gory surprise was waiting for me next? I shuddered. I was not sticking around to find out.

“That’s it, I’m done,” I announced to the boys. They stared at me. “I’m taking the kids home. It’s late,” I lied, and stomped out of the barn. I could practically hear them doing the patented Lowry shrug in unison behind me.

Instead of heading for the house, I wandered toward the mulberry tree. I needed some air, some fresh, cool, April air to clear the nastiness out of my head. The early evening sky was brilliant and blue, the moon a broken disc above my head. Suddenly I was sniffling back unbidden tears, thinking of the calf and Rose, of friends who’d lost babies and children, of my Mom and Baba, of all the things in life that seemed so unfair, but weren’t really. I’d been trying so hard of late not to see life in terms of fair or unfair, but as life being life. I wanted to believe that experiences simply were as they were, there not to punish or weaken us, but to teach and strengthen us. Dead calves and crippled birds and lost children and cancer-stricken mothers included.

I tipped my head up to the sky to toss back the tears. When I looked down, I saw a blanket of electric blue spread out over the grass beyond the mulberry tree. As I walked closer, I realized they were the bluebells that sprouted there spring after spring. They popped out of the partially upended roots of the mulberry tree, nestled against the worn-out farm equipment laid to rest behind the shed, their crazy, unreal colour splashed over the grass like bright paint from a can. I breathed in their faint fragrance, and felt the tears dry on my face.

On my way back to the house, I stopped by the calf hutches, where about eight little calves frisked and kicked. They had long eyelashes and gangly limbs and reminded me of unruly toddlers who might leap joyfully on top of you at any moment. They were very much alive, and I stood for a moment and contemplated their vigour and innocence.

Life and death. Sorrow and joy. Spring and winter. I suppose life’s circle isn’t all that much different in the city than it is in the country, or anywhere else for that matter; it just seems that way to me sometimes, because on the farm, in the fields or on gravel roads, I bear witness in a series of extreme close-ups. The dead calf and the injured bird, the electric blue flowers and the leaping calves were another circle turning right in front of me. It made my soul ache a bit, and that was okay.

I turned and headed back to the house, to my own leaping, laughing children, my memories of lost family members, and my own little circle.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Dancing Outside the Barn

It was a sweaty June night in 2007 and we were milking cows. My coveralls stuck to my body in places I’d rather not describe, and I knew my face was the colour of an overripe tomato. D likes to think of doing chores on weekends as “date night.” In the summer, I tend to think of it as “hate night.

As I lurched over the gutter to grab some tit dip, I caught sight of D shuffling down the walkway in a rhythmic step, his eyes glazed over in concentration. He was wearing steel-toed boots and poop-stained summer coveralls, unzipped just enough to allow a downy tuft of chest hair to peek out. His hair was a curly mess from the humidity. He wore turquoise latex gloves on his hands, which were raised to hold the waist and hand of an imaginary partner as he swayed across the manure-encrusted floor.

I realized my husband was salsa dancing, probably practising the steps we’d learned in our dance class a few nights previously. As sweat dripped down my nose and a cow defecated directly behind me, I also realized that I found him dead sexy.

D is a wonderful blend of practical gentleman and unselfconscious goofball. He comes across as a serious, almost courtly fellow: he opens doors for people, urges others go to ahead of him in line and loves to talk about finances and career trajectories. Yet underneath his stolid exterior lurks the heart of a child, a soul that hasn’t lost its capacity for joy in simple, sometimes silly things. I adore his enthusiasm for tractors, motorbikes, hockey and his parents’ dairy barn. Most of all, I adore the way he dances.

D and I first met briefly at The Flying Dog, a club in Waterloo that features Latin Night with free salsa dance classes. I was there with my friend Sinda, who was feeding a burgeoning obsession with ballroom dancing. I don’t actually remember meeting D that night; I danced with his colleague, not him. Apparently I shook his hand though. So much for first impressions.

My first clear memory of D came months later when we were thrown together again by chance at a salsa dancing class in the bowels of the University of Waterloo’s student life centre. Sinda was pondering the idea of becoming a dance instructor, and she needed me to be her “girl” so she could learn how to lead. So there I was, floundering around a beige, windowless hallway to the beat of Latin music with a dozen other salsa misfits, including D.

Nothing romantic happened during those awkward, fumbly lessons (unless you count the time he accidentally grabbed my boob). I thought the neatly dressed, lanky, soft-spoken guy I partnered with from time to time seemed sweet and sincere, unlike the icky lechers I’d run into at The Dog. I liked the way his big smile sprang out of nowhere and how patient he was when I messed up a move. But I was married at the time, and though I knew my marriage was navigating rocky waters, I wasn’t ready to jump ship just yet. So dance lessons were just a favour to Sinda, a good distraction from my troubles at home. And D was just a nice guy I danced with once a week.

A year later, after my marriage had exploded in a burst of soap opera shrapnel, I was most definitely single. Emotionally bruised, full of doubt and anxiety, underweight and utterly sure I was going to be alone for the rest of my life, but available. I was a real catch.

Enter Sinda, still a ballroom dance addict and ever-faithful friend.

“Let’s go dancing,” she suggested one afternoon at work as I was moping in my cubicle.

“Ugh,” I said. “No way.”

“Oh come on, you should get out. Why don’t you email that guy from Christina’s salsa class? He seemed pretty keen - remember he asked us to call him if we ever went to The Dog to practice?”

To this day, I have no idea what made me agree to Sinda’s scheme. I wasn’t feeling ready to venture outside the house, let alone attempt to dance with a guy, no matter how nice or keen he was. Sinda had amazing powers of persuasion, I guess. I sent D an email and he sent back a pleasant, witty reply (which I still have). We met the next night, just the two of us, Sinda’s daughter having conveniently come down with a cold.

When D led me to the dance floor, I was shocked to see his hips move like Ricky Martin’s. His lead was sure and strong, and his steps were fluid. Gone was the awkward windmilling of arms and legs I’d experienced back in the hallway at the university.

“Oh, I’ve been taking lessons,” D said casually, and spun me around like he’d been salsa dancing his entire life.

We’ve been dancing ever since. Our Thursday night salsa dates continued, and we took weekly lessons in a lady’s basement while we lived in Waterloo. We even organized a group dance lesson for everyone who came to our engagement party; the dance teacher choreographed a crazy cha-cha number for us and twelve friends, which we all proceeded to massacre at the wedding reception. At least it entertained the guests.

Once D and I moved to the Bruce, opportunities to dance weren’t as readily available as they’d been in the city. We had to get a bit more creative whenever we felt the need to get our boogie on, such as tipsy two-stepping at stag n’ does in Ripley or a singles ballroom dance party in Goderich. We’ve gone to swing dances at the pavilion, the Legion to hear the Glen Boyd Orchestra (featuring D’s uncle on saxophone) and even danced to the Glen Miller Orchestra when they came to Owen Sound. We’re usually the youngest couple on the floor when we go to these events, but it doesn’t matter, because the music is always excellent and swirling around the floor together makes us both happy.

One dance at the Pavilion stands out in my mind. As D and I swayed to Moon River, we noticed an older couple dancing near us. They’d been up for nearly every song, even though they had to be in their late seventies or even early eighties. He wore a wine-coloured shirt under his suit jacket, and she wore a slim leather belt of the same colour around her blouse. They giggled and hugged each other after every dance. They weren’t always on the beat, and they seemed to repeat the same pattern of steps regardless of the music, but you could tell they’d been dancing together for years. The pure joy in their eyes made me smile. I wanted that to be our future.

Dancing with someone is an intimate thing, because every person has their own rhythm, their own style and pace. It can be downright ugly if you’re not in tune with your partner, or vice versa. When you dance with someone and your bodies connect, well...it can take you out of your head completely and into a purely sensual experience, where music and touch and movement are the only things that matter. That’s how it is with D and me, when we dance. Sometimes, anyway. We’ve had our share of horrible missteps and embarrassing moves; times where we’ve laughed at the other person’s clumsiness, times where we’ve thrown up our hands in frustration at our partner’s inability to get it right. It’s sort of like marriage.

And, like our marriage, we’ll keep practising our steps, even if most of our dance parties these days take place in the kitchen instead of a dark club and involve squealing children in pyjamas instead of sultry singles in strapless dresses. And you know what? Whether it’s in the barn, the Legion or our living room, I plan to dance with D for as many years as our legs will let us. I want to be like that couple in the wine-coloured outfits at the Pavilion: maybe our moves will be old-fashioned and a little out of synch, but we’re going to be on the floor for every dance as long as the music’s playing, with goofy smiles on our faces.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Hey Shorty, it's your Birthday...

I'm 43.


Which is kinda awesome, in my opinion. No longer in my carefree, naive 20's, or my semi-tragic, semi-romantic 30's. Nope, now I'm in my ever-evolving 40's. Mother, daughter, sister, wife, writer, unrepentant coffee addict, and looking to gain ten pounds, I'm adjusting my Aries horns and ready to ram my way into my 44th year. Look out, Bruce County.

Having dealt with so much nastiness these past three years, you'd think I'd be less than thrilled with this decade of life so far. Not so. I've been able to occasionally grasp that ephemeral sense of peace people have been encouraging me to seek. It's fleeting, but now at least I know it's there. Plus I'm filled with relief that the worst seems to be behind me, thankful for the funny, cosy, healthy moments that make regular appearances in my life now that I'm taking the time to notice them. Mindfulness, living in the moment, blah blah blah. I hate all that Oprah-speak, but the concepts are surprisingly great when you discover they're real and not just some crap Dr. Phil made up.

"So what do you want for your birthday, Kimmy?" is the question from D that starts getting asked in mid-February and usually lets up around April 1st, the day before my birthday. It's weird. This year, I didn't really want anything, not even a get-together with friends or a fancy dinner out. The absence of anxiety seems like gift enough. I was treated to cake and gifts by my family and in-laws on the weekend, and Jade drew me the cutest card, complete with a giant green balloon and a portrait of me with enormous ears. That fit the bill.

Then I found out that for the last two weeks, D had been frantically trying to buy me a 150 CC motorbike. What the what?? He'd put in three separate offers that all fell through, which explains his extra grumpiness lately. He told me he was going to put it in the garage with a big pink bow on it and make me take out the recycling. I was tickled by his covert plan, even though I don't really need a motorbike. I convinced him to buy me a non-fiction book I've been wanting to read called An Inconvenient Indian instead. Somehow, I don't think he was overly thrilled with the substitution. Motorbike vs. book? He just rolled his eyes.

"It was very sweet of you to try and buy me a bike," I whispered to D in bed on April Fool's night. He grunted, still ticked off at his bad luck. As I drifted off to sleep, my mind wandered over to that back shelf of my brain where I keep my (clean) fantasies. If I could have anything I wanted for my 43rd birthday, besides a motorbike, what would I want? How about..

- a plane ticket to Calgary and a rental car so I could drive out to Banff for a week of writing at the Banff Centre. I soooo miss the mountains and the smell of the air there. And the food at the Banff Centre canteen. Banff always makes me feel like a writer.

- rent a horse and go riding for a couple of hours along a wooded trail. I'd hear the jingle of the bridle, the squeak of the saddle, the whoosh of horse breath and the clump-clump of horse feet. There would be warm flanks under my legs, cold air on my nose, sunshine in my hair. There would be birdsong and blue sky. Yeah.

- hole up at the cottage on the couch with the fireplace cranked up and a dozen blankets on me. I'd sip coffee and Baileys, read the paper and my books, snooze, order pizza from Ripley for supper and drink wine with D as we devoured each gooey slice. We'd curl up together on the couch and watch the fire after the kids went to bed and listen to the waves, newly released from their icy shackles. And, um. You know. "Cuddle."

- go back to Florida for another 10 days!

The reality of my 43rd birthday was pleasant, if not as exciting as some of my fantasies. I had a lazy morning with the kids, where we cuddled and tickled and teased, before Grandma took over for the rest of the day. Sushi was on the menu for lunch, with a great girl from my Mom's group for company. We had some good laughs together about hapless husbands and wacky preschoolers. I went for a pedicure to get rid of my hideous hobbit feet, after which I foolishly ruined the polish job with a long hike in what the kids call "The Muddy Woods" (aka the Kincardine trails). I discovered a new trail that led me up a steep hill flanked with cedars and reminded me of the trail that connects the town of Banff to the Banff Centre. It even had icy spots and coyote tracks. All it was missing was elk poop. On my way back into town, I grabbed a mochaccino at Books N Beans, snuck into the library with it and my laptop to blog and write and Facebook the afternoon away. Sunshine on the desk, dude reading a Wolverine comic in the corner, a collection of sweet birthday greetings online, peace and quiet. In a word: lovely.

After a few flirty texts, I packed up and met D for supper at the dim, cosy room at the back of the Governor's Inn. The food's always great there and the servers are sweet. After that, kid pick-up and tuck-in, a few glasses of wine in front of the fireplace and 43 spanks. (Okay, I made that last part up) (Sort of)

Let's hope the rest of 2013 perks up for this ol' lady, cause the first half hasn't been a laugh riot. I guess that's my biggest birthday wish.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

To my darling

Rose Marie Lowry
April 3rd 2008

Silently a flower blooms
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

- Zenkei Shibayama

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

5 Things ... about Spring at Someday

I haven't done the ol' "5 Things" blog posting in a while, and I've got what must be the most wretched sinus infection in all of Bruce County at the moment, so I think now is a perfect time to revive the 5 Things medium. It's quick and dirty, and still gets the point across. Plus a few readers wanted to read some springy stuff. And really, with April throwing snow at us and laughing, who doesn't want to read about spring?

Before I begin, may I just interject that I feel SO FREAKING MUCH BETTER than I did a month ago? I go around muttering prayers of thanks every thirty minutes to the powers that be. They're usually scattered thoughts having to do with the smell of coffee, the ability to wrestle and giggle with my feral children, feeling strength return to my legs as I hike the trails, watching my fingers slowly inch back to the keyboard and pen. I'm feeling the gratitude, big time.

As my kissin' cuz S mentioned the other day, there is a hum of eternal hope in the air this time of year. Sometimes you have to stop and listen for it; pause in the middle of crazy life to sniff the air, feel the sun on your face, realize the ground is squishy instead of frozen. I have dear friends whose cups are full of sorrow and pain right now, and spring isn't the usual mess of happy beginnings it should be for them. My wish is that they'll find flickers of hope returning as the snow melts and the flowers bloom.

So here's to spring, to healing, and to those inevitable 5 Things.

1. The Birds Are Gonna Getcha
All that early morning cawing and chirping and squabbling outside my bedroom window can mean only one thing: nature's answer to the Kardashians has returned to Someday. First to arrive are the delightfully cliquy redpolls, who flutter around en masse looking adorable in their little red hats and can gobble an entire bird-feeder's worth of seed in three hours. Apparently redpolls hang out in Alaska, so when this bird comes to your doorstep when it's minus 5 because it's looking to warm up, you know spring isn't far behind. The doofuses of the bird world, those confused looking robins who always seem to show up just in time for a nice shower of freezing rain, are here too. I see them shivering in the tree branches and looking aimlessly for worms that are too smart to be moving in the earth yet. Best of all, I've seen flocks of swans flying overhead like graceful ghosts, and covering bare fields in a white that's brighter than snow. Those hardy darlings are all the proof I need that winter is on its way out of town.

2. Muddy Muddy Mudskipper
I don’t remember doing battle with mud in the city during springtime the way I do up here. Apart from a few messy walks in the park with Neko, my car and floors remained relatively goop free. Then again, there were a lot of concrete alternatives to squishy lawns in Waterloo, and I didn’t have two small children who liked to dance in every brown puddle they saw.

With the return of sunshine and warm air to Someday comes the melting of previously frosted lawns and fields and gravel lanes, which morph into pools of brown, sticky sludge. You get coated in the stuff up to your ankles when you step out of the car or off the safety of the front walk. Even our paved driveway has been sliced open along its sides (courtesy of well-meaning snowploughs and delivery trucks) to reveal giant troughs of muddy water that lure my son like a siren does a sailor. And don’t get me started on the state of the barnyard and my in-law’s long, potholed, mud-soaked lane way. It reminds me of the roads in Russia: not fun.

The state of my car, not to mention my pant legs, mittens, boots and shoes, is equally unfun. Hiking the trails means risking multiple slides into muddy pitfalls and going to the park with the kids is a load of laundry waiting to happen.

Still, if mud = spring, then hooray for mud! Pretty soon the sun will dry everything up and I'll be praying for rain.

3) Walk toward the light...
We don’t have curtains in our bedroom, which most people find strange. It’s just that D and I spent so many hours sanding, staining and varnishing the wooden trim around the windows that when the house was finished, we couldn’t bear to have our beautiful trim hidden behind swaths of material. My side of the bed faces East, which, in the winter, isn’t a problem. I wake up to see birdies flitting around the ash tree and the dull, grey dawn crawling over the horizon. Spring forward into daylight savings time, though, and the dull grey dawn becomes a rosy glow, which quickly transforms into a laser beam that pierces my closed eyelids at 6 a.m. D, of course, loves it.

Then there are the indignant cries of my children at night when bedtime rolls around. “It’s not bedtime yet! It’s not darkie time yet! There’s still sun! WAHHHH!” goes the pathetic refrain. Unfortunately, their bedroom window faces West, which means they get every last gleam of sunshine across their faces as I attempt to convince them it's night time. Blackout curtains may be in their future.

The lengthening of days does make me smile around six o’clock each evening. As I putter around the kitchen making supper, the gorgeous glow of the sunset spreads across the barn, the apple trees and fields, slow as melted butter, drenching everything in hues of gold and cherry. It’s such a gift to have enough light at the end of the day to go for a walk with the kidlets before bedtime, and to see my husband come home without having to turn on his headlights. I guess I can forgive the early sunrise since the late sunset affords us these little pleasures. Although I may ask for a sleep mask for my birthday...

4. A wafer-thin crack...
D and I argue about many things: the state of chaos inside my car; the number of times he does chores; the fact that I never finish a full cup of anything; the benefits of cinnamon. All relatively harmless arguments, likely destined to spiral endlessly throughout our marriage. And the argument that tops all arguments, the one that will always resurface every spring for as long as we share a roof together, is open windows.

My father keeps several windows open in his cabin year round, regardless of whether it’s minus 20 or sweltering outside. Nana was the same way: I remember she’d have the air conditioning on, the bedroom windows open and a warmed up electric blanket for me whenever I slept over in the summer. They both believe that fresh air trumps any concerns about wasting electricity, or, as D sarcastically puts it, “killing the environment by heating North America.”

I know it’s spring when I can sneakily crack our bedroom window open and leave it that way all night without watching my perpetually chilly spouse do an exaggerated body shiver at bedtime while saying, “Geez, it’s cold in here. Is there a window open somewhere?” I’ve had our bedroom window open for two weeks now, and until he gets around to reading this blog (sometime in May, probably), D won’t even notice. By then, it should be warm enough to prevent his annual “I thought you were a Greenpeacer” open window rant.

I take comfort in the recent discovery that D’s mother and father are locked in a similar battle over their own bedroom window. She cracks it open, he slams it shut. It’s nice to know that my husband’s resistance to fresh air is hereditary, rather than a fit of pure marital cussedness.

5. Dirty fingernails
In the fall, I have the urge to collect and hoard. In the spring, my urges take a different direction: digging in the dirt. I might go outside to get something from the car, then suddenly I’m tearing dead grass out of the flower gardens by the back door, clearing spaces so the tulips can breathe, plucking dead stalks off the lambs' ears. My eyes greedily scout out new places for the golden climbing roses I intend to plant, and I hunt for the first snowdrops and crocuses in the south corner of the house. Then I come to my senses and wander back into the house, where it’s difficult to explain to the kids why Mummy has filthy hands and whatever she was supposed to get from the car is still out there.

Happy spring, everyone!