Gratitude, to the tune of “Gravity”

I was tagged in the “5 Days of Gratitude” campaign that’s going around (amongst my friends, at least) on Facebook right now.  And, in one of those weird synchronicities of life, my husband made this video yesterday.  It’s so amazing that I had to share it.

There are so many things in this life I’m grateful for.  The presence of three of the things I’m most grateful for (my son, daughter, and the filmmaker – my husband) are very obvious in this short film.

There are other things which I – occasionally – stop and feel a sense of gratitude (and wonder) over.  Air with oxygen.  Green grass. Sunlight.  Gravity.  Our planet, that provides just the right amounts of all these things for us to live and grow  (wow – that’s awfully amazing if we stop and consider it for a sec).

Being a member of a nurturing species that runs along beside our helmeted young on bikes with training wheels and that’s intelligent enough to reflect on a concept like gratitude in the first place.  Having leisure enough to write about it.

My children, who are healthy, make me laugh every day, and wow me with the new skills they’re acquiring.  My son Boo learned to kayak in a half-day this week.  Last week he got his first big boy pedal bike (no training wheels).  Dad took it out of the car.  My son got on it and rode away.  Simple as that.

Likewise, both my children have figured out enough applied physics to make the swings go.  Our amazing brains.

There is so much to be grateful for in this life.  Try to get out there and enjoy our planet a little today.  It’s amazing and wonderful that we exist in such a place.  And, yes, it makes me feel a little gratitude from time to time.  We are so lucky to be here.

Music for the video, btw,  is from the 2013 movie “Gravity.”  A new family fav.

All for now,

Butterfly

P.S.  RIP Robin Williams.  It’s unbelievably sad news. Felt compelled somehow to say so.

oxeye_daisy_aka_batchelor_button_03

The Flowers of Newfoundland, Part III: Batchelor Buttons and Confusion

Back to the flowers of Newfoundland now for a bit.  Next up, an interesting constant – a wildflower (AKA “weed”) that is commonly found in both Newfoundland and Ontario.  Everyone knows what a Batchelor Button is, am I right?

To me, it’s Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (isn’t that a musical name?), more commonly know as Oxeye Daisy.  That’s YOUR Bachelor Button too, right?

Well, right.  And NOT right.  It turns out that, although most of us share a similar affection for identifying a certain wildflower as a “Batchelor Button,”  which flower we would choose is a matter of some debate.

My mom consistently identifies this showy white daisy-like Newfoundland weed as Batchelor Button.   So I grew up believing that was its name.  Yet, since I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve learned that my mother also consistently identifies Musk Mallow as  “Columbine.”  I’m also increasingly uncertain that she can tell the difference between Forget-Me-Not and Stout Blue-Eyed Grass (fairly uncertain whether I can tell this difference myself!).

Wood Forget-Me-Nots.  They belong to the family Boraginaceae.

Wood Forget-Me-Nots. They belong to the family Boraginaceae. Imagine from Wikipedia.

stout_blue_eyed_grass

Praire Blue-Eyed Grass. They’re actually irises.  Take a good look at those flowers. They’re pretty similar.

I’m a big girl now, and I guess I figured out a while ago that my parents don’t always know everything (they already knew this, it’s their adoring daughter who took longer to figure it out).  In fact, for a while now, it’s been more a case of them asking me about plants.  So I was starting to figure that a) they were often incorrect, and that b) I was the family expert.

In this humble spirit, I started my investigation into Newfoundland’s Batchelor Button.   First up, I googled “Batchelor Button.”  Here’s a picture of what I got back:

chicory

Yup.  Apparently – for Mainland Canadians – a “Batchelor Button” is… Chicory.

Chicory is pretty common around here (goldfinches seem to LOVE it), but – to the best of my limited recollection – it seems to be LESS common in Newfoundland.  Although I’m a big admirer of those almost periwinkle blue flowers and the equally technicolour birds they attract, I was a bit taken aback that these were somebody else’s “Batchelor Buttons”.  They certainly weren’t mine.  Who’s going to do the whole “He loves me, he loves me not…”  thing with THOSE petals?  Am I right?

So, were my mother and I just plain wrong calling Oxeye Daisies  “Batchelor Buttons”?  Keep reading…

In the name of investigative journalism, I dug a little deeper into this issue.  For starters, I was pretty sure the plant we (and, I assume, all Newfies) referred to as Batchelor Button had another common name, Oxeye Daisy (I’m going to go with this identification for now, but they could be Scentless Chamomile, or even Shasta Daisies.  Which I doubt – Shasta Daisies always flop over.  Which I despise.).   My next stop was to check what Wikipedia had to say about “Batchelor Button.”   I was, of course, looking for Oxeye Daisies to be there somewhere.  Here’s what I read:

Bachelor’s buttons is a common name for several plant species:

- Wikipedia, under Batchelor’s Buttons

Okay, so the link is there, but I’ve literally transcribed the entire entry.  That’s  ALL Wikipedia has got for “Batchelor’s Buttons.”  If you’re curious, you can  follow the links to all the species.  Try to find “MY” Batchelor Button.  Did you find it?

Yup.  Wikipedia does have our Bachelor Buttons (Yay, Mom!  You go, girl!).  And they said they’re… Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew).

Now I’m not expert on plants (I’ve mentioned this, right?) but I AM curious.  I also know when it’s time to run to my books.  ‘Cause I’m pretty sure Tanacetum means “tansy” in everyday speak.  I’m also fairly sure tansy is yellow stuff.  Just plain yellow stuff (no white petals).  I’ve mentioned my favourite (although there’s a small pile growing here now…) wildflower guide before – it’s Ontario Wildflowers: 101 Wayside Flowers by Linda Kershaw.

Linda Kershaw sounds (and looks – I love the photo of her, with her hubs and two grown sons, at the back of the book!) like a person I would like.  A person I  should have respect for.  Already she’s someone whose opinion I value a lot.  And Linda Kershaw DOES NOT call Chrysanthemum leucanthemum “Feverfew.”  She saves THAT name for Tansy, a wildflower she doesn’t even mention in Ontario Wildflowers.  I had to hit Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada to find it.

Back to my Wikipedia Entry.  Here’s the first paragraph under the  Tanacetum parthenium entry:

Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew) is a traditional medicinal herb which is commonly used to prevent migraine headaches, and is also occasionally grown for ornament. The plant grows into a small bush up to around 46 cm (18 in) high with citrus-scented leaves, and is covered by flowers reminiscent of daisies. It spreads rapidly, and they will cover a wide area after a few years. It is also commonly seen in the literature by its synonyms, Chrysanthemum parthenium and Pyrethrum parthenium. It is also sometimes referred to as bachelor’s buttons or featherfew.[1]

So Tanacetum parthenium is the same thing as Chrysanthemum parthenium (NOT leucanthemum) Uh, okay.  The picture next to the article looked a LITTLE like my Batchelor Buttons, but not quite.  The petals are more roundy on this plant, plus the leaves look kinda wrong.  More importantly, mine are no bush.  And I don’t remember a “citrus-y” scent.

Wikipedia's Batchelor's Buttons.  Also known as Feverfew (Linda Kershaw might not agree!), Featherfew, and Tanacetum parthenium.

Wikipedia’s Batchelor’s Buttons. Also known as Feverfew , Featherfew, and Tanacetum parthenium.  But – to be sure – you should check with Linda Kershaw.

I rush back to Linda Kershaw now.   After a bit of (more patient!) reading I finally get that Tanacetum parthenium is also known as “Feverfew,”  but looks a fair bit different from Tansy vulgare, which basically looks like the flower centres but with no petals.

So, okay, THIS is tansy (T. vulgare).  From what I understand, it is NOT called Feverfew (that's the one with the petals).  I think I got it now...

So, okay, THIS is tansy (T. vulgare). From what I understand, it is NOT called Feverfew (that’s the one with the petals). I think I got it now…

Okay, now it’s about time to unveil my own pictures.  These are MY Bachelor Buttons.  What do you think?

Bachelor Buttons at Sandy Beach, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bachelor Buttons at Sandy Beach, Newfoundland and Labrador.

oxeye_daisy_aka_batchelor_button_02

Was going for art more than science that day. Now wish I could get a better look at those leaves!

oxeye_daisy_aka_batchelor_button_03

Well, at least I can say one thing: My Bachelor Buttons are definitely in the Chrysanthemum family. And they are definitely (!) not Chicory.

It turns out my whole story today is about my inability to make a certain ID of a familiar plant.  There are a couple of lessons here:

  1. It’s not always easy (or possible) to get that positive ID of a wild plant.  Many species look similar and like similar habitats.  Further, look-alike wildflowers have a nasty habit of growing close to each other (that one hemlock in a field of wild parsnip!), making sorting them out from one another a literal game of teasing them apart.
  2. What we call something is a game of semantics.  The same name may be used for different plants in different places.  Or the same plant may have different names, even in the same place (and it does – at the VERY least it’ll have both a common name and a scientific, Latin name!).  Heck, in Newfoundland “dinner” is the meal you eat at noon.  It’s all a matter of context, isn’t it?  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  Similarly, my mom’s sweet and sour chicken tastes just as good leftover at dinner/lunch the next day as it did at supper/dinner the evening before.
  3. This botany stuff can get confusing!
  4. I’m not ready to eat any wild plants yet.

My Bachelor Buttons are probably Oxeye Daisies, but they might be Feverfew (T. parthenium).  Heck, they might even be Scentless Chamomile or Shasta Daisies.  But, in Newfoundland, they’re Bachelor Buttons.  At least I’m positive about that!

All for now,

Butterfly

P.S.  Talkback time!  Do you call a certain flower “Bachelor (or Bachelor’s) Buttons”?  Ever played “he loves me, he loves me not”?  Which flower is YOUR Bachelor Button, and which species do you think mine actually are?

Copyright: cbenjasuwan / 123RF Stock Photo

“The Blog of Dr. John H. Watson”

I’m still walking in the mornings.  I’m really proud of myself.

Today I was up at 6:30 AM (before the rest of my family), having gone to bed by 10:30 PM (also before the rest of my family!), the night before.  I like some coffee and a nibble of something to eat before I go, so I did that.  Also put up my hair, used my “mineral salt” deodorant crystal thingie (try it – it feels great and is aluminum-free!) I’m into these days and threw on something quasi-decent.  Laced up my pink sneaks just so and off I went, into the breezy cool morning air by 7:30 AM.  I still felt a sense of accomplishment at having made it out while everyone else was sleeping.

A lot of parenting gurus say that tucking your squirming, squealing monsters into bed with a storybook at 7:30 PM is the parenting secret to getting that blessed hour of “adult alone time” which I’ve recently come to the realization that I just plain really, really need.  But I gave up trying to get Boo routinely to bed any time before 11 PM AGES AGO  (he’s s a natural night hawk, and doesn’t appear to need – unfortunately – any more sleep than I do).  Lou, on the other hand,  is self-regulating and falls asleep wherever and whatever, and usually at a reasonable hour.  But, thanks to Boo, a reliable hour of “adult time” (perhaps with my husband) each night is just not happening.

Last night, Lou came to bed with me.  Boo went off with the Boy Genius a little later.  Sure I missed an hour of late-night family tv time, but I got my sleep, plus now I am out in a nice breeze with my sneakers on.  And I am blessedly alone – Hurray!!!

Suddenly this fact – that I am alone, somehow weightless, child-free – walking at 7:30 in the morning hits me like a ton of confetti.  I am alone!!!  Perhaps, nobody even knows where I am.  This is a sensation I haven’t had since some solitary moment when I was about twenty years old, with no responsibilities in those days except the ones I owed to myself.  I feel it again right now.  I feel..  euphoria.

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“I’m FREEEE! WHEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I am free.

I am free and  I am walking.  I  feel like running and jumping for joy.  It almost doesn’t even bring me down when I pass the first stop on my daily “wildflowers of Ontario”  exploration of discovery – a derelict lot where one of our neighbour’s homes unfortunately burned to the ground two years’ ago – and find it vandalized.

Somebody’s given all the fireweed they could get at (without hopping the temporary plastic fencing) a brutal haircut.  My corner of 6 foot tall fuchsia pink wildflowers is… gone.

And it’s one of those neighbourhood things – you know what I mean, right?  I mean I basically can tell you exactly who did this, without having actually witnessed a thing.  And I can feel the waves of bad vibes it’s giving off.  I literally can.

Somebody’s an idiot.  The plants were, well, gorgeous.  The wild growth wasn’t hurting anybody.  On the contrary, it was beautiful and natural.  The awful pruning shears hatchet job left behind is ugly and, as I said, gives off a hateful dis-regard for other people’s sensibilities.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only neighbourhood walker who’s going to notice it.  Oh well..

I’ve noticed before that walking has a funny effect on me.  Overall, it makes me feel a lot better.  Energized and calmer.  More centred. But – like playing the classical accordion or practicing transcendental meditation perhaps – walking doesn’t necessarily give me the results I want straight away.  Oh no – it’s not yielding up the secrets to its power so easily.  I need to practice to get there.

When I walk, my blood pumps harder.  My lymph fluid starts to move, bathing my joints as it flows.  My thoughts, too, flow – a sensation (sometimes an unpleasant one) that I am learning to live with.  Like an actor or musician practicing the Alexander method, I try hard to just “let” my body relax into its motion.  To “let” my mind relax into its thoughts.

And, so, in addition to admiring Ontario’s flora, doing a little people watching, and writing my next blog update in my head, I find myself reliving the past and fretting over the future.   I find myself despairing at the state of the world.  I sweat out bitterness and indignation like toxins as I walk.  I feel myself getting angry, taste its bile for a moment, and let it pass.  I feel glad I am walking alone.

“This, too, shall pass.”  Or so the old saying goes.

A few years ago I would not so readily have opened myself to this process.  I would have blamed the walking and not the walker, as it were.  Chaulked it up to a surge of adrenaline instead of taking a deeper look at what (heavy stuff!) I’m carrying inside myself.  But I’m okay with it now.  I’m not stuffing these feelings back inside, like demons to be kept hidden in the closet, any more.  Not any longer.  Because I’ve finally reached the point where I’m starting to get that the real demon is misunderstanding.   And I think I somehow have the strength (finally!) to deal with that one.

So I’m walking this morning and I’m thinking about ways I could deal with the Misundertanding Demon.  Having several big “clear the air” type discussions with a bunch of people about a bunch of things?  Nah.  I’m liable to get too hot and bothered (or come across that way, anyhow).  Then people wouldn’t hear what I was saying so much as how I was  saying it.  Defenses would start going up.  People wouldn’t hear me anymore.  And I’d so much love to be heard now.

Besides, some of the people I understand at last or need understanding from finally are dead.  You can’t have a real two-way discussion with a ghost.  Believe me, I’ve tried.

As I’m thinking all this and doing my quick stride, a rabbit darts across my path scarcely two feet in front of me.  I see his tiny legs and the vivid white fur on the underside of his (barely dirty!) long feet.  He’s just a baby.

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If you’re looking for a truly innocent creature, here’s one. Unless you’re lettuce.

The rabbit is as startled by my sudden presence as I am by his.  He scurries off the path, but the cover he picks is really a large, low clearing, grown over only because of some small trees.  He freezes against a tree with his back to me, the animal version of a child’s “You can’t see me if my eyes are closed” logic.  It makes me smile.  I’m tempted to say “Peekaboo, Baby”  but from the side view of his cranium I can detect his large eye orbiting in fear.  I keep walking instead.

Obviously, for me, the key to defeating the Misunderstanding Demon is my blog.  I know many people would be completely uncomfortable with this means of dealing with something so private, but for me somehow it’s better.  Writing and just “putting it out there” works for me.  I’m not ashamed of anything I have to say, and – anyhow – finding out who’s still “with you” (as it were) after reading it all is the best “people-filter” ever.  If you don’t like it, well, you don’t really like me.  Besides which,  if you don’t like it, maybe you should ask yourself“why?”

‘Cause I’ve noticed the things that are the quickest to bring a knee-jerk reaction from us all are, more often than not, the things we need to explore further.  Jealous of somebody?  You probably won’t have to look far to figure out what they have or are doing that you envy.  Anger’s like that, too.  It begs us to do some further reflection.

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Demons: I’m learning that the things we’re quickest to be judgemental and arrogant about are often the things in life that we should reflect on a little longer. Our judgements can be fear or jealousy, masquerading as something else simply to keep our own defenses intact.

I don’t know how many of you watch the BBC series Sherlock.  I just started following it myself fairly recently.  Do you remember the very first episode?  John Watson (Martin Freeman) is sitting across from his therapist, a professional-looking black woman, who says “Are you still writing your blog, Dr. Watson?” at the same moment as we see a blank page on a computer screen.  Across the top of the page, in an elegant font,  it says The Blog of Dr. John H. Watson.

He’s written nothing.

Next the doctor says “If you write down everything that happens to you, Dr. Watson –  I swear – it WILL help you.”

“Nothing happens to me,” Watson replies in a monotone.

Which isn’t true.  A moment before we’ve seen this vet, this medic recently returned from Afghanistan, waken from his dreams.  Dreams of action.  Of combat.  Of fear.  And pain.  And loss.

This man is full of trauma.  Full of Demons.  And yet he says “Nothing happens to me.”

I love that moment.  It encapsulates so much.

Because a therapist can take a person apart, but  – maybe – somehow have that person leave in an hour not put back together.   Because, if your defenses aren’t somehow in tact, you’re not liable to be very functional.  But writing – blogging – ahh, that’s a little different.   Soon Dr. Watson discovers that – the more he writes and comes to NEED his blog – the less he needs his therapist.

What am I saying?  I don’t have a therapist.  On the other hand, I do need my blog.  Yah yah yah, it’s confessional and that’s not for everyone.  But it is for me.  People who love me and understand me should be able to celebrate that –  for whatever reason –  I am different from them in this respect.

So I’m walking, and I’m thinking about the ghosts now, but also about the other people who knew and loved theses ghosts.  The other people I know and love.  People I don’t want to alienate, but want understanding from.  People I want to cry out to – “I want back the respect and trust that I deserve from you!”, “I want back the place in your heart, in your inner circle, that is rightfully mine!“, and “I’m not crazy, I’m not a failure, and please don’t talk about me behind my back.”

Now I’m walking and tears are squirting out of the corners of my eyes.  Tears are rolling down my cheeks.  I’ve planned out a great blog post in my head, but I’m not at all sure I’m brave enough to write it.

Shit, shit, shit!!!  This is NOT how I want to feel during my walk.

And that’s when I see the notebook.

It’s placed ever so casually on the park bench, as if its owner may be back for it at any second.  Only thing is, it’s inside a Ziploc bag, as if to protect it from the elements.  Further, a note is attached on top of the book with an elastic.

The note says “Read me.”   Inside the bag there is a ball-point pen and a (broken) pencil.

I pick it up as I pass.  I’m about to continue my (Mom-inspired) clip when something about the simple caps makes me stop.

READ ME.  In pencil.  Nothing else.  Left on the park bench.  This note, and its book, belong here.  I suddenly realize I’m not supposed to take this book home.

All at once I feel like Alice.  It’s an invitation to fall down the rabbit hole.  To shrink and fit through the door.

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An amazing discovery gave me an “Alice in Wonderland” feeling for a moment during my walk today.

I am intrigued.  I sit down and open the notebook.  I’m half expecting the words “Drink Me” or “Eat Me” to materialize on the page.

“Hi There,”  it says on the first page.  It was the same friendly looking caps, inscribed in pencil.  “Thanks for stopping to read me.  How are you today?  I usually bike by on the bike path and don’t come down here.  I came down today and I’m glad I did – it’s such a lovely spot.  Right now I am watching the clouds roll by…”

The note  – dated the evening before at about 8 M – went on for 2 or 3 of the book’s small pages, and described the experience the writer was having at that moment (mostly peaceful and enjoying the view along the river).  It ended with an invitation for a response.  I turned the page, expecting to write my reply.  There was another entry.

Again in pencil.  “Hi There!  Well, I was certainly surprised to find this!  My wife and I walk here each evening and watch the sun set along the river.  The walk takes away all the thoughts and stresses of the day and keeps health problems at bay..”  This entry, again, went on for about 2 pages.

I turned the page again.  Another entry.

And another.  And another.

One person, obviously touched by the found notebook, left their email address.  Another left their phone number and suggested the originator might want to get together with them to talk about Jesus.  One entry read only “What a lovely discovery! – the 6 Walking Woman.”

Almost all the entries read like of stream-of-consciousness appreciations of nature – the river, the air, the view, as well as of the peace and solitude and healing that people felt there.  One person wished that there was less litter and traffic noise.  Several read like poetry.

All were confessional.  And left for the stranger who’d shared his thoughts (and his notebook!) with us.  At some point, the pencil had evidently broken and someone had donated the pen.

No one had disrespected this person’s sensibilities.  No one had thrown this book into the garbage can.  Or the river.

I dated my entry 08-AUG and wrote the time: 8:25 AM.   At 8:31 I put the little book back into its baggie and walked rapidly away.  I had shared my moment, but I still preferred to keep my privacy.  I wrote something like:

“Hello.  I get up early and leave before my hubs and kids awake, if schedule allows.  As I walk I enjoy all the wildflowers (test yourself:  how many can you ID?) and the river.  The quiet.  Today as I walk I am thinking of family and friends far from me.  Happy-sad stuff.  This is a lovely idea – I love all the thoughts people have shared.  Do you have a blog?  Will this be a post?  Please send me a link, I will try to read it [I left my blog address]  Well, I will just say Namaste (I do not sell Jesus), Butterfly.”

It’s probably all very stupid and juvenile.  I know several people who would think so (where’s you sense of adventure, guys?).  I have friends who would never have written in this book.  After all, who knows who did this.  Or why.  On the other end, I sense someone young.  Someone with a kindness bucket list, or an “I make art out of being an explorer of the world” thing going on.  And this reminds me of several young people I “know” in my virtual community.  It makes me smile and feel older, yes, but hopeful too.

It makes me way less alone this morning.  As I make a bladder-related pit stop at the Westboro beach facilities, I feel a sudden twinge of anxiety for the notebook, as though it’s one of my children.  Fear it will come to some harm if left alone.

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Suddenly, I am full of anxiety for the little notebook, and the lovely, gentle thoughts and feelings it waits to share with its originator.

But, of course, being left there alone is what it’s all about.  It’s an exercise in trust.  An experiment in the good still present in humanity.  Kind of like my blog.

On different days this blog is for different people.  Sometimes it’s for the mom out there who just wonders what to do about bed-wetting.  Or poop.  Somedays it’s for my friends Janet, or Kim, who like it when I make them laugh.  Sometimes it’s for Marzenka, who “likes big books”.  She’s willing to read those long posts, where something profound maybe comes out of something “everyday”, something banal.  I love that about Marzenka.  It says something beautiful and profound, in return, about her (don’t you think?).

Other days this blog is for Laurie.  My dear friend.  She reminds me – always at the best moments – that I am talented and brave.

Today I am thinking of my Patchipaw Pa, who’s far away but knows who I mean.  I’m looking forward to hugging him again.

As I wind my way home today, I pick up pine cones for the Littles.  Rememberships of the long journey I’ve somehow just been on.  The same rabbit crosses my path quickly as I pass through the same small woods again.   This time I contemplate the possibility that he is the rabbit from Wonderland.   I don’t notice the desecrated wildflower lot this time as I climb back up my street.

Mr. Pruning  Shears may not know it, but Fireweed roots grow deep.  The flowers and I are laughing.

All for now,

Butterfly

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Lou Lou’s Dragon

Canada’s shortest season continues to pass and – now that the Littles and I are back from Newfoundland –  my husband and I have been getting Boo and Lou back into the rhythm of summer vacation, Ontario style.  While we had some rainy, cool weather the first week after we got home, this past week  summer’s heat and humidity returned with a vengeance.   Meaning it was time for some outdoor adventures, with Family Canoeing topping the list.

This year’s been a funny one, what with all my Bucket List-style road-tripping and the many things the Boy Genius himself has been juggling between work and home.  It seemed a bit like canoeing, that intrinsically Canadian pastime which means so much to us both, had fallen by the wayside.  In fact, by the end of July, Boo and Lou had only been out ONE TIME with BG.  And that was a day that – thanks to my own (part-time) career – couldn’t even join them.

Now – to frame this story – I guess I should tell you that the Boy Genius and I have our ears open constantly, listening for tips about new and (hopefully) pristine places to go canoeing.  Places with clean water.  Places to swim.  Places with wildlife.  The whole “getting-away-from-it-all-and-making-a-campfire-if-we-(damn)-want-to” thing.  Places we can go and take the kids, places close enough for a day trip (because it’s hard to plan, pack, and execute a trip that’s any longer in one canoe with a family of four aboard).

In short, we’re on the hunt for great canoe spots within a two-hour drive of urban Ottawa.  And no one who knows a place like that is eager to share the location – they’re keeping this information to themselves.  So this looking out for places is a tricky job, and it’s one that I admit has fallen one hundred percent on my husband’s (broad) shoulders.

This day I couldn’t go canoeing was a day my husband had selected to venture out and explore one of these hard to come by new places.  Because I’m all about sharing information, I’m going to let you in on it (although I will add that – if you have a big dog, drink a lot of beer, are going to the wilderness to play the radio loudly, or just generally are not a “zero trace camping” sort of person – I’d rather you didn’t actually go!).

The place is called Morris Island Conservation Area.   Of course (because it was canoeing, and involved being with Daddy, eating chocolate pudding and being wet), our kids loved it.  But this outing was a little different.  The children returned home with a strange and childishly exciting story to tell.

“Mommy, Mommy!  We saw a DRAGON!  my daughter Lou burbled excitedly.

Now I should say that Little Lou Lou, at nearly four-years-old, still seems very… well, little.  The baby of our family, she’s MY “baby” as well,  and she still seems so childlike and precious (tiny limbs, baby lisp and all !) in the myriad ways her older brother, the Boo, is so rapidly out-growing.  So her story could be a day-dream, or pure babbling, and I listen to it the way parents listen to all the usual nonsense kids say all day long, even managing an enthusiastically non-committal rejoinder.

“Holy jumpin’s!”  I say energetically.   What I always say when I’m not really listening.  Not listening hard, anyhow.

But the story – of a hole in the ground and a loud and menacing hiss! as my husband and kids drew closer – was collaborated both by her older brother AND my (even older) husband.  Lou’s story, in short, was factual.

The kids found this all tremendously fascinating and mysterious, of course, and Lou Lou’s “dragon” (which I assumed must have been some sort of snake) remained a frequently recurring subject of conversation around the supper table.  And then – this past Sunday – I found myself at Morris Island Conservation Area.  And face to face with Lou’s dragon.

It was not a snake.

Now I’m going to back the story up several more paces and tell you that, for one thing, I am still without my Samsung Galaxy camera, a fact I am fairly cheesed off about.  As a blogger and Pinterest junkie, being without my “smart camera” – now that I’ve grown so used to having it – feels like I am missing an appendage.  I am irked about this product’s apparent software problems (my IT expert of a brother says the issues have been caused by something called the “operating system” :P), especially considering the big bucks I paid for this toy a scant few months back.  Right now, my camera’s off at Samsung, via Best Buy (thanks guys!) and I am mightily annoyed.  It’s been 2 weeks already.  I want my camera back now.

Before the days of my Galaxy, we had (and continue to have, as a  – whew! – back-up) a rather good but clunkily LARGE Panasonic camera.  Although I loved (and still very much like) this camera, I hated schlepping it places.  It is big and heavy, requiring a large-ish removable battery, a charger for said battery, and a cap for its (permanently protruding) lens.  In fact, we carry the Panasonic around in a big blue lunch bag singularly devoted to its containment.  The Samsung, in contrast, is small enough to slip in my pocket.  Yes, I bought a GPS case to keep it safe in, but the whole rig (case included) still fits easily into my purse.

In other words, I was really looking forward to having the new, highly portable, camera for something like, I don’t know say, a Family Canoe Outing.  And yet.  The day came at last and I found myself without it.  I resigned myself to being at leisure in beautiful nature that day, cameraless.

I stuffed my desire to take photographic samples of everything around me deep down inside and resolved to hold it in check for at least this one day out with my kids.  After all, Lou already has a bad habit of screaming “Put away that damn camera!!!” at the strangest times, while Boo ducks and covers whenever I turn it in his direction now.  So I’m getting the feeling my kids are not entirely mad about my photographic obsession.

Another aside, this again essential to the story.  While we were in Newfoundland, my cousin Shell “lent” me a cellphone (with, in fact, no plans on ever asking for its return).  She had a set of two such phones, with a plan that allowed them to call each other for free.  This was during her mom’s (my aunt’s) illness.  Sadly, her mom has passed.  The term of the phones was ending now, and – as I am one of the approximately twelve remaining people on the planet with NO cellphone – Shell gave me this phone so we could stay connected during our time together in St. John’s.  Shell at her hotel with Phone Number 1.  Me and the kids at my brother’s (landline-less!) little house with Phone Number 2.

When Shell flew home, she left Phone Number 2 with us.  Without a charger and with its calling plan expiring any minute, but I was free to claim this phone, somehow, if I so chose.  Or recycle it.  Shell herself bought a new iPhone 5 at the Avalon Mall the day before heading back to Iqaluit.  And, for my part, I completely forgot about the phone.

By the time we returned from Newfoundland, I found the (now utterly dead) phone still stuffed in the pocket of one of my bags.  Soon it became Lou Lou’s favourite toy, and everyone in Ottawa was treated to the spectacle of my daughter – who shows her girly side with an addiction to purses, shoes, and cellphones –  yammering away on it as we made our way around the grocery store.

After a while, Lou asked me why her phone was not working.

“The battery’s dead,”  I answered simply.  I decided to focus on the battery as it is, at least, something Lou can sort of understand (more so than cellphone carriers, wi-fi signals, and monthly billing anyhow!).

As we were in the grocery store line-up at the moment of this philosophical discussion, Lou retorted by simply holding out a package of Duracell double A’s.

“Put more,”  she replied.  See Mom, easy!

Somehow I got her home without buying yet more AA batteries (we have lots already).  Later, I conversationally mentioned our daughter’s wit and determination to having a real working phone! to her father.

“Show me the phone” my electrical engineer of a man replied.  He disappeared into the study, returning with a small black bag.

“This is a universal charger,” my husband explained.  He took the battery out of Lou’s LG “play” phone and promptly charged it.

Soon Lou has a really, working LG flip phone, with a Fido homescreen that reads “Unregistered SIM” across the bottom.  She can’t make any calls, but she does have her own camera now.  Suddenly my daughter is an amateur photographer, happily snapping away.  Even her big brother wants to have a turn with this terrific new plaything.

Lou takes her phone everywhere.  She even slips it into the front pocket of her little backpack on the day of our Family Canoe Outing.  And so – after a good hour or so of peaceful relative boredom, seasoned with a (strong) temptation to catalogue the somehow amazing variety of flora at this new location – I, Mumma, find it.

Soon, I am snapping away on my cousin’s ex-flip-phone camera, deleting excess blurry shots of the grocery store (there are an irritatingly large number of these) as I go.  I photograph the small weeds and wildflowers growing all around me – selfheal (love these!), evening primrose, and pearly everlasting (ooh, that’s new!) among them.   I photograph the large spider lurking in the rocks at the water’s edge.   I photograph our children, “swimming” (in life jackets) along a nylon rope my husband has tied between the rocks of our island and an adjacent small spit of rock.  They pull themselves along the rope – zipline style –  against the current, squealing with delight.

For good measure, I take a photo of my feet.

As I snap, I delete junky photographs that seem to have filled up this small phone’s internal memory.  The frequent screen alert “Memory card full –  Make space now?” constantly reminds me that little device is nearly maxed out.  Soon I am totally engrossed and no longer paying attention to what is going on around me.  I have found a camera to play with.

“Come quick – and be QUIET!!!” my husband, returning from some discrete business in the bushes, implores us, snapping me out of my stupor.   “I found the dragon!  Come see!!!”  Surprisingly, BG seems pretty serious about this;  my husband is really eager for us to see Lou’s dragon!  My curiousity is piqued.

As the kids and I scramble to join the Boy Genius at the edge of the mysterious woods, it crosses my mind that BG probably wouldn’t be expecting a snake to keep still that long.  I am still clutching the flip phone and think ruefully that – if, indeed, it IS a snake – I am not liable to get much of a picture.  The flip phone’s  screen is tiny, with the camera’s lens surprisingly low-set in the cover (I’m not used to this yet and keep taking pictures of people’s knees).  Also, this little camera has no zoom.  Lastly, I doubt the pictures this phone takes are very high-resolution.

As I hurry along now, I return from my camera-induced la-la land and tune into what my husband is saying.  The words “wild turkey”, “growling”, and “cave” catch my attention.  It sounds like the kids’ dragon is actually a large bird, perhaps wounded.  Whatever it is, it’s been there a while.  My family’s previous encounter with the beast was a full 43 days ago.

We hop from rock to rock.  It’s hilly and rubbly here.  Amongst the tall trees,  broken rock is interspersed with grasses and low evergreens.  The footing is tippy – the terrain is very up-and-down and the surface underfoot is a mixed bag of loose rock, scratchy bracken, and complete voids.  There’s no path.

Like walking in water, we scan ahead a few steps for rocks that look stable.  I hold Lou’s hand tightly, and stage-manage her hike with a steady stream of instructions;  I sound like an air traffic control tower talking a novice pilot in for a crash landing.  Boo has already fallen down back here once – about an hour ago – and given his knee a deep cut  (that oughta teach him not to run while eating a sandwich!).  My husband has run on ahead of us like an excited school boy.

Finally we catch up to the Boy Genius and he “shushes” us.  We’ve arrived at the dragon’s lair – a deep pit about ten feet wide, and tumbling downwards a good six feet or so, lined with moss and large boulders.   It’s a natural depression in the ground, perhaps the mouth of a cave.  And it’s an intimidatingly large one.  What’s more, from the mouth of this potential entrance to the underworld emanates an incredibly loud and reverberant HISS.

The dragon.

Even I’m feeling a little reluctant now.  The echoing, frighteningly loud hiss pulls me back even as curiousity inches me forward to gaze down into the pit.  Working my way around blind-spot birch trees and more poor footing, I let go Lou Lou’s hand as she draws back towards her father.  He’s keeping back – not out of fear, he just doesn’t want to scare away the wildlife inside.

Even as I get into the best position practical (under the circumstances) for snapping a photo with this zoom-less, low res camera phone (Damn you, Samsung, I want my toy back!!!), it does cross my mind that – whatever’s down there – it feels threatened.  The other-worldly growling that is interspersed with the now steady loud hiss (almost like someone left the gas on) is a clear warning.  Wild animals do, sometimes, strike when threatened.  Suddenly, I am glad the kids are, instinctively, keeping well away.

Inside the pit are two VERY large birds.  They don’t appear wounded, but somehow they do seem somehow, well, vulnerable.  The mix of fluffy white feathers with long, smooth black plummage gives them a weird, mutt-like appearance, while indicating to me (a very inexperienced novice birder!) that they are either molting or are chicks.  Their heads are greyish, bare.  I understand now why my husband called them wild turkeys.

The growling and hissing continue, hiking up a notch whenever I draw, apparently, just a bit too close.  The monolithic birds don’t even stir.  They stay so motionless that the noise  – which is probably bouncing off the walls of their crevice and being amplified somehow – seems to be coming from the passageway to the probable cave beneath rather than from them.

I take a few quick snaps.  The best angles I can get inspite of the trees and the threatening growl.  I curse, again, the lack of zoom.  I desperately wish I was holding my Samsung camera.

Then we get the heck out of there.  Partially for peace of mind (we have small children with us, after all), partially to give these birds their privacy back.

My husband and I quickly decide they must be turkey vultures (what else could they be?).  Together we’ve seen these birds when we’ve been farther up north (eating road kill, what else?), but never so near Ottawa before.  Also, it is unclear to me whether these two in particular are a breeding pair, or two chicks.  In any case – even if one actually IS injured – it seems they are doing well on their own.  After all, they are still there –  6 weeks later.  Neither has died of starvation or thirst.  Neither obviously injured in any way.  Just that whole mottled “molting” thing.

The next day, I look up the turkey vulture in my Lone Pine field guide Birds of Ontario.  Sure enough, they do nest “in a cave crevice or among boulders… no nest material is used.”  That definitely fits what we saw (√).  “ID info” includes the red head, which is grey in immature birds (√), with the birds being otherwise all black (these were mottled black and white, but the white looked like “chick fluff” that was falling out, so √ again).  Size 66 to 81 cm tall, with a wing span of 1.7 to 1.8 metres, so – basically – big birds (√ again!).

More:  under “voice” it says “generally silent; occasionally produces a hiss or grunt if threatened”  (√).   Under “Best Sites” it lists Beamer Point Conservation Area (Grimsby), Bruce Pennisula, Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Frontenac Provincial Park, Grundy Lake Provincial Park, Chutes Provincial Park, and Blue Lake Provincial Park.  It does not list Ottawa, although the Ottawa River area is listed as a good place to see some of the other birds in this comprehensive guide (some of them less common ones).  So, is what we saw something special?

I’ll leave that as an open question to all you Ontario birders out there for now.  Do you agree with my ID?  Novel for the area, yes or no?  Also, on the topic of wildflowers, although I’m fairly sure about the pearly everlasting I’m still suffering doubts about the selfheal.  Will be grateful if any experts out there want to weigh in.  Once again, I’ll make excuses for myself – afterall, I am not a native Ontarian (or a professional botanist!).  But I’d like to know.

Plus!  I found out lots more about these very interesting large “birds of prey” (err, sort of..).  Instead of summarizing lots of stuff you can read elsewhere, however, I’ll leave you with some shots from Shell’s camera phone, and close today with an interesting video on the turkey vulture.

Pearly everlasting.  Shot taken on my cousin's  flip phone camera.

Pearly everlasting. Shot taken on my cousin’s flip phone camera.

Selfheal?

Selfheal?

Nervously taken snap of turkey vulture chicks.  Shot taken using my cousin Shell's flip phone!

Nervously taken snap of turkey vulture chicks. Shot taken using my cousin Shell’s flip phone!

"Where Our Feet Have Been" - Mine and Lou's at Morris Islans Conservation Area.

“Where Our Feet Have Been” – Mine and Lou’s at Morris Island Conservation Area.

Not bad for a flip phone, huh?  Think this shot captures a nice effect with the trees on the water...

Not bad for a flip phone, huh? Think this shot captures a nice effect with the trees on the water…

And – last but not least – here’s that informative guide to the turkey vulture!

More lupins at Sandy Cove Beach.  Sandy Cove, Newfoundland.  Photo by Butterflymumma.

The Flowers of Newfoundland, Part II: The Lupin

Lupins have fascinated me since I was a little girl living (for a while) along the southern shores of Nova Scotia.  My parents still remember me practically shouting for them to pull over the car whenever I spotted any.  Passing these majestic wildflowers as they grew along the roadside – vividly coloured and with their impossibly up-right spikes – seemed anathema to me even then, at the tender age of 5.  I guess even in those days I was a butterfly.

La la la la,  Lovely.  La la la la, Luminous.  La la la la, Lilac.  La la la la Lupins at a sandy beach...

La la la la, Lovely. La la la la, Luminous. La la la la, Lilac. La la la la Lupins at a sandy beach…

Lupins are popular with gardeners.  There are many hybrid varieties, offering a rich array of colours (white, yellow, red, blue, pink, lilac, violet) to choose from.  I have read that the proliferation of this flower as a wayside attraction is due to its escape from cultivated gardens.  Although I do see lupins (usually as a garden plant) in Ontario, however, I don’t often see them growing wild here.  Perhaps there are more in other parts of the province.

Yet Newfoundland boasts rafts of lupins everywhere, much as I remember from those magical years in the Nova Scotia of my childhood.  And we seem to arrive as they are in full bloom.  Lupins are everywhere.

As I mentioned in a previous post, it was hard to stay focussed on the forward momentum during my morning constitutional with my mom.  I really wanted to stop and do some photo shoots with all that glorious Newfoundland flora.  Lupin eye candy was certainly a part of this.   So, to avoid temptation, I left my camera at home during our morning walks.

Luckily, I soon discovered that lupins were growing like mad at some of the places my children were so keen to spend their daytimes as well, particularly a lovely spot known as Sandy Cove Beach.  And so – for your viewing pleasure – here are some shots I took of what was growing (in pure sand) at this amazing beach (which, by the way, is owed a post of its own very shortly).

Lupins growing in what appeared to be very poor soil at Sandy Cove Beach.  Sandy Cove, Newfoundland.

Lupins growing in what appeared to be very poor soil at Sandy Cove Beach. Sandy Cove, Newfoundland.

Lupins going to seed.  They are very successfully naturalized throughout the northeastern part of North America.

Lupins going to seed. They are very successfully naturalized throughout the northeastern part of North America.  I guess they spread well.

Like Sarracenia,  lupins too have an adaptive trick that makes them a success in an environment that other plants might shun.  Rather than being carnivorous, however, in lupins the trick is to suck gaseous nitrogen (N2) out of the air then “fix” it in the soil in a much more biologically available form – ammonium (NH4+) – in a process called nitrogen-fixation.

Plants that contribute to nitrogen fixation include the legume family – Fabaceae – with taxa such as kudzu, clovers, soybeans, alfalfa, lupines, peanuts, and rooibos. They contain symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobia within nodules in their root systems, producing nitrogen compounds that help the plant to grow and compete with other plants. When the plant dies, the fixed nitrogen is released, making it available to other plants and this helps to fertilize the soil.

- Wikipedia, under entry for nitrogen-fixation

The nitrogen cycle.

The nitrogen cycle.

So lupins –  like their relatives beans, alfalfa, clover and peanuts –  have bacteria growing on them that work like little chemical factories, taking nitrogen gas out of the air and turning it into fertilizer?  That’s pretty cool.  Let’s hear it again for the toughness and creativity of plants, people!  Uh, and for bacteria too, I guess.

An important note, however:  Although lupins belong to the legume family, they are not an edible plant.  In fact, lupins are poisonous to people and livestock, with the seeds and flowers being the most dangerous parts (so – yes – the seeds look like peas and - no!!! – you shouldn’t eat them).

Unlike Newfoundland’s emblem, the Pitcher Plant (S. purpurea), lupins are abundant in gardens, as well as in the natural environment.  I have also read that they may be propagated by cuttings (haven’t tried this yet).  So feel free to pick some for bouquets or to steal some for your own garden.   Lupins would make a glorious addition to any garden, and fertilize your soil as a bonus.

More lupins at Sandy Cove Beach.  Sandy Cove, Newfoundland.  Photo by Butterflymumma.

More lupins at Sandy Cove Beach. Sandy Cove, Newfoundland. Photo by Butterflymumma.

pitcher_plant

The Flowers of Newfoundland, Part I: The Pitcher Plant

Maybe not everyone who travels takes an interest in the local flora and fauna, but I suspect many people do.  As I mentioned last post, I was enthralled with the diversity of wildflowers as I walked each day on my recent trip to Newfoundland.  I noticed not only what seemed to be different from Ontario, but some interesting constants as well.   And, for fun, I thought I’d share my some of my trip photos of Newfoundland’s abundant plant life with you in some upcoming posts.

First up, the granddaddy of all Newfoundland flora (why save the best for last?) – the illustrious Pitcher Plant.

Old-fashioned botanical illustration of Sarracenia purpurea.

Old-fashioned botanical illustration of Sarracenia purpurea.

The Pitcher Plant

The Pitcher Plant, provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.  I took this shot on my trip.  Sandy Pond, Terra Nova National Park.

The Pitcher Plant is the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador.  North American Pitcher Plants – of which there are 8 to 11 species – all grow in challenging environments, this particular one in the nutrient-poor, acidic soil of the Newfoundland bog, constantly wet (with the water, of course, carrying away all the nutrients), exposed to sun and weather (due to a dirth of tree cover on your average bog!), and dominated by the growth of Spagnum moss.

Mosses are another extremely common sighting as you wander in Newfoundland's abundant wilderness.

Mosses are another extremely common sighting as you wander in Newfoundland’s abundant wilderness.

Newfoundland’s Pitcher Plant (S. purpurea) belongs to the genus Sarracenia.  These plants gain an advantage in their hostile environment by, in addition to their love of direct sunlight, their ability to gather nutrients from the insects they lure to their pitchers, drown, and slowly digest.

Yes!  In other words, Newfoundland’s provincial flower is a carnivorous plant.  I’ve always loved this particular little factoid.  :)  I feel sure a lot of thought went into the selection of this particular resident as an emblem of the province.

The insects are attracted by a nectar-like secretion on the lip of pitchers, as well as a combination of color and scent. Slippery footing at the pitchers’ rim, aided in at least one species by a narcotic drug lacing the nectar, causes insects to fall inside, where they die and are digested by the plant as a nutrient source.

- Wikipedia, under entry for Sarracenia

A close-up of the cup (or "trumpet") of a Pitcher Plant.  With labels, for the anatomically curious.  :)

A close-up of the cup (or “trumpet”) of a Pitcher Plant. With labels, for the anatomically curious. :)  The Operculum, btw, partially covers the top of the cup, preventing it from overflowing with rainwater, accidentally releasing any prey.

 This process is at once yucky and wonderful and I always feel a thrill of discovery whenever I come upon a Pitcher Plant during a walk.  It feels like I have stumbled upon a fascinating alien life form.  And their toughness and stubbornly creative determination to survive in this environment somehow mirror the hardiness of the people of Newfoundland themselves (the reason this “flower” was chosen as a symbol of the province, perhaps?).  So the very existence of these plants in this place makes me yet again proud to be a Newfoundlander (Seems to be a feeling I’m feeling a LOT this trip, huh?).

If you’re ever in Newfoundland, by the way, please don’t be frightened of these wonderful residents of the province’s unique ecosystem.  The Pitcher Plant’s mechanisms for both capturing and digesting the insects it feeds on are passive – there are no moving parts.  So don’t be frightened – Newfoundland’s Pitcher Plant won’t bite you.   But be warned, however, Sarracenia in their natural habitat are a threatened species.  Please don’t disturb them.  Leave them alone, let them grow, and simply enjoy the priviledge of having observed this distinctive plant in the wild.

Sarracenia - they don't bite (at least, I don't THINK...).

Sarracenia – they don’t bite (at least, I don’t THINK…).

my_new_habit

My New Habit

Well, despite the absence of regular blog updates, our trip has ended.  We are now back from Newfoundland.  I was so busy having a great time outdoors and with my family that I am only on Day 2 of the 20 day trip, as far as telling you all about it goes.  I know, I know.  Now that I am back to hum-drum every day life I am sure I will get caught up (or some semblance of it) soon.

One thing I did want to tell you about without further adieu, however, was the mileage this time away from home has put on my new sneakers.  Without a definite (accurate) tally, I’m guessing I added between 80 and 100 kilometres while we were away.  The main reason for this refreshing change in my activity level?  My nearly 69 year-old mother gets up at 6:30 every morning, slips on her sneaks, and walks nearly 4 kilometres from her little house to the shipyard at the very end of the community’s road.  Then she walks back.  For a total of 7.8 kms (“Dad took it off in the car for me” she says, by way of explaining her knowledge of her own daily mileage – she prides herself on her lack of charts, graphs, or pedometer).  This walk is how my mother starts nearly each and every day.

When I last saw my mom 6 years ago she did not have this habit.  She started about 3 and a half years ago and has been doing it faithfully ever since.  And so – to me – this transformed Mom is basically a new person.  One good thing I noticed about my mother this trip – perhaps because of all this walking – is how much calmer she is.   Somehow she seems more confident too. Another thing – this one because of the walking for certain – is that she’s lost weight.  Not that she needed to lose any.  But she is definitely looking fit and trim, and obviously in good physical condition.  I was sweating to keep up with her.  But – much as she prides herself on speeding past the odd male walker she encounters –  I prided myself on at least being able to (mostly) keep up with her.  After all, my mom is 24 years my senior.

I have to admit that I was a little nervous the first couple of mornings out.  I’d heard about the rapid pace Mom sets.  Also, she looked me up and down appraisingly that very first early morning and quipped something like “You’re sure you’re up to this?”  Obviously she’d been able to accurately gauge my physical activity level as of late (which was nada).  Inwardly I  gulped, but bravado forced me to pretend I thought I was.  And, despite all my trepidation and misgivings, I somehow still managed to feel shocked and surprised when Mom suddenly briskly marched down the driveway and set off at a merciless clip down the road.  Who is this drill sergeant and what has she done with my mother?

It took me a few minutes to accept that I was really going to have to walk this fast or be left behind by my mom.   It took me a few more minutes to accept that I was too stubborn, or proud, or both to make some excuse (“My fly bites are itching…”, “My laces are too tight..”, “I need to pee!!!”) and go home to Dad instead of continuing.   Soon my legs ached and sweat trickled down the back of my neck, giving me away.  Yet I surprised myself by somehow keeping up a somewhat acceptable speed for the hour and a quarter till we made it home again.  Throughout that time, however, I secretly suspected I was slowing Mom down.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been home, and by “home” in this context I mean Newfoundland the island.  You can take a Newfoundlander out of Newfoundland, but, somehow – no matter how long they’re away from it – you can never take the “Newfoundland” out of the Newfoundlander.   So it’s hard to explain what I was feeling as I walked in a place I’d once taken so much for granted.  A place I’d once so desperately wanted to leave.

It was astonishingly beautiful.  The bay, so sheltered that it is easy to be lulled into forgetting it is the North Atlantic Ocean, is surrounded by hazy blue mountains rising off  in all directions in the distance.   On perfectly still mornings, after rain, the sea was a blue mirror, reflecting the houses, wharves, boats, and trees.

The air itself continually delighted me with the aromas I’d only vaguely remembered until that moment – the “landwash” smell near the water’s edge at low tide, the smell of the fish plant, the smells of trees, wild roses, the pine-y smell of forest paths.   And – of course – the salty smell in the air when a stiff breeze blew in from the water.   Too, there were smells I couldn’t place but knew I hadn’t smelled since the last time I was home.  The sense of smell is so visceral, isn’t it?  Smells get you right in the centre of your very being, by-passing all the logic and resistance the rest of your brain has tried to set up to protect you.   Suddenly  I am six years old again.  And I want to dive into the ocean.  I want to be a gull flying high in the air.  I want to eat Newfoundland whole, like a rhubarb pie.

The pot-holed pavement we walked along was lined on either side with delightful vistas.  On one side of the road little old houses were interspersed with gorgeous new homes rising up the sides of the hills into the forest surrounding the town.  As well as having dogs for pets (Newfoundlanders just LOVE their dogs – many wandered free as we walked along), some people had barns and enclosures where Newfoundland ponies also grazed.  Beyond the meadows and eccentric gardens (brightly painted discarded tires continue to be somewhat popular as planters) tantalizing diagonal views of dusty dirty roads curving out of sight as they rose into the mountain beckoned for further exploration.  Yet I knew better than to mention these to my mother, who kept her up her relentless forward momentum to the road’s end.

On the other side of the pavement,  more homes, these with “da bay” in the backyard.  In some places, the ocean closed in to the roadside.    There were no houses here, simply a gravelly ditch falling away to the sea.  In other places, the ocean swept away low and far off, revealing sweet new (to me) dirt roads widening down country lanes where weather-beaten old homesteads met yet more new construction.

ICF (insulated concrete form) construction seems to be all the rage in my parents’ community right now.   Seasonal residents, as well as retirees – returning to the area after long years’ of absence – have built many of these new homes, but longtime locals are building too.   Most of these houses are clad with brightly coloured siding (red, yellow, and deep blue are popular colours).   Many also have design features such as being more stories on the back (ocean facing side) than on the front, with surprising levels of ocean-viewing decks connected by flights of pressure-treated wooden stairs.  My brother’s house (in “town”, meaning St. John’s) has a heat pump (much cheaper than the local alternative of electric heating), and I wonder what other forward-looking features these new places in Glovertown might have.

A lot of the new homes were gorgeous spots, with – for certain – amazing views of their own to be had out their own bay windows.   On the “bay” side, many also had their own little docks, some with impressive-looking pleasure boats waiting for their owners to take them out for a sail.

I got the impression there is more work around than there are people available.  There are many open positions nowadays, from work on the oil platforms to positions in mining and refining, with all the supporting trades in-between in demand as well.  Too, there is – to some extent – a fishery again.  The fish plant was open (they were processing capelin, I believe, while we were there) many days as we strode past.

But the main thing that caught my eye were the wild flowers.  I had forgotten so many of them, after years and years hiking and canoeing in Ontario.  And so, I was caught off-guard and astonished somehow by how different the flora of Newfoundland really is.

As I said, I haven’t been home in a while.  And I love nature.  I love water.  I love trees.  And I love flowers.  I want to stop.   For.  Every.  Single.  One.

It’s hard to do this walk with Mom without stopping and disturbing its flow.  Somehow I get that this flow is important.  Today the discipline is NOT stopping to take a bazillion pictures.  And so, I am not stopping to smell, photograph, or catalogue the dozens of old friends I am so delighted to see again (I do much of this later, at outings to places like Newman Sound and Sandy Pond).

All this walking, I forgot to mention, is made possible by the fact that my father sits at home in the morning, getting my children milks and watching cartoons with them till we return.    I am eternally grateful for this.  The walking soon becomes a lovely break.   Soon I genuinely look forward to this refreshing way of greeting every morning.  As well,  I notice that the morning seems longer now, and the day itself expands correspondingly – more hours, more possibilities, more promise.

And so – as the days in Newfoundland grow shorter and the date of our return flight draws near – I dread the thought of being parted from my walk.  I can’t imagine walking anywhere else.  I need the shipyard.  I can’t imagine doing this discipline without the motivation I get from my mom, or without the help I get from my dad.  I am in Newfoundland, a place I once was dying to get out of, and I can’t remember anymore why I stayed away so long.

That’s the great thing about travel, isn’t it?  It’s like a form of Reality Maintenance.  At home in Ottawa, I was in a funk.  I didn’t clearly remember my family or the place where I came from.  I couldn’t accurately recall Newfoundland’s beauty or unique-ness, even as I longed to see it again.  And, at the same time, I didn’t really see Ontario with fresh eyes anymore either.   So I couldn’t feel part of where I came from OR appreciate where I was.

I needed to go.  And I needed to come back.  Ontario is different from Newfoundland.  Yes, there are Dragon’s Mouth Orchids and Pitcher Plants to see in my native land, but somehow it feels great to be back in my adopted  home amongst Queen Anne’s Lace and blossuming Milkweed as well.

So how about that walk?  Well, it turns out my husband understands this need better than I ever could have imagined.  And so – between his own run and his heading out to the office time –  my “me” time is a snug fit, but it fits.  It occurs to me now that I just never asked for an hour of my own each morning.  I simply assumed I couldn’t have it.   And now that I have (at least for the moment) ditched the grumpy martyr routine I am genuinely content with my hour and fifteen minute walk along the Ottawa River bike path each morning.

And so morning for now finds me setting out in pink sneakers at the closest semblance of Mom’s spitfire pace that I can muster.   I walk down to the bike path and follow it to the beach.  For a while, the path follows the waters’ edge.  I see reeds in the water and watch the edge change from rocky, to mucky, to gravelly “sand”.  I long to dip my ankles in the river and contemplate that “learning to kayak” session I wanted to sign up for, as well as daydreaming about whatever we watched on tv the night before.  I avoid the “goose grease” as I stride toward the lovely northern red oak 37 minutes from my home  – the oak has become my walk’s goal.

Along the way, I see many things I’d like to photograph.  Yet my new Samsung camera “glitched” while we were away in Newfoundland, so I don’t have my toy along to distract me (it’s off to Samsung, where it will – hopefully – be repaired), and I’m okay with that.  Instead, I keep up the pace I’m setting for myself.  Some wonderful flow of energy from somewhere keeps me bopping along, even though I’m alone.

I reach the oak tree –  which I greet like a friend, but with rougher skin – then turn back, passing inuksuks in the water as I return home.   Today I paused briefly to check out Maple Lawn in its full glory, then I walked rapidly up my own hilly little street, feeling energized and looking forward to another glorious Ottawa day.

As I strode up my hill this morning, I felt a lovely breeze, almost as thought Newfoundland was with me still.  And I guess it is.  It’s in my heart, afterall.  Meanwhile, my own little street seemed to say “Welcome back, Mumma.”

It’s good to see you again, too, Ottawa.

All for now,

 

Butterfly