Thursday, September 20, 2012

what to keep in these pockets

A friend, M, sent me this from Berlin. It's the size of a small notebook. She has many delightful ideas as to what I might keep in the pockets: paper sleeves of needles; bits of thread; a spare button; fortune cookie messages; guitar picks... She bought it in a shop near the Museum of Things.
I want to go to this museum with its tantalizing name, as well as this shop, as well as to visit her in this city she has grown to love. I've never been to Berlin.
I keep the thing upright on a bookshelf behind my desk. When I first opened the envelope, before I read her letter with its suggestions, I thought of locks of hair. The pockets would be just the right size. I could fold the locks in tissue paper so they wouldn't get mixed up. Not children's hair. Where would I get that? I was thinking of past lovers.
This has nothing to do with numbers--whether I've had enough to fill all the pockets or whether I've had too many. It's more to do with a feeling I sometimes have that it's too bad there's nothing left from all those good and messy times. You get so involved in someone's life, listen to their stories, compliment their mother's ill-fitting dress, maybe never meet a family member and hear all about why, know whether they take sugar in their coffee or drink it black--and then, poof! they're gone.
I was once married for three years and the only object I've got left from that time is his copy of As I Lay Dying with his Grade 13 notes: "Define any words or terms that need definition. Tell clearly what the subject of essay is."
I used to have jazz LPs I bought while I was with the man with gleaming straight black hair. Where are those LPs now?
For two years I lived with a man who was going bald at twenty-two. I came home one day and found him asleep on the sofa with a cabbage leaf on his head. He'd heard that stopped hair from falling out. I'm glad he never heard the one about sleeping with a raw steak on the head. If I'd kept a tuft of his frizzy hair, it would now be a relic of something that no longer exists.
It would be nice to have a lock of R's hair (though he's not a past lover; very much in the present) when it was still brown. Some years ago, when he got a new passport, the agent at the desk crossed out BROWN and wrote GREY. I like his grey hair. Lately I'm catching up, though mine's going white.
For lack of locks, I'm keeping the pockets empty. Behind me, where I sit writing, maybe they'll catch the trail of sentences that escape me. It will be a practical version of a dream-catcher. The design does look very practical and efficient, doesn't it? Very German.
Too bad I don't play a musical instrument, because I like the idea of guitar picks best.    

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Appalachian Trail / Sentiers Internationales des Appalaches—Gaspé

On this last trip to the Gaspé, we wanted to hike along another stretch of the Appalachian Trail, which begins in Georgia and continues "unofficially" (I think that means without the say-so of Americans?) through the Gaspé Peninsula to the tip.
Years ago I climbed some of the trail in New Hampshire. Here in the Gaspé I’ve done short hikes along the coast near Mont St. Pierre, Mont Louis, L’Anse Pleureuse and Gros Morne. The views can be stunning, overlooking the water or across a range of forested hills called the Chic Chocs.
Here are some pix:

Note that the trail heads are hard to find, the locals aren't always privy, and the paths aren't well indicated, which has made me wary of trying the longer sections of trail that head into the woods. Though they might be fine. I will eventually take a chance. We do usually find the trail.
Of the sections we've done, some take advantage of an already existing back road—which is not well-travelled and can be picturesque (see above). And sometimes the trail is on the side of highway #132 with the logging trucks and traffic speeding by.

This year, as I'm still convalescing, I didn't want to climb any hills. We set out on the path from Grande Vallée to Petite Vallée—6 k one way and along the shoreline, below the cliffs. We wouldn’t have found the trail, which isn’t indicated on the road, if we hadn’t stopped at the tourist office. A very enthusiastic woman with long hair pulled into a waterfall ponytail told us the trail started behind the ice cream stand. We found the bar laitier and there, in the parking lot, was the sign for the trail.

It began as a grassy trail that opened onto beds of rock pebbles that rolled and clattered underfoot. Sounded like ceramic bowling pins tumbling. Around the base of a cliff and we hit a cove of shale plates that slid when you walked across them, sometimes cracked. Out in the bay was a small island populated by birds and plastered white with guano.

Someone had left an art installation of rocks, including a bench whereon to sit and admire them just like in the best art galleries.

Here’s a shack where—you’d never know it from the blue sky overhead--on the way back, an hour later, it started raining and we took shelter. There was a chair hanging on wires from the ceiling. Do you see the flip flop over the doorway?

Since I was taking pictures, I took one here too. Trucks dumped garbage over the cliff above. Many, many trucks. Maybe they assumed the sea would wash the garbage away. Someone came along later and dumped earth to hide the junk, but the tides uncovered the mess.

Yeah, it's gross to be walking along the shore with a breeze coming in and the waves splashing, and lo, there's a mound of compacted plastic and rusted metal that will take longer than the rocks and the cliffs to decompose. But there's something deserving and in-your-face about it too. People make garbage, dump it in plastic bags, garbage cans, off down the road in a garbage truck, and quick-quick, forget it. Do you, for example, know where your garbage ends up?
Of course, you can walk on this trail and never see the garbage. We didn't see it on our way out. Only on our way back, the tide started coming in and we had to walk closer to the cliffs.

Despite the reality check with the garbage, I would recommend this stretch along the Appalachian Trail, from Grande Vallée to Petite Vallée. It's a hike too--not just a stroll--because of the rocky beaches.
But remember to check the tides. When we asked the enthusiastic woman at the Tourist Office about the trail, she whipped around and stared at the clock. You should be okay, she said. High tide won't be in until 7. As we walked, I took note of a few coves with deep inset shorelines and not much beach. I wondered how quickly the tide came in. When we turned back, we were still three hours from high tide, yet the margin of beach was getting ever more narrow. We got to a cove where we had to climb across the boulders higher up at the bottom of the cliff. Had we waited another twenty minutes we would have been stranded on the other side.
p.s. Am I saying that the trail heads along this "unofficial" stretch of the Appalachian Trail should be better marked? Yes, I am!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

house painting, fresh cod, sunsets, beach glass

The Gaspé peninsula is in northeast Quebec: a stubby thumb that sticks into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We've been coming here for almost thirty yrs and finally R bought a derelict house. Sagging floor, burst water pipes, condemned chimney, broken furnace. We took a chance because the front windows look onto the sea.
Usually when we come in the fall, the weather is cooler, the trees are starting to change colour, and the tides are higher.
This year we got here early. The breeze off the water was warm with great beds of kelp swishing in the lazy waves. Two villages along there was a shack on the beach selling hand-cut fries and shrimp poutine. We bought fresh cod at a small fishery with a couple of boats out back and a window through to the room where the fish were being cleaned. We pan-fried fillets we served with lemon, salt and pepper. We get our yearly quota of mercury on these trips to the Gaspé. The neighbour told me to pick as many green beans, carrots and beets as I wanted from her bountiful garden. We’d brought wine. Wine to the tune of the coral and peach sunsets on the water.
Big plan this trip was to paint the house. I wanted a warm colour because, when we drove out two winters ago, the frozen waste of land and water was so bleak and monochromatic. Even the fir trees looked black against the snow. Snow and snow and snow and more snow. Sometimes the sky was blue and sunsets blazed--at 3:30 in the afternoon. Then it got dark.
Most of the houses along the coast are white or such pale washes of cream or beige that they might as well be white. In the winter they disappear against the frozen snow and ice. There’s only the odd coloured house.
The winter that we drove out I felt heartened by those few bubble gum pinks, robin egg blues, Irish greens—a shout of colour in all that white, grey, and black landscape.

I picked yellow. When the sun shines, the house is the same colour as the dandelions in the grass. We'll paint the front porch next trip. The edge of rusty building on the left is the shed. The house was almost that blotchy.
Funny coincidence: the car we rented happened to be a yellow Fiat. One of the local artists, Claude Rioux, a sculptor whose house you can find by the dragon out front--the size of a cow, you can't miss it--stopped to tell R that he liked how our house and car matched. R told him the car was rented, but he insisted. J'aime le concept.
A smaller project was to keep the beach glass I collected in a  jug I could set in the sunshine. The idea was suggested by Carin at

We also walked along a new section of the Appalachian Trail, which I'll write about in another post.