Thursday, January 30, 2020

fun things to do in the winter: sunrise

I know the sun is coming up when the sky starts to brighten over the roofs and past the trees I see from the chair where I read. I can't see the sun actually nudge up over the horizon because my horizon is circumscribed by buildings. That's as I choose: to live in the city.

I didn't always get up so early either. For many years I worked evening shift at a hospital. I didn't go to bed till midnight or later. The sun was always up when I got up, even in the winter when it rises later. I never had children that I had to get ready for school. Or that woke me up even when they weren't going to school.

I don't know why I've changed the habits of my adult life and started getting up while the city is still sleeping. Maybe it made more sense to read in the morning instead of at night when my brain is blurry.

A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to see the sun rise on the river. It would be cold but light cuts more sharply in the cold. Or is it the shapes? Silhouettes of trees, the crusts of ice, frozen snow.

I got up at 6 and had a cup of tea. Pulled on some clothes, took a thermos. The river is a half-hour walk away. Where I can access it, the waterway is narrow because there is an island with condo towers and shopping malls in the middle of the river. Normally I walk past Île des Soeurs or Nuns' Island to where the river opens out, but I wasn't going to make it to see the sunrise. I tried to find a spot across from the island where the horizon wasn't too obstructed by buildings.

The sun wasn't up yet but the contrails were turning pink. The river was glassy, still and black, the reflection of dawn a yellow-pink sheen across it. The trees and marsh grass were black, the shoreline a sculpture of ice.

My footsteps crunched. I passed a few people and dogs getting their exercise before heading off to work. Evidence of beavers. Also two women sitting on rocks, facing east.

A few days before trekking over to the river, I wanted to see how high I could get closer to where I lived--if I could see the sunrise closer to home.

It's hard because the railyards block the east. But it was the worth the 5-min walk to the hill that overlooks that part of the railyards (not directly east).

Also to see downtown Montreal waking up.

You can of course watch a sunrise any day that the sky is clear, but this is the time of year when it doesn't happen at 4:30.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

nicknames freefall

Nicknames that bully, nicknames that tease, nicknames that coddle. They underline a particular, not always flattering trait, and reduce the whole of you to that.

The first I recall is Four Eyes. That would have been a taunt in Grade Two or later, since it was in Grade Two that I had a teacher who decided we should sit in alphabetical order regardless of height or good sense. That put me (very short) in the last seat at the back of the class, at which point it was discovered that I couldn't see the blackboard. I laughed at what I thought was a joke when the teacher asked me to read from the board. Didn't everyone see it as a blur? Apparently not. I got sent to the school nurse for my insolence. I got glasses and dubbed Four Eyes.

Another schoolyard name for me was Zorro, which the other kids thought hilarious because I was anything but the masked and dashing swordsman in the TV show. Being called Zorro over and over again made me hate my name for years to come. When I got married, I was glad to be able to rid myself of Zorn and be able to take my husband's surname. I can hardly believe I did that now. When we separated, it was hard to get my name back. I've kept it since.

Then there was the Grade Five teacher who called me Little Alice because I was the shortest in the class. He liked to pick me up by my armpits and carry me, legs dangling, up and down the rows between the desks. I was terrified the other kids could see my underpants. I was mortified to be paraded like that. I couldn't do anything about being short. There was no way to protest. He used to crack the ruler on the boys' hands. He was the teacher that the principal (a nun) got to strap the big boys. I think he thought it was cute that he called me Little Alice.

In high school I was dubbed Mole when a classmate observed that my eyes were usually half-closed. They were. They still are. Light is too bright for me. It goes into my eyes and into my brain where it fingers about in an evil way that can give me a migraine. Still: that that fellow called me Mole was funny considering his eyes. He was stoned most of the time.

I worked for many years on a surgical floor in a hospital. Every three months we got a new roster of  doctors. They had a lot to remember, but I still expected them to remember MY NAME if they expected me to answer their many questions. To help them, I said I was Alice as in Alice in Wonderland. In French that's Alice au pays des merveilles. For farther-flung socio-cultural context I offered Ali Baba. Most of them remembered that I was Alice. A few called me Wonderland. That was all right. The job felt like Wonderland.

Ten years ago I went to a writing residency where I discovered that I was called Eeyore at faculty meetings. I enjoyed my time there, but maybe I don't seem to enjoy myself as visibly as some do. I have a tendency to articulate problems. So yeah, sure, Eeyore.

Nicknames aren't always mean-spirited. R has one for me. It's private.

These days, when I go to a café where they ask for my name, I say Zorro.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

fresh snow glassy river dry marsh grass

Walking after a fresh snowfall for the textures. The cold, the white, the arch of the straw-dry grasses against the dark mirror of the river... I know these aren't all texture words. I'm also not trying to write poetry. I'm hungry and want to get to the kitchen to start supper.

But I also wanted to write this now while I'm still cold from coming home and before it gets dark. We were walking in the late afternoon-becoming-dusk, as you can see by the light.

R is wearing a hat I made when I tried a technique of knitting different colours with the strands of yarn held in both hands. It was fun, but I haven't tried to do it again.

The seedpods look delicate--shivering a little even though there's no wind--but they're tough enough not to be whipped from the branches during a winter storm. I could say the foreground is deliberately blurry but it's the background I wanted in soft focus. There's only so much an automatic can do (especially when you haven't read the manual).

More textures: a moist dog's muzzle in the palm of my hand; the velvety sumac cones against the sky; the snow melting inside my boots because we crashed through snow to get from the path on the bluff down to the long grasses by the shore of the river. Two pairs of socks, long underwear and jeans, how did the snow even find my skin?

Crossing the park, heading home, R says that this morning at seven there were no footsteps. His were the first.

I'm off to the kitchen...

Sunday, January 12, 2020

New Year 2020 in Manitoba

Who goes to Winnipeg in the winter? We did. Fortunately it was balmy. (On our last winter visit temps dipped to -40C.)

Tops for an outdoor adventure was a walk at Beaudry Provincial Park with the trees covered in hoarfrost. I don't have an expensive camera and couldn't capture the effect of... walking through a vault of crystallized trees. You'll have to believe me that the whole forest looked like these winter grasses in the foreground.

Tops for the younger boys--the one who wanted to drill a hole through the thick ice of Lake Winnipeg, the one who loves to skate--was a trip to Gimli.

The ice was clear, mirroring the sky at a slant-and-stop that water doesn't. We were there for a few hours--and no, I wasn't cold, because there was no wind, and we also took a walk through the town of Gimli to visit the Klean-All Laundry where R had heard that there was a Poet in Residence. Story about that follows below.

Sadly, for the boy who was hoping to catch fish, none were caught, though he said that it was the trying that mattered. Nor was he the only one sitting by a couple of holes in the ice waiting.

The laundromat. A couple of years ago, R's alter ego, Dr. Alphoneyous Nitpicker, who works as a surgeon at the medical faculty and fast food diner at the University of Gimli, discovered that the Klean-All Laundry in Gimli had a Poet in Residence. He was excited at the thought that he and the poet might share a similar taste for the absurd and he tried to contact him. No response.

There we were in Gimli and of course R had to go looking for the Klean-All Laundry. I went with him so that I could stop at Tim's for tea, having by then spent a couple of hours on the ice. A woman kindly directed us to the laundromat. It had a small Christmas tree in the window and many washing machines and dryers. At the back of the room sat four men with mugs of coffee. They stopped talking and one peered around the machines to see who had walked in. We weren't carrying any dirty laundry. One man asked if he could help us.

R said he had heard that there was a Poet in Residence. Without a smidgen of a pause the man said, Oh, that was a couple of years back. He's at the library now. But the library's closed today.

R thanked him and turned to leave, but I grew up in a small place and knew that the man's courteous answer deserved a few words in turn. I told him we were from Montreal and had heard about the Poet in Residence. The men nodded. Sure, everyone in Montreal knows about the Poet in Residence in Gimli, Manitoba. I said we were visiting friends in Winnipeg and they had a boy who was crazy about ice fishing. The young fella, the first man said. I passed you in my pickup a while ago.

Back at the house there was much cooking and baking: a range of Sri Lankan, British, Prairie and European cuisine.

On one of our hikes in the snow we heard--and avoided--the thunks of an axe-throwing competition.

We also went to the Manitoba Museum where I found another bird foot sewing bag. I'm on the lookout for these. The ones I've seen at the McCord Museum in Montreal are made by the Innu and Dene people, the leathery skin of a swan or a duck's foot is shaped into a drawstring bag to hold sinew and bone needles for sewing. This one is made from an eider duck. Note that the claws are still intact.

We relaxed a lot too.

In the various ways that we liked to relax.

Bonne année! Happy New Year!