28 June 2006

Mugginess, Mungus, and Atwood's warmth

Oh, me nerves, as my fellow Newfoundlanders would say. We are into day I-don’t-know-what of high humidity, mega-fog, abrupt tropical showers, and other irritations. One friend is beginning to think he should wear a disguise when he goes outside, because every time he shows his face, it rains. My darling husband feels it’s all HIS fault it is so excessively wet, because whenever he plans to start mowing the lawn, putting a line of clothes out to dry, or even thinks about having a nap, the heavens open. It’s ridiculous. There’s mould on the horse’s bridle. The concrete floors in the barn are weeping moisture. Annuals are rotting off in containers; containers that we mixed with a little bit of moisture retaining product so as not to have to water so often. As if…No one can sleep.

Everyone is as touchy as a bear with a sore paw, including the cats…here’s Tigger and Mungus saying “this here window ain’t big enough for both of us…” Tigger, the senior cat, may not have double paws like Mungus does, but he’s the fastest paw in the house, and Mungus finally decided that maybe it would be a good plan to back down.



Mungus is a smart cat in all kinds of ways. Because he’s the apple of my darling husband’s eyes, he’s not allowed outside without adult supervision, which in his case means going on a leash, which he learned to do in about five minutes. He likes to be wherever we are, and he whines gently if he’s left alone outdoors, staked out on the lawn like a horse. He enjoys helping me in the garden, mostly by rolling around in the grass and purring a lot, which works fine for me, and with those polydactyl paddypaws he can really dig well, too. Indoors, he generally likes to burrow under the bedcovers and then start his LOUD, diesel engine purr…but he’s too hot to do that in these dogdays of June—why are they dog days, not cat days?—so he’s mostly laying in other windows (those not chosen by Tigger as his favourite window of the moment) and waiting, like the rest of us, for better weather.

The garden is wildly out of control, with weeds exploding into growth every time we have another rainshower. But the perennials are also growing exuberantly, although several of the peonies have blackened buds from all the wet weather and the fog. The perennial Oriental poppies have been doing beautifully when NOT becoming bedraggled tissue paper in the rain, and there are nice bursts of colour from the spiderworts, irises, soapwort and wood anemone. Most exquisite colour in the garden right now? The exultant true blue of the blue corydalis in the front bed by the door. And as a bonus, it’s fragrant too. I am going to plant one of the Sundown Echinaceas near it, I think. That blue and the orange-melon of the echinacea, coupled with both their sweet fragrances, will be divine.

I had a really, really exciting experience yesterday—I had the great good honour of interviewing Margaret Atwood, she of Alias Grace, The Handmaid’s Tale, Moving Targets, and Oryx and Crake fame—among many others. I stayed up wayyyyyyy too late the night before, preparing my questions for Ms. Atwood, worrying about what she would be like to interview. Would she answer my questions? Would she clam up? Would she be irritable, bored, distant? Would she cut me to shreds.

She was an interviewing dream. It’s funny, she is this tremendous literary giant who you expect to be somehow larger than life, but in person she’s small, delicate of structure but wirey too, and with a firm handshake, a genuinely warm personality and a wonderful smile. We had 50 minutes scheduled, but we went to over an hour—I kept worrying but she seemed totally unconcerned. Maybe she enjoyed herself too. We had some commonalities—her parents are both Nova Scotians, one from the south shore and one from the Valley; she’s a gardener of great enthusiasm who told me about her challenges, and we chuckled over how plants sometimes just plain die. We share similar concerns over global warming, the Harperites dissing the Kyoto protocol, the absolute disdain of Harper for ‘alarmists.’ She put it so well; (I’m going to paraphrase here, as I haven’t yet transcribed the whole interview). “an alarmist is sounding an alarm—which is something that is warning of danger.Why is Harper dismissing people who are warning of danger to our world?” She thinks Al Gore is a marvelous person, and she met him at Hay-on-Wye during the festival there, where she said that after his talk on climate change, if he’d called people up to the front to be saved, in the manner of evangelical preachers reaching out to the sinner, everyone would have gone forward—to take up the cause of doing something about global warming.

Maybe all this muggy, wet, almost-tropical weather is an alarm that we should take seriously.

12 June 2006

Still in High Flight


June 11, 2005. It’s been a year, already, since my father slipped the surly bonds of earth for the last time, not to take off in a Boeing 737 jet, but to leave all the trials of this world behind. We still miss him, as we always will. Whether or not it was Alzheimers or some other nightmarish dementia that took our vital, funny, talented father, husband, brother, friend and erased his personality, his memory, and much of his self, the end result was the same. And we who were left behind to mourn, to love, to remember and to celebrate Ivan I. DeLong were forever changed—yet forever keep him in our hearts.

In other postings I’ve written about memory gardening and how it can help in some small way to heal a wounded soul. In some ways, my whole garden is a memory garden; the big butterfly planting for Marilyn is taking good shape, despite the monsoons, while specific plants are designated for specific people and others throughout the garden.

Earlier in the week I saw a clinical herbal therapist, who is helping me deal with some ailments without always having to resort to painkillers and other conventional medications. She asked me if I meditated, and I said, no, because my brain won’t let me—it’s always flitting from one thought to another, like those oh-so-active hummingbirds in our garden.

Then the other day, while I was weeding some of the beds, trying to get ahead of the couchgrass that could be mowed and baled into hay, I realized that yes, O do somrt of meditate at times. Weeding, or even planting, is so relaxing to me that passages of time flee without me having actually ‘thought’ about a single thing; I’m just one with the dirt and the plants, scrabbling along doing what needs doing, and not thinking about deadlines or new stories or housework or worries or happy things…just being. That’s my meditating time, apparently.

And it’s not always so. Sometimes, I’m planning a story just because something is going on in the garden that really interests me and makes me think others will be interested. Sometimes I’m thinking about the people, human and feline, who are remembered in our garden by specific plantings. A lot of time, my thoughts turn to Dad.

I am closest to my father when in the garden; I see the carefully potted mint, and I chuckle to myself, thinking of the mint plantation that developed in Dad’s garden after I errantly planted ‘just a few sprigs’ one spring day back in 1979. Oooops. He would feel definitely superior when comparing his tomato growing abilities to mine—he grew tomatoes that were the talk of the town, while I am hardpressed to get even transplants into the ground at the right time. This year, with the ongoing and seemingly neverending monsoons, I expect tomato soup…from the plants. A story for another day.

Today was far too wet to do any actual work in the garden, but I did walk around it this evening with a couple of visitors, showing them interesting plants and casually ignoring the weeds in some spots. Everything is profoundly, amazingly lush, but some things are being beaten down by the rains and winds we’ve had lately. I was really annoyed to find two broken shoots on my dearly beloved’s red buckeye; but it’s a young tree, only three years old, and it will recover.

Earlier today, however, I sat in my office watching the garden from the window, watching the hummingbirds and thinking about Dad. Yesterday I took Mum plant shopping in Truro, a sort of retail therapy for both of us, and I brought her hostas from gardeners who have plants for sale in nearby Port Williams. We talked some about Dad, and we both wondered how we would get through this day. We did, of course.

The year has done one good thing for me; it has pushed the images of my father, dying in that hospital bed for thirteen days, away from the forefront of memory. Stronger now than those images, stronger than even the one of my mother, asleep leaning over the side of his bed with her head on his chest, her hands holding his—that one will haunt me forever—are the good images. Dad in his garden, pretending to do damage to his scarecrow with a maul being swung at a strategic spot on the scarecrow’s anatomy. Dad and his dogs. Dad and his tomatoes. Making faces at us whenever one of us pointed a camera at him. Dad in his captain’s uniform, walking around his 737 before leaving on a flight, checking it outside and in. Dad holding his only grandchild as a small baby, or holding Mum’s hand when they went for a walk. These come to the forefront, along with his gleeful, naughty-little-boy laugh when he played a trick on one of us.

I do not profess to know where people go when they die. My father’s heaven, if there is such a place, will consist of a place where he can garden, fish, walk with good dogs, be with his parents and other family and friends who have already gone…but mostly, a place where he can fly jets forever on laughter silvered wings. We still love and miss you, Dad, but hey, go into High Flight for us.

01 June 2006

The Year of the Hummingbird

It’s June! And I forget what year it is in the Chinese calendar, but at our house it’s the year of the hummingbird. We’ve never had so many; and they’re voracious, dining on both the feeders and the flowers for nectar sources. And they’re saucy to each other, zipping back and forth, swearing at each other “back off! Get your own feeder!” and zooming all around. They even hover a few inches from me when I’m working in the garden, especially if the feeders are getting low or I’m wearing something bright. They don’t regard me as any threat…and they’re mightily amusing to the cats, who line up in the windows to watch bird television….
Mangotango Babycat and Toby Soprano squish into one window to observe the festivities...

In another life, I’ll be able to just sit happily reading blogs of friends, longtime and new. I’ve mentioned Ami McKay’s blog a number of times, and thanks to so many of you who have helped to keep Ami’s book on the bestseller lists for many weeks! I heard from a friend that the book has been nearly impossible to actually pick up in Toronto; it keeps selling out and having to be ordered in again by bookstores. Go, Ami, you’re a star in all our books. (and a dear friend besides being a stellar writer.)

Then Mary Ann Archibald emailed me about her weblog, and wondered could she link to mine. The answer of course was sure—gardeners gotta stick together, always.

And last night, a welcome note came from a longtime acquaintance, newly met in Ottawa during the PWAC national conference; Charmian, fellow writer and gardener and ranter. She’s located in Guelph, and her blog is a hoot; at once funny and tender, as the most recent posting about her uncle Lindsay demonstrates.

Charmian gave me grief, in a good hearted fellow gardener’s way, for my ability to grow blue poppies—not just to get them to survive, but also to flower. I’ve been trying to locate a local to her source of these little finicky darlings, but so far no success. So for now, I’ll just link to her weblog, which for those of us who enjoy food is a delightful thing, and also tease her by saying, guess whose blue poppy is putting up flower stalks?

Yup. It’s going to flower shortly. The first stalk shot up out of that plant like there was no tomorrow—it wasn’t there, and then it was. Tonight it was showing colour in the bud; this is nearly three weeks earlier than last year. Mind you, this particular plant is in the sun where the others are in more shade…

Had a little plant-buying frenzy yesterday at Springvale Nurseries production site, when I was there for meetings. Somehow, a Katsura tree, a dawn redwood, a Middendorf weigela, a golden plumose false cypress, and a serviceberry climbed onto the back of my truck…and of course my dear longsuffering spouse wondered where all these new trees and shrubs are going to go…but already he’s decided that they’ll do just fine. He’s a quick study, my sweetie, and also a great builder of birdhouses and windowboxes and trellises too.

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