Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I’m writing this late at night. It’s almost midnight. I’ve been writing with the theme of moving house and emotions about home, the home I’ve made here the last decade, the home I have been seeking for myself and my son, the home we’ve now found and will be moving into in just over two weeks.

Today comprised the first of two walk-throughs of my new property I negotiated in my offer. It’s standard to request two walk-throughs of the property you’re purchasing outside of the actual home inspection.

It had been pretty much one month since the week I purchased our new home and over the last few weeks, whenever I was in the area, I would drive by with my son secured in the back seat and begin a narrative for him. About how this would soon be his neighbourhood. How he would begin to know these trees. These sidewalks. That’s the school you’ll go to, I would say. This is how close we are to mommy’s work. And there…that pretty place…is gonna be home.

I’ve only been in the house twice. The first time I saw it August 26 and the date of the home inspection, September 1st. It was funny walking in today because I’d forgotten just exactly what the rooms looked like. And today felt like the home was beginning to transition itself to welcome me. I felt its own change. The current owners had emptied it of a lot of clutter and such in preparation for their own upcoming move. And I began to feel a slight shift as I walked through the door. Where the home began to acknowledge me and my son. As a new but legitimate presence within the walls. It felt really great.

going walkabout

Two things happened that made this day moving versus about moving.

As I was finished the walk-through, during which one of the current owners, the mother, was present with her two children, I knocked on the front door to let her know that we were done (myself, my real estate agent and my contractor) and I told her I just wanted to thank her again and how excited we were to be moving into this lovely home. I also wanted to wish her and her family a safe trip out West.

Her eyes welled up as I said all this. And I gave her a hug and whispered to her that if she were ever back in Ontario that, of course, she would always be welcome to drop in and visit. It’s so odd that the emotions she was going through about leaving never really occurred to me and they should have before now. They’ve lived in that house for 12 years. I’ve been so caught up in my own feelings about how I’ll miss the home I’ve lived in for 10 years but to see her become so emotional when I was wishing her a safe journey really made it hit home that, of course, it’s just as emotional a journey for her to be moving on with her family, the house her children were born to and grew all their years in. It was nice to have an opportunity to hug her and to feel her hugging back. It’s weird to feel that I would have really loved this woman as a neighbour of mine. But that she won’t be that for me. I’m taking her place in the neighbourhood. Her spot, anyhow. I can tell just how much she will be missed by those surrounding her. I hope to make up somehow for the loss it will clearly be to that street she now lives on.

After the walk-through, I took my son to the local Chapters to play while I followed him around the kids section with my latté. I was thinking about this couple and their two kids moving to B.C. and I was forgetting how late it was becoming. I had to interrupt my son’s playtime after 20 minutes and get over to the grocery store before heading home. We picked up some food and headed out to the rural backroads.

As I was driving home, though, I passed an elderly man walking at a brisk pace at the side of the road. I wasn’t exactly sure, but something felt wrong when I passed him. For one thing, I felt like I was almost going to hit him and I noticed something else. He wasn’t wearing a rainjacket. It had been coming down in sheets on and off all day and I thought to myself this wasn’t someone just having an after-dinner hike. I went through the lights and pulled over. All around me were farm fields and I was trying to see him in my rearview mirror. I called 911 and was eventually put through to the local police department. I explained that I wasn’t even sure it was an emergency but that I’d passed an elderly gentleman on the side of the road and that he could have been out for an evening hike, but I had just had a strange vibe when I passed him that that wasn’t the case. I explained that he didn’t seem dressed appropriately for the weather. While I was on the phone with the woman taking the call, he came into view at the lights and I saw him turn then to head towards one of the small towns.

I explained to the call attendant he had come into view and that I had my son with me in the car and it was getting late. She said they would send a vehicle and if I left that would not be a problem. When I hung up, I continued to watch him in my rearview mirror move up the road. I turned around and then turned right at the lights to follow him.

It became clear very quickly that he was disoriented. He was now walking ON the road. I pulled up slowly behind him and he turned and thought I was offering him a ride. I lowered the window only slightly and I asked him if he was alright. He said he was and the first thing he said was, “do you have a smoke?” I didn’t, of course. But I lowered the window a tad more and slid out the orange juice I had bought at the starbucks and hadn’t opened yet. He asked me if I’d drive him to the next small town. To the church there. I told him I was sorry I couldn’t give him a ride, but that I’d called for help for him. I didn’t want to say, “I’ve called the cops.” I honestly didn’t know how he’d react to that. He was very polite. He had a long sweater on and his corduroy pants were soaked from the rain. I wanted to invite him to sit in my car, but I couldn’t do that. Especially not with my son in the back seat. I felt unsure. So I sat with my car off to the side of the road waiting for the police car to show up. He kept coming to my window and asking me for a cigarette. I gave him one of my son’s mozzarella sticks. He was clearly homeless but he never once asked me for money. I was afraid he was going to be hit by a car so I stayed there with him. He paced back and forth in front of my car and then he’d come talk to me at my driver window. I asked him his name and he said, “Dave”. I asked him if he had family and he replied, ‘Back in Australia.” He looked in his late 60s. I had no idea how long he’d been walking and how far, where he’d been walking from. I asked him where he was trying to get and he said he had friends “up North”.

As I sat there, it occurred to me the cops were taking their time and I called 911 again and got on the line with the same woman who took my first call. I explained to her that I was unwilling to leave this man because he was walking onto the road and it was not safe. And also that I had a 16 month old who needed his diaper changed and could she upgrade the request for help. The diaper, I knew, was okay and could wait, but I wanted to put pressure on her because I felt they were not making this guy a priority for the night. And I understand that there are true life/death emergencies out there that need urgent response. But I was truly afraid this guy was going to get killed by a car. He was not really navigating the road safely. Cars kept whizzing by us and a few of them felt the need to honk at him as they passed.

As I waited, a truck slowed down on the other side of the road and backed up a bit and asked me if everything was okay. I explained what was happening. This guy offered to let Dave sit in his truck to wait for the cops. I felt relieved about that because it had begun to drizzle again and I felt badly I hadn’t been willing to open my doors to him. So we both waited. Dave got into the truck with this guy and two cruisers finally showed up after another half hour of waiting in the dusk and then, the dark. I got out and explained that he’d been very polite. That he was clearly disoriented in terms of not realizing he was walking on the road. He did not appear drunk. He had not asked for cash. He wanted to get to the church in the next small town. When I left, Dave had gotten out of the truck and the cops were talking to him.

I drove away and I am still wondering what has happened with him. Where did they take him for the night? Was it just going to be one night’s solution and he’d be back on the road again tomorrow?

What was difficult was that, while we were all waiting for the cops to show up, the guy in the truck said he could drive him to the small town himself to the Church. I felt concerned about two things. I didn’t know who the guy was who’d pulled over and even though I wanted to trust that he would help this man and I felt sure he was sincere, a small part of me felt that I wasn’t entirely sure Dave would be safe. I didn’t like feeling that because I’m sure this guy was truly sincere and had stopped to help. The second thing that concerned me was that Dave was not dressed for the weather and he was talking of “going up North” and he had been walking on and off the road even while he paced in front of my car, he kept going onto the road. I didn’t feel he was safe in terms of his ability to judge what he was doing.

The guy in the truck said he’d maybe take him home for a meal. My heart nearly broke when he said that. What I thought most when I drove away was that if I’d been a man, a man who didn’t have a 16 month old in my back seat, I probably would have risked offering this guy a ride. I might have even risked taking him home and cooking him something myself. I would have taken him to a store first to buy him a whole pack of smokes. I might have put him up for the night. I might have tried calling his friends if he’d remembered their number. I might have even driven him as far North as I could get him safely to meet up with them. I might have done all these things but I didn’t even feel quite safe enough to roll my window down further than the width it would allow me to slide a measly bottle of orange juice out to him. One measly stick of cheese. I felt helpless. I felt frustrated knowing that my gender, my situation, prevented me from being of more help to this man. More the kind of help he was actually seeking. I’m sure the last thing he wanted was to be taken away in a cop car. It was kind of the last thing I wanted for this man myself, but I truly didn’t know what else to do and felt powerless. No. Not powerless. That’s wrong. I was in the power position. Rather, I felt, I had to put my own safety above his. That’s the way of the world, isn’t it? I wouldn’t let him get dry sitting in my car with me and my son. I could only do what I could do. I wouldn’t give him a ride. I wouldn’t take him home for a meal or a warm bed to sleep in even though I have a guest room with a bed that is rarely ever used by anyone.

I know I needn’t have ever stopped in the first place and sure, I’m glad I did. But I have no idea if I helped or hindered this man tonight.

What I do know though, is, he was homeless and trying to find his friends. Trying to find maybe what “home” meant for him being as far from his real home as he was.

It really put things into perspective for me. Lately I’ve felt so stressed with all the stuff on my plate in terms of prepping for this upcoming move. Just what the fuck do I have to be stressed about really? I have a home. A roof over my head. A damn nice tin roof. And I am moving to another lovely home very soon. And this man was walking around the backroads in the rain just wanting a cigarette. I couldn’t even give him that small request. Such a simple one. A small one.

I know that this man was either suffering from some sort of dementia or mental illness in the way he kept walking onto the road and forgetting that he’d already asked me for a cigarette that I didn’t have. I know I did the “right” thing. But I wish I could have done a million different things a million different ways than what happened tonight.

I didn’t know this day would end this way. The owner’s raw emotion over leaving her home and this man trying to find a home or just anywhere out of the cold where he could sit and have a cigarette. I am lying in bed typing this and I feel so damn blessed. And I don’t even know why or how I get to deserve the luck that I have in my life. I don’t feel I’ve earned it. At all.

But, I guess. I guess I hope to. Someday…

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goodnight stars. Goodnight air.

The peak nights of the Perseids meteor shower were last night (August 12) and tonight (August 13).

I live on a somewhat busy road. Well, busy in the Spring/Summer. Not so busy in the Autumn/Winter. But my home is set back from the road and tonight, as I pull my muskoka chair onto the grass and lean back to gaze upwards, there is no sound but crickets to keep me company.

My son turned 15 months old today. He slumbers upstairs inside the house while I witness shards of light whiz across the sky. So many stars, their tails streaking and then fading, streaking and fading.

I am making wishes again tonight. I have no idea if any of them will come true. A part of me feels like giving up. Nothing has gone as I'd hoped or imagined this summer. I have not sold my home. I have had two offers which did not get past the negotiations/bidding stage. Two offers I've made myself on homes have fallen through (the first, my decision to back away due to a poor inspection result; the second because my offer, which was conditional on the sale of my home, was bumped by a firm offer without conditions).

I don't know exactly what the cosmos is trying to say to me with all that has happened. All that hasn't happened. My footing falters and I'm unsure as to my next steps. Feeling a little lost, as though we are going around in some ceaseless, circular path of getting nowhere. An endless orbit like these stars flying through the sky. Definitely as burnt out as these falling stars. I feel exhaustion and a touch of sorrow mixed together. Confusion. Anxiety. Do we give up trying to leave? Should we just stay? What's best to do? Mostly I just feel...tired. Tired of keeping the entire house spotless with an ever-growing, increasingly active and endlessly curious 15-month old. Tired of adjusting his routine constnatly, disrupting his naptimes, abandoning his regular schedule by rushing out of our home so that strangers can walk through and tell us why they don't love it like we do. My heart feels inordinately heavy tonight.

One positive sign is that, right now, during the slowest month in the year for real estate activity, interest in my home has not waned. There have only been two or three days in the past month when I did not have at least one showing booked. Some days two or three requests. Hopefully one of these times someone will walk in and just fall in love with this place at first sight, like I did ten years ago. We are waiting for that one person. We wait and wait and wait. When, oh when, will they come?

I sigh and try to focus once again up past my pines. Far above I can make out a murky whiteness that appears to be a cloud in the sky, but is actually the galaxy to which this planet and all these shooting stars belong. It is the Milky Way (or what I like to refer to as "the way du lait").

It is after 2 am and I have counted 7 stars now. My eyelids sink slowly down and then I nod, blink and try to open them wider so as not to miss anymore. There goes 8! And right behind it, number 9, whose tail takes the longest to fade into the indigo.

It is as though this vast, silent universe is finally speaking to us all this night. It whispers; its laughter shoots across the inky velvet. Words of love flying from its mouth. Calling out to us.

The shooting stars zip by so quickly, if you blink you will miss them.
They are faster than the wink of an eye.
They are the night sky winking back at us.

I learned a long time ago that winks can convey so very much.

I wonder what these stars are telling me tonight?
I long to understand, but am too knackered to decipher.
Gathering my blankets and pillows, I close the back door and ascend the staircase.

I kiss my own wee star asleep in his crib.
"Heavens, help us!" I whisper to the stars outside.
They blink and blink.
They twinkle and they wink.

Goodnight room.
Goodnight moon.
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.
Goodnight light and the red balloon.
Goodnight bears. Goodnight chairs.
Goodnight kittens and goodnight mittens.
Goodnight clocks and goodnight socks.
Goodnight little house and goodnight mouse.

Goodnight comb. Goodnight brush.
Goodnight nobody. Goodnight mush.
And goodnight to the quiet, old lady whispering, "hush".
Goodnight stars.
Goodnight air.
Goodnight noises everywhere.
Margaret Wise Brown

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Good Folk

I was 22 years old when I attended my first official folk festival. And I happened to lose my folk festival virginity at one of the finest in Canada: the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

It was July of 1989 when I flew West to visit my dear friend and former roommate, Monica. Her birthday is July 8th and, since the festival is always scheduled during the second weekend in July, it was a good time to reconnect with her and celebrate. The year before, Monica dragged me to see Michelle Shocked perform at the Danforth Music Hall. A decade later, she nearly pees her pants laughing her Winnipeg arse off when Toronto calls in the army to deal with its snow blizzard of '99. See, Monica is a good, Manitoba Farm girl. When I lived with her, she wasn't yet a Doctor of Psychology. She was still working on her Masters and constantly referred to her thesis as her "feces". Monica has another girlfriend named Sydney and one night on the town in The Big Smoke, she delighted in introducing us both to everyone as "Syd and Nancy".  Monica kinda rocks. I haven't seen her in years, but I love her like a sister. And I already have three sisters so professing that is quite something.

Here is some of what I recall that July of '89. Landing in Winnipeg, the first thing that strikes me is how flat it is. They say it's so flat that, on a clear day, you can see the back of your head. Attending the festival is also the first time in years I experience a hot, July day without one drop of humidity. The breeze that caresses the oceans of wheat fields on the drive to Birds Hill Park is cool and delicious. Perfect.

That year, Loreena McKennit is just starting out, selling little tape cassettes with four or five of her songs on them. I spoke with her a bit after she played at one of the smaller stages. The gig was entitled "Ancient Instruments": she plucked the Celtic harp, some dude played the Indian sitar and a third played some ancient Korean instrument called the kayagum. What was really cool was, after each play their respectve instruments, they perform a spontaneous jam session, all three together. Neato.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival marks the first time I ever drank iced coffee. Rain had fallen for part of the weekend and the straw hat I'd been instructed by Monica to purchase expressly for the festival became so warped, it resembled more a wad of sticky taffy than an actual chapeau atop my pate. It looked so wacko by the second day that Billy Bragg, leaning against a post I was passing, felt compelled to call out, "Nice 'at!" Ah, Billy. What can I say? The man's clearly got taste.

John Mann. Be still my beating heart.

That was the year Spirit of the West played, too. Sadly, John Mann had just gotten hitched the week before or perhaps my life might have taken quite a different turn, but alas! He was already snapped up. Merde.

An Irish-born, Canadian singer named Stephen Fearing was also selling his tape cassettes. I've seen him many times over the years since now and, like John, every time I see them perform and chat with them afterwards, they always act as though they recognize and remember me. I think, obviously, it's just politeness and the way any talented musician acts towards an adoring fan, but s'lovely regardless.

Among my favourite memories of that festival was how much the Five Blind Boys of Alabama absolutely rocked the mainstage the first evening I attended. It was the first time I heard Buffy Sainte-Marie. I fantasized I was Margo Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies. Either that or I developed a small crush on her.

Addicted to cowboys.

But the thing that I think I loved MOST about that festival was the fact that people would lay their blankets in this huge field in front of the main stage and claim space by pushing some kind of pole or stick into the ground. And affixed to this pole or stick would be a kind of flag or marker, created out of whatever they chose to fashion it with: teddybears, scarves, balloons, cowboy hats, feather boas. People got really creative. But the beauty of these small gestures - the claiming of ground via flag and blanket - was that nobody, and I mean nobody, claimed that spot once that blanket was laid and flag posted. You could wander off, back and forth at any point during the entire weekend and return and there would be your blanket in the same spot, untouched. With your unique flag marking it, unmolested. A total respect of space, no ifs, ands or buts. It's something unique about that festival and, I think, quite a testament to the type of people who attend it.

Four years after I attended that festival, The Boy I Loved would tell me a very special story concerning his boss and that festival. It was a sad story. Also, a pretty beautiful one. A moving one. Sad and beautiful and moving. So this particular folk festival holds a certain place in my heart, you understand.

I haven't been to Winnipeg in 21 years now. This July, I looked up who was playing and wanted to kick myself for missing this year's amazing lineup. Among the fabulous performers this summer, the following fall into my own, personal, not-to-be-missed category:

The Avett Brothers (sample: The Ballad of Love and Hate)

Del Barber (sample: Coming Home with the Summer)

Delhi 2 Dublin (sample: Apples)

Devon Sproule (sample: Plea for a Good Night's Sleep)

The Dodos (sample: The Season)

Luluc (sample: My Little Suitcase)

Pieta Brown (sample: Faller)

Gregory Alan Isakov. Warped hats are cool.

and last but definitely not least, and perhaps my favourite, whom I still hope to catch live some time:
Gregory Alan Isakov (sample: That Moon Song)

Even though we couldn't make it out West this summer, last weekend, my baby boy and I did attend a local folk festival closer to home than Winnipeg. We danced to Lovely Allen by Holy Fuck and, Holy Fuck! They were amazing! On the Sunday evening, he fell asleep under the stars to Stars and their Ageless Beauty.

The Boy I Loved. The one who told me the story about his boss and the Winnipeg folk festival? He once wrote me that he would always avoid folk festivals. I hope that ain't true. 'Cause otherwise he's missing some damn fine music out there. And the special vibe unique to catching live music at an outdoor venue under summer or autumn skies. The kind of event that brings people together who don't mind getting rained on or being caked in mud while they wander from one stage to the next; who spread blankets and sprawl out under stars that peek out of a much larger, indigo blanket hanging above; who close their eyes and open their hearts to the sound of instrument and voice. A capella or accompanied. Guitar, banjo, sitar, accordion or harp.

There just is nothing like spending time with some really good folk...

(p.s. Happy belated, Monica. Thanks for all the fun twenty years ago. Hey girl, we was wild then. This one's for you. Keep on rockin, girl.)