Tuesday 29 September 2015

What I Know About the Canada Goose

I'll try to restrict my remarks to what I have observed about one goose, Angel (pronounced like the Spanish, an-hell), who for convenience I will assume is male.
Angel, who loves apples, will pull one from a tree if he can. Given a bill not designed to eat an apple, Angel will apply his neck to approaching the fruit from every angle, often resulting in a comical sequence of nudging pursuit of the apple around the lawn.
Rain or shine doesn't make much difference to Angel, who practices the same range of behaviours in either case.
Angel remains wary of me. Good.
Angel is a strong walker and runner if need be.
Angel's webbed feet provide poor traction on the concrete lip of a pond. Often he has to fly out of the water.
Angel standing with neck extended straight up signals he's about to take off. Eight or so flapping steps, neck extended straight ahead he's airborne, feet dangling for a few beats before he tucks them in. If necessary, Angel can leap into flight in an instant.
A hawk or owl passing overhead will make Angel and his mates scatter in a hurry. If they can, they'll head for water.
Angel likes to chase and be chased in brief episodes of territorial or mood imperative accompanied by fearsome open-billed hissing. Lasting only a few steps, the chase sometimes results in the chasee taking flight. This behaviour will spook a deer if one's around.
Angel on one leg--the other extended straight back, web up--can still preen, look around, tear at grass, air out his wings.
Angel is a powerful preener who can reach even the anterior base of his own neck with his bill. Sometimes he'll look up mid-preen with a feather caught on the serrated edge of his bill. He might walk around that way.
The horizontal range of motion of Angel's tailfeathers is about thirty degrees from centre. Landing from flight or emerging from water both call for a burst of tailfeather shake.
Angel goes somewhere else at night. By sundown, he's gone.
Angel's a powerful shitter, turds the size of my fingers. Pity the grey squirrel (Pepe, pronounced peep), who must find a patch of ground to dig a hole and bury food.
Even when Angel is just airing out his wings at the edge of the pond, or while swimming, they generate a mighty whump-whump-whump.
A goose can limp. Not Angel but some other goose. The limp costs him his ability to chase. He's smaller.
Angel landing needs a few quick steps to come to a stop. In water, he'll just flex his feet and splashdown. Capable of last-second adjustments in descent, Angel can swing under a low branch, and straighten up, almost hover, before the splash.
Head-pumping is Angel's way of saying I might have to get aggressive. 
Angel will mutter when approached.
Angel's a creature of great power, from the eyes on down.

Monday 28 September 2015

On Lawn

The Doris McCarthy Artist-in Residence (DMAiR) program--in which I'm happy to be the current a-i-r, (let's just say current air)--will be holding a reception out here on Wednesday to celebrate RBC sponsorship of the program starting next year. They asked me nicely if I'd mind giving up a day of what the DMAiR website calls "quiet, isolated and picturesque" living. Not all, I said, meaning it.
So today some site preparation went on--a cut and trim of the grass, which had just been done on Friday. Just as noisy this time, they went further--gathering the leaf and apple falls.
I understand the need to intervene in natural forces. As I've already noted earlier in this blog, the erosion of the spectacular bluffs, which created the attraction to live here, going back two hundred years but escalating in the last fifty, can be measured now in grains of sandstone rather than metres of prime real estate. This is thanks to an expensive and creative breakwater installation along the lakeshore 60 metres below.
However, what we do not need is to cover up the fact that leaves and apples fall here in autumn. We do not need to prettify the lawn or pretend that geese don't shit here. Imagine, me standing up for the geese--which have not yet returned, by the way, in the forty-five minutes since the truck pulled away. Nor have the grey squirrels or the butterflies or the deer pulling red apples off the tree early this morning, to name just a few of the obvious residents punished, as it seems, by such wasteful intervention.
We humans love the place for the way it is; we hide the way it is so visitors on Wednesday will love it more. This seems to me a shockingly unimaginative and insensitive approach to the ongoing stewardship of this resource. Very much NOT in keeping with the spirit of Doris McCarthy herself, in my opinion. She would embrace, not dandify, what nature gave her.
I feel like shaking down the apples and greasing the geese.

Effects of That Recent Giant Moon

took the catcher left the mitt
took the goose left the shit
took the diner left café
took the Blue left the Jay

took arthritis left the knees
took the mac left the cheese
took the subway left the time
took the metre left the rhyme

took the wheel left the turn
took the matches left the burn
took the window left the sash
took the hyphen left the dash

took the daughters left the son
took a chance on the 401
took the left ear left the right
took the sunshine left the bright

took the peeping left the Tom
took the 50s left the bomb
took the butter left the bread
took the haircut left the head

took the shoes left the socks
took the cable left the box
took the coffee left the tea
took page seven left page three

took the hawk left the scatter
took the what’s but left the matter
took the bone left the skull
took Martin Amis left Martin Mull

took the fountain left the spray
took tomorrow left today
took the flight left the path
took the morning left the bath

took the flower left the seed
took the yearning left the need
took the muscle left the heart
took arrival left depart

took the signal left the sign
took the body left the spine
took beginning left the end
took the now left the then

Sunday 27 September 2015

Dog Hero

For his tour around the USA in 1960
John Steinbeck had a camper van built
to his specifications, one of which was his mutt
Charley. The result was Travels With Charley
in which Steinbeck tells of a plastic bucket
with snug-fitting lid. Every night he adds water,
detergent, and the day’s laundry (including
whatever rag Charley has going). Tomorrow’s leg

will supply agitation. Where he stops
at night he can rinse and hang the laundry
and prime the bucket for the next cycle.
Charley understands this, an act he delivers
as casual worship at his master’s feet.
Charley is said (here) to have written
half the book, at least half, while Mr. Steinbeck

drove and made coffee (the part that earned awards--
all Charley) and filled his day as writers do
with tea, sleep and daydream. Counter-clockwise
from New York was Charley’s idea
as was the deep south to end
now let’s get home. Every time
Charley sees a camper van he gulps
and climbs in, all a dog can do.

Friday 25 September 2015

Sign Song

I was happy enough with the old one. Just the right mix of terror and lure, I thought.

A bluff is not a cliff, however. When the lip collapses--collipses, as we say around here--I would tumble into a heap of sand and clay. I could easily conk my head on a rock or break a leg or find myself buried, but that's not the same as a plummet ninety metres straight down.

This morning, along they came with a new sign.

It's still (not) a cliff, as you see. And I appear to have taken a run and leapt, reaching back at the last minute to consider . . .
where's the colon? Is Warning Cliff Edge what's Unstable? Who's Cliff Edge anyway? Has he always been unstable? Is is enough verb for a time-sensitive context like this?

Thursday 24 September 2015

Wave Piece

A proper commitment to waves would be to sit with them for a thousand years, saying nothing. Most of us couldn't help putting language over them, though, as if the best we can do at a high moment is speak of it.
I was busy at that earlier, imagining a man (a musician with a Three Dog Night haircut--this was 1974) who with $5,000 from his novelty record ("Getting Sedimental Over You") built a cottage on the Scarborough bluffs, knowing bluff-all about how to do it, as he admitted when he came back from tour and found half the cottage tipped to bits and the other half declared UNSTABLE by the City of Toronto.
But he'd been warned, I went on to imagine. He'd sat down by the waves one time and claimed he wanted to "breathe like them and heave like them" and "surrender his body" like they do. He saw how they roughed up whatever they could get to but insisted he'd like to "set you in a safe place and scare you" as they do.
Well, good luck to me with the rest of it. For now, this side of a thousand years, here's thirty-nine seconds of lake Ontario:

[couldn't upload my mpeg--think breathing and heaving]

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Doggy Dew: Reply to My Own Previous Post

Two hours after touring his perimeter
this foggy morning, dog could see
where his sloggy footsteps had settled
in the dew. He had to assume horizon
and the lake’s still sound. So heavy
in the feet, that’s dog feeling
sorry for himself. He’d woken up
and nobody cared, no geese
showed up. Dog wrote down
what he had to and went inside.

It took three teas and a bowl
of Bran Flakes to pick dog up
and pop him into the bath,
let him engineer passage
of hot and cold. If it doesn’t matter,
why do it? Dog’s long 
for do, said dog, hoisting himself,
shaking the tub from his right leg.
And this is it.

By now he’s dry and playing
goose gallery. They keep their fabulous
eyes ready, rest and preen, sip water.
He’d cast away an apple peel

and goose number ninety-three ate it.

Who Reads This?

Not even my nearest and dearest read this blog (except for you, dear reader).
It could be what I say or the way I say it.
It could be that I haven't done enough to attract readers.
It could be that no one reads blogs.
In Toronto, where I'm based until November 9, I have one reading, six days before I leave. Despite having a car, I did not try to arrange readings in Guelph, London, Hamilton, etc., or anyplace else on the way to/from Toronto.
Neither the Word on the Street nor the International Festival of Authors, both within the next two months, include me. I didn't propose my name, and nobody did it for me.
I published a new book in April. I haven't seen or heard anything about it since. I myself was absorbed in another writing project and didn't give this book enough attention.
None of this matters, it really doesn't, except that yesterday I felt a little discouraged when I happened to glance at the readership stats for this blog. And I was reading of the Austin Clarke memoir, 'Membering, and his own moaning along these lines years ago.
I take it all as a healthy reminder that the world is just me and my writing, which is as it must be.
Now, let's have a bath. 

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Rear Window

I happen to know that at 6:15 a day ago, five people were standing in line at the Cineplex on Eglinton for the 7:00 showing of Hitchcock's Rear Window.  I happen to know, furthermore, that thirty minutes later no one else had arrived. Soon another 50-60 streamed in, though "streamed" wouldn't do for the over-70s--yours truly, at 64, a young buck in this crowd. 
None of us could see. Everyone who entered suffered through a spell of stops, gropes, and wobbles before eventually carrying on, often on the arm of a companion. Three minutes later they were up again, the over-70s, saying, "At my age, I'd better go now."
The movie itself was a hit with this audience. It's a fabulous piece of cinema, for one thing, and its brilliant screenplay (by John Michael Hayes) appeals in part to a certain courtliness familiar to anyone who was an adult in the 1950s.
Something else about Hitchcock. I noticed when my kids were little that Hitchcock films, with the exception of Psycho and The Birds, which I never showed them, held their attention so crisply. Why? Because he was such a master storyteller, his camera always in the right spot to deliver the goods, with or without dialogue. View the first few minutes of Rear Window, for instance.
Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, her Edith Head gowns, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, a Franz Waxman jazz-flavoured score--this is one of the greatest films ever.

Monday 21 September 2015

One Equinox Morning at Fool's Paradise

I've taken to beginning my day with a tour of the property and corresponding page of notebook with the most objective language possible. I know such a claim is impossible the moment I make it, but what I mean is language with no intentional voice or form, no purpose other than to notate the specs of the place in as straightforward a manner as possible. 
Yesterday I was musing that such language might--in the end, when all the ideas and drafts and entries and revisions and other turns of pages have come and gone--be all that remains. As in, the only language immune from my noisy, nosey interventions in my own world. Or, and here I congratulated myself, such language and the repetition of attention it supposedly represents is in fact the beginning and the end. All a writer (this writer) needs is right there.
So, just now:
Geese (ten) eating applefall. Heavy dew (a given from now on). Shine on the lake, breeze over the blufftops. Lake steady. Mild. Sky loaded with light cloud. 
But I'd already inserted the dew bit last. And I'd paused before not writing cloudlight. As I walked back toward the house, four more geese arrived from below. Two slipped over me to the pond; the other two goosed out and veered into a short loop and came in a few metres east. All four of them sipped, then stepped out of the pond and commenced preening, my signal to get inside and do the same.
Next entry: morning bath.

Friday 18 September 2015


When "building a tower from single grains of sand, a backyard project the city must eventually approve" ranks as my best idea, the day hasn't done much. As for the thrill of lying flat on my back a metre from a bluff that one of these million years will be long fallen, I think I got more kicks on a kids' ferris wheel at the Regina fair with my daughter years ago. ("Dad was clutching the sides, clutching," she might say. "He said he wanted to get off. I talked him into waiting for the wheel to stop.")

Today was a muggy afternoon, that's all. I tried a few stretches. Everything seemed to be connected. If the cliff goes (I was thinking), at least I'll feel loose on the way down.

I've got to hand it to lake Ontario. The boats are out, the beach is long, water checked every day.

Look up, you'll see the flightpath to/from the airport on Toronto Island, west of here (but created by a few thousand years of ex-bluff).

Thursday 17 September 2015

More Bluff

First, thanks to that squad of readers--a sunny Scarborough to you kids at Ravine Elem--who pointed out that not everyone uses "bluff" the way the Loyalists do starting with Eliz Simcoe, wife of the first Lt.-Gov of Upper Canada. For her, bluffs were cliffs, like white cliffs of Dover. Westerners know bluffs as members of the gully family.
Anyway, the bluffs here are, by definition, endangered, though the multi-million erosion control project (ECP)will keep the lake off the base of the bluff for now (as in, the next x-million years). That still leaves the wind, which the other day was blowing a visible cloud of fine dust from the upper face of the bluffs. My gnarly head of hair was full of it.
Now, between the western edge of the ECP and the eastern edge of a public beach a half-mile or so west, lake and bluff-base interact as they always have (always being one of those words, like now that can't hold its center in a formation like the bluffs). It's pretty, and inviting . . .

if scrambly on the far side. This is where it gets:

one of the best beach days I've had all summer. On the way back, I picked up a fragment of bluff which, despite its thousands of years of weight, breaks in my hands.
I really shouldn't be here, in other words. And that goes for the rest of  you. ECP or not, the bluffs will fall,

and for those lovers I saw enjoying the beach, that's double the risk.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Halfway from Doug to Dug

I hear a voice out there--could be the four-seater heading west for Toronto Island airport, could be goose #63 with the limp, could be that swift of wind that blows fine dust from the face of the bluffs--I hear a voice curious about what I'm working on here at Fool's Paradise. Thanks for asking!
I've got a character named dog (always lower case) who veers from actual canine, as in the incident with the ham on the kitchen counter, to actual human feeling the effects of time, as in his routine bluffing struck by what the earth has to say. He lives, he drives, he walks, he seems to want to put things in words. Dogging it, he admits. It's not so much the specifics of his life that have surfaced (other than that he's a dog from Saskatchewan), more his general approach/response channels. So a series of poems, a book-full in the end, should there be one. Today, dog goes downtown!
Another idea: create English lyrics for the traditional fado songs (sample hereof Alfredo Marceneiro. Free translation, sonic translation, no attempt to render the Portuguese into its corresponding English, but sustaining the essential heart--most dog-like, as it happens--of the music.
I can hang a day on either or both of those.

Monday 14 September 2015

One Could Go On About the Critters

The once-a-month pest guy told me about the mice this morning. I showed him one of the ancient mousetraps Doris McCarthy used for decades. Still the best kind, the guy said, with a little peanut butter. I've seen the ones that emit a frequency we can't hear but the mice can. They work for about a week until the mice get used to them. He went on. If you have a large mouse population, those traps are what we use. Once we cull the population by about two-thirds, we go to the poison and the bait, and that controls them.
Here, dear readers of this blog--that's you uncle Ahab and aunt Bee--we can all insert stories of living with a certain antenna-heavy insect the size of one of those clickers we used to get at the fair, for instance. 
Today down on the groyne, it was Mr or Ms river otter slick with a mouthful of weed off the lower rocks that gave me a look and carried on. You might be able to spot him/her here:

Maybe not. As for the groyne, a new word in my book, it's one of four massive but composed rock piles, essentially, designed to take the brunt of the waves and thus protect the base of the bluffs and the properties above.

Even the most benign wave action as seen from a peek over bluff-edge 60 metres up will pick the speck from a rock's pocket, if it finds one, and replace it with its million psi of lake Ontario. I'm not sure whether to feel such effects or just notice them.

And part of being down here is the climb back.

Goose Morning to You

Just now geese invented hockey, number 99 billing a newly fallen apple past the defencegoose, big number 4. 
I must hand it to the geese. It's taken until day 5 or so of my stay here, but I think I'm revising my normal chase-and-disdain impulse re these creatures. In the pond and fountain and today's bright sun, they put on quite a show with their splashes flapping, their giving each other chase. I wonder which came first--a body the size of an outboard motor or a fabled neck to tune it up, which they do more or less constantly. I wish I were half as clean.
At first light this morning (as if any light could be first), a deer and two young stood around out back, nibbling. I've seen raccoon and squirrel and a tubey dark fellow with a thin tail. The reporting on the erosion control project, the saviour of these bluff-top properties, lists dozens of creatures that populate the bluff and ravine. Of all the pond visitors, I'm the tamest.

Saturday 12 September 2015

Tall Man, Small Tub, No Shower

The last time I took a bath, I played with my little green army guys. The tub, in our suburban split level in Hillsdale, was a pinky beige, as I remember it. Somewhere along the line of fifty years since, I gave up baths for showers. For good. Until now at the Doris McCarthy house, where on my third day here after four days on the road, I gave up my array of wipe-downs, lake dips, hose frolics and sinkwashes and turned on the left hand spigot—hot!—of DM’s tiny tub to sit down in there.
Haven’t I seen movies in which characters lie full out under a blanket of suds? Here I couldn’t even straighten my legs. 75% of my legmass extruded from the water like some crude and ancient outcropping along lake Superior. And I heard a Jerry Seinfeld voice say, Why would anyone want to sit in a tepid pool of his own filth?
I’d already pegged DM as a short woman who needn’t have ducked through doorways as I have to do. (I’m going to insert a callback here to my note about the Picts, from ’10.) She built her kitchen cupboards so low that I stash my Bran Flakes on top of them.
But I’m clean and, on a rainy morning like this, still warm. 
Here's the tub, actual size.

Friday 11 September 2015


If I get too close to the top of the bluffs, I might fall over, I'm told. The word cliff is sounded, as in straight down. In fact it's not quite that dramatic, but to play it safe I view the bluffs from below, looking west. 

While down there, I take a look out to the lake.

After a while, individual bluffs assert themselves.

Pleistocenery, we might call them.

As you see, the forces that create the attraction of the area would destroy it.

Doris McCarthy took an active interest in projects designed to protect both the bluffs and the ravine, two of three sides to her 13 acres.

The area between tree mass in that photo is a six-foot buffer of weeds and wildflowers at the edge of her property, as we see here back up on top.

Thursday 10 September 2015

First in a Series of Daily Entries as Artist-in-Residence at the Doris McCarthy House in Toronto

At first I offered a bitter laugh at the status of Canada Goose as cherished visitor to DM's pond and grounds (on which, we Reginans know, the primary figures will be shit and feathers). Seeing no point in that, I took a stab at chasing them off, succeeding in casting four of them into flight over the bluffs and lake Ontario while the others simply shuffled further away. Seeing no point in that either, I began to enjoy them enjoying the light, the sipping of pond, the airing-out, even the tap-tapping of my pen on the glass table in the porch/gazebo/geesebo. 
I'm humbled by the opportunity to live here, where Doris McCarthy worked well into her 90s. Lately I've been chanting to myself about doing what I'm on this goosey planet to do: write. Here, it's about keeping faith with DM.

100 Words to Fool's Paradise

The drive south across Manitoulin island to the ferry took 90 minutes, just the sun and a handful of stars cars and me congratulating myself on the tea and peanut butter sandwich combo. Three hours later, on board the Chi-Cheemaun, I napped and admired lake Huron from my synthetic deckchair on the upper starboard lounge. This planet is nothing but giant rock on which trees grow and water crashes in! Thus eased, I passed the next four hours to Toronto—the local route, not the express—in a blur of maps and lights and traffic. I got here after dark.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

100 Words to Espanola

I know I'm on the road when I reach a town called Espanola. In a hard rain that wore me out, peanut butter sandwiches or not. This stretch east toward Sudbury would be busy if the season hadn't turned -off, as in off-season, starting today. I can check into the Clear Lake Inn without a reservation (69 bucks) and ride the ferry from Manitoulin island to the Bruce peninsula tomorrow ($27.75). The season is just right, too, for setting off at sunrise and shutting down, if the Jays are done, when the sun goes down.

Monday 7 September 2015

100 Words to Rainbow Falls

Though I read "everlasting" on a sign, it's Canadian Shield, mythical creature of grade six Geography, that sticks today. In particular, the stretch from Nipigon past Rossport on highway 17. Eastbound, any Labour Day afternoon. You have to live with construction. (No wonder everyone else turned north at Nip.).
This puts my feet in Nipigon Bay by three o'clock.
I love the nearness of rock here, pink when exposed for a new bridge, all of us waiting in ridiculous stillness for the green light to let us find our lakeshore, a hundred shades of green.

Sunday 6 September 2015

100 Words to Rushing River

More rain, prairie, lake and river than rush, I took 8 1/2 hours for 800+ km. Jays-Orioles and Angela Hewitt playing Bach took care of most of it, Mexicali Rip-Ls the messiest part. For the first time I drove east of the longitudinal centre of Canada (on the straightaway east of Winnipeg). I bypassed Winnipeg, bypassed Kenora, but hit the heart of Portage la Prairie (a city my dad pronounced as if French), looking for a Shell where I could use my coupon (pronounced coup-ON). Packing Crown Royale, I'm trying it out now, campsite 115, with my squirrelfriend, Saucy.