Saturday 31 October 2015

Dressing Up as a Goose

It's taking a while to come together . . . a pair of spatulas sprayed black for my feet (but how to attach them?), some grey and brown blanket scraps for my back, a white-tipped paper fan fixed to my rear end. I've trimmed a yogurt container to fit as the white chinstrap.
I don't know what to do about the neck. The neck has to be convincing when I board that streetcar (which is what people like to do in their costumes, judging by the trip up Bathurst on 511 last night). I can sell "goose" with the right neck, but if I don't get it right I'll look like a mere grouse or mud dove. As of 11.10 am, I'm tinkering with flex tubing, chimney fragments, and that vacuum hose from the Kenmore 835. I've rigged up a toy alligator for the bill--that was easy.
For the sonic component of my costume, one of those squeeze horns maybe. I might sample some avant-garde tenor sax. 
Then there's the question of where on the goose/ghoul/ghost continuum I should settle. Should I run at people with my red tongue (a broken knife handle) bared? Should I stand still? Stick my bill under my feathers?
I don't want to spend all day on this, however. Maybe I'll settle for acting like a goose, starting from the inside somehow. Perhaps tell stories of where I go at night, where I come from, why I need your apple when I could easily find my own, how I know when to take off, and the like.
I suppose I should build some turds into my presentation, but come on now.
Ok, 12:08, I'm done:

And the rear view:

What do you think?

Wednesday 28 October 2015

More About Angel

Water off a duck's back, we say, finding duck's more mouth-friendly than geese's, I suppose. But have a look, in this rainstorm said to be with us all day, at the perfect balls of water sliding from Angel's back.

Let us consider further goose words which, in Doris McCarthy's old Webster's, follow all the good words (offering a chance to play--as in goose-tempered, Goose Samaritan, and that hit tv series The Goose Wife--but not right now).
My question is, what in Angel's behaviour or nature deserves these words:
Goose egg. I can't speak to this one in late October.
Goose as verb. This is common, the sudden chase to the backside. Angel is prone to spells of it. But at other times, such as right now with the rain pouring down, his range of behaviours seems to narrow. No goosing.
Silly goose. A value judgement! Angel and company squawk and fuss at times, but who doesn't. 
Goose-neck. A glorious yes to this one. This morning, before the really heavy rains came, Angel at the edge of the pond used his neck as a ladle to throw water over his back for a morning wash, just benefit #55 of this fabulous body part. (Perhaps, dear reader, you'd like to view my video . . .). If there is one legendary goose-- king/queen of all geese, that no one has seen but that everyone fears or suspects is out there, perhaps residing in its watery lair in the greatest of the great lakes--by the neck will the legend endure.
Goosebumps. For sure.
Gooseherd. One who tends geese. This is a new new one on me, but I'll take it. I've had no choice but to watch them. Certainly I've heard them.
Goose step. If we're talking Nazi march, that looks nothing like anything a goose does, except maybe the crudest possible waddle. If this expression derives somehow from uniformity of group behaviour, it would be the way Angel and his family pod of seven or eight circulate casually together about the yard. They'll all be eating apples, they'll all be preening at the edge of the pond, they'll all be ripping at the grass, and so on. They straggle in unison.
Goosey. Foolish or stupid, according to DM's Webster's. Easily upset by a prod to the backside. This is common, as mentioned. But what goes with the quick upset is the quick recovery. Two seconds after the goosing, both gooser and goosee resume whatever they were doing as if the thing had never happened. Sometimes, however, one or both will have to take flight, or the gooser will do it a second time.
At this point, Doris McCarthy's Webster's moves on to gopher . . .

Tuesday 27 October 2015

In Praise of In the Skin of a Lion

If I was going to paint a house with my favourite colours, I'd need a wall for Michael Ondaatje's fab novel which I read dozens of times during my (unfinished) grad studies.

If you're read it, you'll remember scenes set here, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant in east Toronto.

Digression #1: Doris McCarthy's father--he's the one with whom Doris, when still a girl, walked the shore of lake Ontario beneath the Scarborough bluffs and said Some day I'll build a house up there (the house I'm working in these last few weeks)--her father, as I was saying, was a civil engineer who worked in Harris' department. 

Digression #2: Ondaatje's novel teaches us how to read and write a novel like that. The narrator of Skin tells us Trust me. There is order here--very faint, very human (I paraphrase). This idea has always felt important.

Monday 26 October 2015

A Translation of Fado by Alredo Mareneiro

The day I arrived at an apartment I'd booked for my last month in Lisbon last year, the landlord pointed out a cd by Alfredo Marceneiro, one of the great Portuguese fadistas, or fado singers. This is the real fado, the landlord was saying, not the tourist stuff. Over the next month I wore out the cd. Here was music that delivered that sense of longing I loved about Portugal.

Lately I've been working on translations of fado lyrics. First, O Pagem.

When I say translation, I mean free translation, a blend derived from the sounds and rhythms of the piece, a few words of Portuguese in English, and a strand or two of imagination. In this case, I've played it straight, remaining true to the heart of fado (as I understand it) while shifting the setting from Lisbon harbour to the Scarborough bluffs.

Here it is, a piece I call "The Danger":

In the story to remember
Lovers whisper at the shore
Tender words they give each other
In the summer light so warm

Leaning in to every beauty
As if nothing wears away
For a thousand years believing
All that they love will never fail

Thus the making of this story
The unmaking of this scene
So gently do their bodies
Surrender to their dream

They’re immune to any warning 
They see nothing in their way
Down the trail they coax each other, every step another
To their final private room 


If you see two lovers tell them
Of a danger sweet and true, so sweet and true
Always an end

Nothing else for time to do.  

Sunday 25 October 2015

Fox and Geese

Not for nothing did we play Fox and Geese as kids. As many games do, it bore the coding of ancient, even primal, dynamics of what wild is. 
Today when the fox appears in its circuit from the ravine along the blufftops, the goose hits the pond with a clatter and splash, a clash, having long ago, that's long ago, figured water as safety from land-bound predators.
Today--or maybe at this time of year when a geese is, as I have been saying, as big as a Kenmore 835--the fox isn't interested, engaging instead in scratching his chin, rolling in the grass, taking the sun. But for a moment there, the goose was stuck with that fear/flight impulse, a permanent imprint on goosehood.
My own impulse, the least interesting one in play here, is to take a picture, as if I'm so far out of the natural world I must run to sample any evidence of its existence.

Soon everyone settled. I sat out where the fox had been.

But I wouldn't hurt a fly.

Friday 23 October 2015

More About Angel

You dedicated readers of this blog--a bright blue good morning to you, Uncle Pete and Aunt Moss--have asked for more about Angel, the Spanish Canada Goose who lives, as I do, at Fool's Paradise in Toronto. 
At first, we were all minding our business. I gave myself an update on part of the bluff.

Angel took the sun but left plenty for the rest of us. (Angel, by the way, could see his breath earlier this morning. He showed also that he can use the tips of his webbed foot to scratch his chin exactly as, and just as fast, a dog can.)

Then things got hairy, feathery, for Angel and his mates. Bad enough that I strolled through, but they're used to that.

A more profound danger came onto the scene.

The hawk (sorry, I'm guessing) is barely evident in the photo above, but all too clear to the geese, though in this case they seem pretty mellow about it. Other times, as I've already noted, Angel and company scatter when a winged predator swings overhead. Not scatter, quite. More an instant and severe rush for cover--the pond will do. This morning, a greater menace was at hand.

But even this fellow--whom I'm calling, after Dan Tysdal's new book, Faux--seemed in a mellow mood.

Angel and company, however, reacted in a way I'd not seen before. 

Faux is just off camera to the right. I'm not sure if he'd go after a full-grown goose even if he wasn't satisfied with just sun for the moment. But that many geese so close together, and just standing there--I'm guessing all they could do was band together in case of attack.

Faux took off. Angel is preening. I'm about to do the same.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Script for Instructional Video on How to Simulate a Goose Neck in Motion

Everybody loves the goose neck. Don’t we all wish we had one? Don’t our own necks come a poor second to that of Branta Canadensis, the Canada goose?

My name is Gerry Hill. Welcome to my instructional video on how to simulate a goose neck in motion. This you can do in your own kitchen using only everyday tools and appliances.

Lately, sharing a yard with an average of 35 Canada geese every day for two months as the Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence here in Toronto, I’ve observed the goose neck in motion as often as I’ve wanted to. More often, if you want to know the truth.

And you do want to know the truth, so here we go.

First, what do I mean by “goose neck in motion.” I’m referring to the action of the goose neck as the creature walks, or waddles (to borrow a word from duck studies) with its head upright. Because of the wide range of goose neck behaviour, I must be specific on this point: what you’re about to learn is how to simulate the goose neck in motion with the head upright and coming straight at you.

Let’s assemble our supplies, all readily available in or near your kitchen. We’ll need a spatula or wooden spoon, a one-litre plastic container that passes for a milk bottle in Ontario, a tea towel, a bathroom towel—not a hand towel or a bath towel but the one in between (colour doesn’t matter—I’ve chosen the musky mustard). A can of beans—Heinz beans with tomato sauce will work (and you can reward yourself with supper afterwards). Finally, we’ll need a vacuum cleaner of the canister type—a Kenmore 835 in this case.

Now, most instructional videos teach you how. I’m going to start with how not. For how not to simulate a goose neck in motion, we’ll use the canister-model vacuum cleaner which was, as we know, the prototype for the body of the goose.

Let’s pretend, then, that the canister is the goose’s body and the hose its neck (I have removed the nozzle for clarity of demonstration). My hand will serve as the head. Watch now as the goose approaches—notice the dynamics in the neck.

You didn’t observe any dynamics, did you. Just the most elemental pull-and-follow. Nothing like what we might see in my yard here in Scarborough.

A more refined approach will take us nearer the real thing. Insert your can of beans into the milk container, using the tea towel to secure the package. Next, fold your towel in half lengthwise and hold it at the ends with the fold at the bottom. Fit the handle of the milk container into the fold.

Here is your goose. The milk container represents the base of the neck—the breastbone area. The towel, of course, is the neck itself, here elongated for purposes of our demonstration. My top hand will represent the head, while my lower hand, hidden from view with the spatula, will provide torque on the neck. My body will stand in for the goose’s body, which I will propel slowly, in a waddling fashion, toward the camera.

What you will see is how the head remains still as the neck absorbs the waddle.


There you have it. The goose neck in motion.

Until next time, so long from Fool's Paradise.

Postscript: Please honk if you'd like me to post the video.

Monday 19 October 2015

And He Had To

Dedicated followers of my writing practice--a chilly good morning to you, Uncle Misty and Aunt Blue--already know that I'm willing to give events in my own life to a character who freely distorts, supplements, magnifies--in short, takes the credit and blame for whatever the event might mean, thereby relieving me from the necessity of doing so.
This morning, for instance, it's a man named dog (lower case) who remembers a time--it seems unbelievable now--when our mothers leaned out the front or back door of our houses and sang out DAW-og. Come in for SUP-per.
And dog would straggle home, maybe waiting for the second call but not, if he knew what's good for him, the third.
What dog would like to express about such times is the allure of the borderland, the potential of darkness, past the normal indoor routine of the home. It's pretty innocent, mostly--game of football on someone's lawn, game of Freedom in the park. But if he's lucky, Gloria or Diane will show up, which is where the thrill and the terror come in, or come out . . .
I suppose that here at Fool's Paradise, where if he's not careful he could take a wrong step on one of his little explorations through the trees that separate the lawn from the steep ravine slope--not to mention the ever-present (but in geological time, what could "present" possibly mean?) bluff face--I suppose that dog could be hanging out here at the edge of things--he's not sure why, he's just drawn here--when he hears his mother call. 
DAW-og. Time for SUP-per. RIGHT NOW!

Saturday 17 October 2015

The Time It Takes to Drink a Cup of Tea: More About Angel

Angel (that's An-HELL) stands on one leg. As I've noted before, he can practice virtually his entire behavioural repertoire on one leg as well as he can on two.

Along comes his pal, Cliff, and a feeding circuit ensues, casual nibbling. Both Angel and Cliff suffer a brief goosing from Elaine and carry on nibbling (more a series of quick grab-and-nips). Angel, as it happens, is exactly the shape and weight of a second-hand vacuum cleaner, a Bissell, I bought in Calgary years ago.

(That spur at the back of his foot, by the way, is where the attachment hooks into the body of the Bissell.)
He's feeding in the shade now, though his notice of things like shade, rain, or wind operates so deeply it has no effect on surface behaviours. No Gee, it would be great to stay in bed today or Better bundle up. Just carry on. Oops, another goose--I didn't catch the name, Julian was it?--passes a bit too close. A half-goosing is enough to run him off. Angel resumes feeding.

I've seen Angel take a few steps and stand by himself facing the lake. Or maybe it's me I've seen do that, as if sizing up the time ahead. But now Angel steps to the edge of the pond and extends his neck to drink. He lifts his head all the way up to tip the water down.

I don't know what Angel has for ears but he seems aware of sirens coming from across the ravine. And of course when I say hello, he nods, like the good neighbour he is.

Thursday 15 October 2015


I walked down to the groyne on lake Ontario yesterday--a mile mostly uphill back to civilization (but no decent coffee shop) and the trail head, down the Doris McCarthy trail, to end up just below my house.

I was minding my own business down there, working on some writing.

Like every other time I've been down there, I thought about climbing straight up to the yard (rather than looping up the trail and all the way around back down the road to the house), which begins just past the left-hand stand of trees in this photo .

I decided to do it, just this once. But don't tell anyone. I chose a route up the ravine wall. Something like this, as seen from the top:

It was hard! The ravine wall was potentially, make that actually, unstable--I promise never to mess with it again--and my own body acted unstable itself, requiring several significant rest stops on the way up. 

Big deal, said Angel.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Dogologue: Hazard

Serious, dog’s not for everyone.
The under-threes for instance
should roll away from dog like
cup from saucer. No one wants to ingest
small magnets meant to fix Alloy Man
to his/her ship. Yeah, children’s products.

Last time I met severe trauma Dad bought me
a tilted frame about three by three
securing a mesh into which I could pitch
my best fastball or kick any football.
The mesh would catch and return. Dad thought
I’d turn sad-armed like him and pitch
for some town in the 30s, Shamrock Eagles,
Rock Glen Fiddicks, Ernfold Laundry-Kings,
Morse Codes—for all of them
pitcher what the leaders want to play.

Swallow happens. Murakami
in Norwegian Wood writes that gulp
we hear when the movie
sears. I’m talking about
jewelry. Dog let’s face it
will eat it. You know
how he plays.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Back To the Lighthouse

Dedicated readers of this blog--a leafy afternoon to you, Uncle Curly and Aunt Moe--will already know that To the Lighthouse did nothing for me, nor I for it, when first encountered at a listless moment in my life. I'd done two years in Business. I'd switched to Arts with little sense of who I was or what I wanted to do. I found myself in an English class at U of R reading Woolf and Joyce and Hardy. None of it took. In the middle of the semester I just left, heading to Calgary, without even withdrawing from my classes. I was nineteen years old. It would be five years before I finished my undergrad degree, and then in Education, not English.
Thirteen years after that, I found myself in a Woolf class in grad school at U of A. Reading all of Woolf's novels turned out to be the most spectacular reading experience of my life. I couldn't believe the power and beauty of her writing. I felt as if the patch of ground beneath me was being picked up and shaken.
Finding To the Lighthouse in the library at the McCarthy house, I'm digging this great novel again. 
Here's Lily Briscoe, Woolf's artist, beginning:
"The brush descended. It flickered brown over the white canvas; it left a running mark. A second time she did it--a third time. And so pausing and so flickering, she attained a dancing rhythmical movement, as if the pauses were one part of the rhythm and the strokes another, and all were related; and so, lightly and swiftly pausing, striking, she scored her canvas with brown running nervous lines which had no sooner settled there than they enclosed (she felt it looming out of her) a space. Down in the hollow of one wave she saw the next wave towering higher and higher above her. For what could be more formidable than that space?"
Many of us writers will recognize our own process there. Read the rest of this scene, about a dozen pages into the third section of the book, to enjoy how Woolf both describes and performs what an artist does.
Of course, reading Doris McCarthy's copy of this novel, with her underlining, and knowing a little of her practice as a painter and writer, and with the waves--placid today but mighty the days before--of lake Ontario just over there, well it's all a handy boost into my own work here.

Sunday 4 October 2015

More About Angel

The other day I was on about Angel.

He knows better than I how much space is required between us. I would never accuse Angel of doing things out of spite, but the way he gets up and takes a few steps, he's dismissive of my role in his front lawn. Maybe that's just me over-stating the tilt of his head or how he gave me the tailfeather on my way by.

And they're all like that.

I, too, pretend not to give in to Angel. I play Scrooge, implying that maybe, yes maybe, I carry a cane.

It's a civil arrangement, in other words--both sides reserving the right to go nuts on the other one of these weeks, if we're not careful.

Enjoy the apples, Angel.

Postscript: Angel has two kinds of memory, short (forget who chased you ten seconds ago) and long (flightpath and return).

Saturday 3 October 2015

Digging Wind

I heard the wind all night and can see it now, bluff dust blowing in through the screened porch.

I rather like the wind's random effects--the kind of thing someone will come along and clean up.

A glance down at the waves is enough of a reminder that this place is a moment in time--a wind garden, not a static museum.

And look, somebody threw a bouquet.

Angel and friends happy, as usual.

It's a good time up in the wind today. That's what I love about this place: having time.

Here we are, here we go. When we're gone, who will know.