Review of Books: TR Pearson’s “East Jesus South” and Ian McGuire’s “The North Water”.

I am reading a lot of books at the moment. Again. As usual. All at once. I own very few of them. I am a library gal. I paid amazon.ca to send me T.R. Pearson’s “Off For the Sweet Hereafter” and “East Jesus South” this spring, though. I finished reading the latter up at the leash-free dog park this morning and here I am, a tiny !pip! of a !squeak! in the Weberverse, to tell you how glorious the man’s talent is. If you do not know or think you might imagine satisfying the pleasures of fine crafted, funny, clever prose – and you would like a taste of some of the mannerisms of a part of the American south (satirized, yes, but cut from true cloth), just read T.R. Pearson. From the beginning, if possible. Now. Today. Life is short.

My public library hasn’t got a single one of his works. I hope to amass the entire oeuvre of the gentleman. With my own money. That’s love.

Yesterday I drank a quart (4 cups) of my very fine iced coffee, and sat in the afternoon and evening and drank another. Consequently, I spent the night sort of upright on my sofa, too edgy to lie down in bed, and too tired to read past 12:30 a book of astounding force. I am halfway through “The North Water” and what a ship into the hell that is people it is. Compelling, horrifying, realistic, sad and – hey, I don’t know what’s going to happen on this or after this mid-19th century whaling voyage, but I give the novel a 10 now. It will not let me down. I can just feel it.

It is a library book. It is excellent.

From the air conditioned oasis that is my apartment, I wish you happy reading!

Dear Mrs. Fox

Come crow, come hawk

Take them back

Give them back


The bright coat, the pointed ears over on the left shocked me. Then the kit, in the middle of my lane, took my breath away and barely beyond that an adult raccoon, and then what may have been a mink or a weasel – a wrung-out rag of dark fur. All dead.

Attention, small animals north of hither and south of the pole! Highway bridges over topped up creeks and rills are a particularly nasty trap.

There are many birds of prey around here, aloft, watching farmers plough and seed, hearing newly unfolded leaves whoosh and swirl. The eyes of those birds peruse. The claws flex. Just a little. Not too long now. Not too long.

Mrs. Fox, I did not run over your child a second time, though that doesn’t count for much under the circumstances. I swerved. Wide-eyed. Horrified. I’m home now, and wonder if your other children are, too. Not knowing you are not coming again.

The vehicular death of a fox is a surprise, seen so seldom. Fox and kit together explains something, perhaps. Raccoons common enough, roadside, their rounded fuzzy ears so sad to see. The other creature, mangled utterly, an apt image of a clash of priorities, and who is winning in the short term.

All around, rich soil being turned and planted, lilacs bursting into their final hurrahs, life warming and stretching. Alpacas, of all things, sitting in a corral. Quarter horses in pasture. Farm machinery, oddly large, strangely angled, alien-looking, chugging along the paved routes to hop from field to field. Waterways strong and high.

I saw a wisteria in full bloom near Sonora this morning. I was on my otherwise joyful Friday ride, on the long, long way to the library, and grocery shopping, and home. Clouds gray and wide, drizzling, the sky chasteningly cold after two days of heatwave. The grebes on the St. Clair River have rested up sufficiently; they’ve all gone north. Freighters and tankers gliding up and down, monstrously silent. The big campground is filling up for Victoria Day – the trailer bump-outs are bumped, the sturdier steps laid out. Wool blankets inside, no doubt. No fooling a Canadian in this season. Pleasure boats and sea-doos begin to dot some of the small docks. Some of the older docks in the river a wish held together with hope. Kids in winter coats on the school buses. Ontario’s summer begins this May weekend.

Come hawk, come crow.

You get a crack at this game, too.

HUH?

Dear Nice Men of a Certain Age, Married or Single, Tall or Short, Wide or Thin, This or That, From Here or There,

GO GET A HEARING TEST.
I said, ” YOU! NEED! YOUR! HEARING! TESTED!”

You’ve lost some – some of you have lost a lot – of range. And I am tired, now that I have been trying to make acquaintances and have light conversations with people in my new town, of being looked at askance, being misinterpreted, and being misheard. Being looked at askance. Twice. Mostly at the leash-free dog park, where a whirlwind of citizens drop by at any daytime hour.

My wide eyes should suggest that some kind of faux pas has occurred, originating – from the direction of my guiding, incredulous, high-eyebrowed gawping –  from YOU, but you are oblivious. And I cannot bring myself to LAUGH OUT LOUD, because, frankly, it would be mean.

A recent news item suggested the worst plague affecting middle aged men these days is loneliness. Ha. That’s just a symptom of many things, hearing loss (as this writing proves) being just one cause. Your early lifetime socialization is a crippling phenomenon that only you can identify and repair. It’s not something about which I am qualified in or willing to assist. BUT YOUR UTTER DEAFNESS OF THE EARS? That, we all experience. It’s adding to the cringe pile. It is a problem you need to get on top of.

Now, mansplaining I understand. Some of you are ten, twenty years older than I am, and that’s just how you talk to the, uh, ladies. I am capable of interrupting that, and startling you with pithy and pertinent and surprising questions, to get you back on track to what I wanted to know, and discovering whether you do, in fact, know it. I like conversations with all sorts of people, on all sorts of topics. People are full of surprises and knowledge and dreams.

But willful deafness, and the propensity to blurge ahead, to fuffle and blibe? You silly old rooster!

YOU DIDN’T HEAR ME. BUT YOU STARTED TALKING ANYWAY!

AND WHEN YOU DO THAT, YOU ARE ALWAYS PATRONIZING.

IT IS ASTOUNDING.

I have spent over a week with the giggles. I seem to have built up the quantum requirement for being tickled, permanently, upon the recollection of Hilarious Statements by Old Guys.

Your family at home is used to you, but they let you go outside unattended. They may have pushed you outside, but I will not meddle in matters familial or private, except to tell you that you might be much less grumpy, far better understood, and nicer, IF YOU WENT AND GOT A HEARING AID.

Your shameerly,

Shimmy

March Sixth: Ontario, Canada

The heralds of spring are beginning to arrive between the gray and the brown. Canada geese, mallards, and some kinds of gulls have been around, eking out a miserable, cold living all winter, but here it is, March Sixth! One red-winged blackbird ca-ronks, then twees, and shakes out its feathers while perched in the dried rushes. Crows and starlings gather on the ground in the trimmed verge, picking at small stones and gravel. Silently, a rather large flock of loons paddles around and around the centre of the pond. They dive, but I don’t think there are any fish in there. I hope I’m wrong. Next to the paths through the recovering and rehabilitated dump, the dog field is muddy, but not so spongy as it could be. We don’t sink in and disappear. Yet.

We walk the paths through the wavy dead grasses and the small patches of trees. Mice must be awakening, in their little villages under all the wild thatch. The dog stops frequently and listens. They stop, down there among the roots of this endless tangle, and wait for us to move along.

It will snow this week, no doubt. It will rain tomorrow. It will be cold, and colder again soon.

But the red-winged blackbird is here.

Can you feel every living thing unfolding?

Grand Bend, Mind Bend, Grand Day

According to Google maps, it’s 73 kilometres to Grand Bend from my place, so I drove twice that this morning on my weekly tour of southern Lake Huron environs. For most of the way, I listened to CBC Radio One, and am better educated on:

– the reaction of Canadians, especially Quebec Muslims interviewed for the radio, about the murders of six men in the Quebec mosque by another pale-skinned non-Muslim angry young man; the need for Quebec to acknowledge its changing demography; and the continuing hope we have as a people that we will be better than this – that we must be better than this one small evil man’s stupidity and hatred – always.

– interpretations of George Orwell’s “1984” in light of the first days of Donald *rump’s lunatic, lying kleptocracy (my description, not theirs); the optimistic outcomes that can be taken from the novel; and the perspectives of two very erudite and articulate literature experts on the value and re-evaluation of Orwell the man and the recent, sudden renewed interest in his dark vision of a hyper-controlled and repressed society. Very cogent expressions about the divisions in the American populace, where non-urban areas have suffered more from globalization, and the observation that social media has helped isolate people from other groups and individuals, so that exposure to varying ideas in daily life among people you know has decreased tremendously. Points of view are now stretched to ends of the spectrum, leading to less respect for conversation and understanding. Comments on the vilification of Hillary Clinton, who served her government well, and the pernicious use of language used during *rump’s campaign to dismiss her value as a good public servant, a leader, and a woman.

– corporate America’s responses to the new government in Washington, in view of what ideological and social mores and changes corporations can or should be expected to fulfil – if any – and a comparison of those with the functions and roles of good government; and Canadian corporations’ cautious slowness in reacting to Washington since January 20, as evinced by a lack of Canadian corporate representation on the radio panel.

Finally, the “Bend” of my drive to Grand Bend: CBC Radio gave a short synopsis of David Frum’s recent writing in The Atlantic Magazine, after which I must confess I agree with him. There’s a shivering timber moment! He described the current administration in Washington as being desirous only of personal financial gain. And now I must go read what this arch-conservative, once the beloved of the Republican Party, bemoans about the Orange One and His Bunch of Ill-educated Pirates. It may hurt me, and I’m a little scared, but I was impressed and glad he’d written what he did, and so shall find out more.


Grand Bend, like all towns propped up by summer populations, has a distinct beauty in the quiet of winter.


The water looks particularly cold on a very cold, windy day, but the colours of the place are magnificent.


And I’m not the only one to take a look out over the lake from the warmth of my car.

The car is great, the winter tires are great, the rock stations were playing good driving, sing-along tunes during the news segments, so I didn’t have to listen to what horrible things are spewing from D.C. thus far today, and the CBC was great, too.

I spent too much money at the Super Store, but what a sale they had. What a place. I’ve got a barbecued chicken, I’ve got a fresh, half of a steelhead salmon for less than $10, and I bought a roast beef (small)(for under $13!). Chicken for sandwiches and spaghetti with alfredo sauce. Salmon to cut up and freeze. Beef for Sunday, for which I must bake bread!!

And two very nice bed pillows. Because the Real Canadian Superstore was selling one for $12, two for one dollar more.

If you knew what giggly joy I get just throwing stuff in the car, you’d want to distill it and keep it all for yourself. It’s so much fun! So common, so run of the mill, and so wonderful.

Four months in to my new life in a new place. Hurray!

Call Your Mother

I got my car back yesterday, after it had been in for repairs. I had – in the collision shop’s world – a very minor fender-dinger/scrape in December. My fault. My car, my heart, and my psyche are now all whole. I beat myself up about it too much, but I am better now. I live in a car town. I’ve got my wheels back. I rode the bus a bit during the nine days, but you can’t take your dog on the buses here. And I didn’t sign up for the rental car that was offered because of the dog. I’ll let my own special dog blanket and back seat get muddy, but not a rental car’s. So as of yesterday, we’re both very, very happy again.

Espresso’s out at the dog daycare farm today. He pulled me to their front door when I let him out of the back seat. Joy. And I tootled off to Canadian Tire, which opens at 8:30 a.m. And Dollarama, 9:00. And then Walmart, for more crochet yarn!! (I made every piece of thread in the apartment into a throw, a small pet blanket for the Humane Society, or the beginnings of a lovely lacy tablecloth, all in nine days.) On every road: radio. And me singing badly with the HITS from the 70s, 80s, and early 1990s that are popular here, and in Windsor, and Detroit. Between those rock stations and my propensity to shop at dawn, my status as a retired person are becoming fixed in granite, soon to be basalt. (Geologically backwards – thank you, PBS NOVA! – but utterly true.)

Which brings me to time. 

I opened the door to my apartment and had an overwhelming urge to telephone my mom. I mean overwhelming, heart-twisting, stand still and think what you’re thinking overwhelming. Look at your cellphone and almost press the button for Contacts overwhelming.

I can’t phone her. There’s no one there. There’s nothing there. She’s been dead since April, 1993.
I suppose I wanted to tell her that I got through another of life’s trials, and I am better than okay, and I’m still very happy I sold my little house, quit my job, packed up and moved here. I love my car. I moved to the right apartment. The cat and dog are very well. I’m so free, and I feel like a happy kid. Happy wasn’t a thing kids were in my family, but I chased it down, I took it back, I live easy, for me. Who would have believed I could do all that, that I would do all that?

I wanted to tell someone who loved me that, in this chapter, things worked out. That my accomplishments, while small, were significant. That I am glad I’m me.

If she’s the right person in your life, call your mother. In all the daily tumult and stress, with all the upheaval and strange politics, with the dreary January weather, call the one whose approval means the most. Ring your bell, let the true note sound.

PETROLIA!

I dropped the dog off for the day at The Fox & Hound farm this morning with a vision of laundry sitting heavily on me, like a big old stinky hat. It was sunny, in that the sun was actually visible as the horizon spun east to meet it. The temperature mild (only minus 5 celcius). The roads clear. The fm radio stations were playing old soft, heart-warming romantic tunes mixed with old metal sing-alongs. So I threw the idea of laundry off and headed east, to find Petrolia.

There aren’t any words, really, to express the joy I feel while travelling at high speed, behind the wheel of my own car, singing along to the radio. It doesn’t matter where I go; I am certain I’ll find my way home – just not YET! I’m happy to slow for towns, school zones, and kids crossing streets to get to school, but it’s the going that is so exciting. It’s the psychological wonder of the automobile, over 100 years old, but new in me. It’s the reason conservative Saudi clerics don’t want women to drive. It’s flying on land. It is a lot of responsibility. And it is just plain fun.

Last time I ventured out in this direction, I was one major road too far west. This morning, I am happy to report, I found the very small town of Wyoming, and the small town of Petrolia. Most of the land there – and here – is low-lying swamp. What a job earlier farmers must’ve had scratching a living out of that. I can hear mosquitoes now, and it’s January. And I drove through before nine this morning.

But then, of course, after farms started scratching, came oil. The train passes through the southern end of Wyoming, Ontario at a level crossing. Hundreds and hundreds of cars clink-ca-chunked by, full of oil, cars, car parts, stuff, and things. The wealth of the land, heading off to new car dealers and manufacturers and gas distributors further east. From Sarnia? Windsor? From Detroit? And probably points beyond.

A tiny fraction of an iota of the wealth of this land on one train.

And then, follow the sign: DOWNTOWN PETROLIA (turn right).

You know you’re there because you can smell it. Sarnia’s had that odour once since I moved here in October. It was a very thick miasma this morning. Overlooking that, and just out of range of the smell:


This astounding Victorian construction. The photo is not mine. I Googled it.

I imagine an oil family built it. I didn’t want Google to tell me, but I did learn that it may be being renovated. It’s an eye-popping beauty. It’s a high perch up off and away from a valley of gack. It’s an obvious reminder of who was who and who was not.

I made my way through Corunna and up the river. Filled the gas tank, got the car washed. Bought some groceries, and stopped at the store pharmacy to get a flu shot. A free injection to help prevent me from getting influenza. At the grocery store pharmacy.

Last night, I watched a documentary on Netflix about Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. She was ill with pancreatic cancer during the filming, and trying to hold her life and the band together. Without gigs, the band earned no money. Her treatment is guessed at about “a hundred thousand dollars” by someone in the film. It was finished before Miss Jones died, late this last fall, 2016.

If she’d been Canadian, she’d have had free health care. I wonder if she would’ve sought treatment sooner, and I wonder if she’d have lived longer.

I watched a long trainload of wealth pass by me this morning, Canadian and American goods, all the same, and I cannot for the life of me understand American attitudes toward universally available medical treatment. Resisting care for all. How lucky to be on this side of the St. Clair River.

Four loads of laundry is why I got done before lunch.

Time to go get one tired dog.

Wind Waves Winter

When this building was erected, in the late 70s, it must’ve been utterly snazz. Money was spent on quality features. Some 40 years on, the double-paned windows hang fast, with just a low tremble and a small rattle with every gust of brutally cold air that would shake us up and off our foundation if it could. 40 years of merciless gusts from the river and lake. Congratulations, aluminum frame makers and installers. You did a great job, and I thank you.

The river was a miniature Japanese ink drawing of ocean storms this morning. Deep green-blue undulating triangles punched up to shimmy and writhe, some transformed into dragon paws, flipping white crests off fingers of instantly frozen, icy drops.

The dog had to take me on the full walk for the satisfaction and health of his alimentary canal. My overall health and fitness benefit from this couple of kilometres of perambulation, also, but a face held in a grimace of squinting against a brutal breeze by a full waterfall of instantly frozen tears cannot be a welcome addition to anybody’s Beauty Plan. I would have preferred the quick release, one round block plan this morning, but Espresso’s guts don’t care about my wishes.

How cold was the windchill? I wore my new 5X men’s Walmart jacket with hood, and my triple-warm homemade hat, and I STRODE MIGHTILY FAST, and I didn’t break a sweat. Ooh. That’s cold.

I’ve been watching the bridge a little bit since breakfast, and I am certain I’d be afraid to drive a big rig today. Especially over the bridge. Unless it was laden with lead ingots or something. 

This an interesting town, weather-wise. No snow to speak of, and we dodged freezing rain. You don’t notice fallen tree branches littering lawns, because anything not hanging on for dear life, for the long haul, got ripped away ages ago.

The snow might be coming south now. The horizon on the Michigan side washes out in a cloud, and soon, perhaps, we will be enveloped. Or not.

A sturdy little land ship. Ever on.

SHOOT! A Dog in Snow.

There is a scene – an opening scene, as I recall – in a book called “Blue Ridge,” by one of my favourite writers, T.R. Pearson, in which a man, frustrated beyond patience by a dog of peculiar habits, must aim a gun at it in order to get it to just pee. The dog will not relieve itself unless a handgun is pointed at it. Every day. Every time.

How anyone could not keep reading after that is a mystery to me. (Go get yourself a T.R. Pearson novel now. I recommend that you start wirh “A Short History of a Small Place” and move on from there.)

So it snowed and is snowing quite a lot in town, and, like everywhere I’ve ever lived, the attitude towards pedestrian traffic, egress, congress, and any kind of mobility outside one’s own domicile without an automobile is, basically, “F*ck you!”. I have a car, but I must walk the dog. Four times a day, for the good of both of us. Yesterday afternoon, and last night, after “snow removal” by the city and property owners, Espresso and I walked around the block, me sliding in the churned depths of what’s left after the “sidewalk””plough” has “cleared” the “walks,” and he eventually trotting along in the over-salted paths that opened up to us near the municipal parking lot.

Note that I have a pair of nearly military-grade, men’s, Timberland(TM) winter boots. Heavy, orthotic, toasty, comfortable, and despite the stupid laces, the best damned boots I’ve ever had. They are a workout without leg or knee or hip strain. Ugly, pants tucked into socks ugly, and excellent.

Here’s Espresso, circa -25C polar snap 2014 in Toronto, with a coat:

Espresso has pads, and fluff between the pads, and nails. He doesn’t cry when the road/rock salt burns his feet. When he limps, I’ve got to get him onto a salt-free patch, and, preferably, home.

It was a quick walk. He peed. He just would not “go”. So this morning, of course, out we go again.

Great pee. No “go”.

It was minus 7 degrees Celsius, and windy. (Twenty degrees for you Americans.)

So around and hither and yon we walk, but not on our usual route, because I don’t want to go down to the river, where the wind is always biting. And we walk. And walk. And he stops. And T.R. Pearson pops into my head, and down to the river we go.

I led him out off the path onto the expanse of deep, untrodden white and begged him to hurry up, to get busy, to go. And my boy, my belatedly clever boy, took the hint and dragged me around and over and beside and to a thigh-deep drift and finally!

We could come home. On the roads. Because, overnight, the road ploughs piled up what the sidewalk ploughs had pushed onto the roads, and there isn’t a dignified or pretty way to slog over curb mounds as high as my hips, just to jump over them again on the other side.

No gun. Never a gun.  Just a yen to read one of my favourie writers again, and a fantasy of inventing a sidewalk plough that does what it’s name implies.

Happy reading!