Spring Rites and a Dead Queen

I took the dog for a walk last night, just before twilight on Monday evening of the Victoria Day weekend. Those of you who live in most provinces of Canada (except Quebecers, who scratch their head bewildered, and wait for Saint Jean le Baptiste Day) will understand the implications. Those of you who own a dog will instantly flinch, and sympathize. The May “2-4” weekend is an annual rite, some say to celebrate the birthday of a long dead and very fat British queen. I think it’s a thinly disguised rite to welcome spring, an instinctive reaction to the return of the growing season buried deep in our pagan little souls, urban though they may be. Traditional activities include the consumption of copious amounts of beer (a case of 24 — or a “2-4”, is appropriate), and fireworks. In particular, families with small children inflict terror on small animals by gathering in the thousands at every park, school yard, and green space in the province to launch arsenals of fireworks purchased at corner stores, waving sparklers in the air like little fairy lights. Ambulance sirens scream and rush by to respond to the teenage aftermath of dumb antics with minor explosives.

If you find yourself out walking with your dog at this magic hour, as I did, hold on tight to the leash. Jake practically dragged me home, panting and straining and quivering, a wild look in his eyes. I passed a woman struggling to hold on to a bucking German Shepherd, and called out in sympathy. She said, “this is nothing, one guy had to CARRY his dog home”. I replied that I hoped it wasn’t as big as hers, and she shook her head and said, “No — bigger”. I can only imagine.

In spite of the noise and panic-stricken animals, I understand the urge to celebrate. Walking the neighbourhood streets while it was still light enough to see, I was awestruck by the lushness of it all. Just weeks ago the trees were bare, and signs of life in gardens were hard to find. Now, the expression “spring is busting out all over” doesn’t begin to describe the richness and absolute decadence of heavily treed streets and the thick canopy of leaves. I silently give thanks for the widespread conversion of front lawns to perennial gardens, which are at the height of their glory right now and close at hand to enjoy from the sidewalks. Lilac, poppies, iris, creeping flox, colour!! Colour and flowers and the thrill of green everywhere, so heavy and full you’re wrapped in it. I suppose this a good enough reason to bust out the fireworks and party.

As for the dogs, well, I suppose every good pagan ritual requires a (figurative) sacrificial creature. It’s nothing that can’t be remedied with a cookie and the morning light.

Happy spring!!

A New Adventure

I’m all packed, and ready to go. Boy, am I ready to go!! I’ve got an air mattress, a tv, my computer, and my camping gear, and the movers come tomorrow to take what remains of our belongings to my parents’ basement for storage. The apartment is bare. My grow room has been completely dismantled, the only plants left are a couple of big ones (the umbrella plant and a couple of begonias) that someone asked me for but has forgotten to pick up. My orchids are safely tucked away in Jocelyn’s greenhouse for safekeeping (thanks Jo!), except for the Miltonia clowesii x Golden Showers, which is in bloom and I couldn’t bear to part with just yet. I am now regretting that decision, realizing that it’s going to be gracing the dashboard of my car for the next six weeks.

I lost my job at the end of March, in the usual way that big corporations treat people if they think they can get away with it. I am one of several staff who had been on contract for many years, and they realized that the law was breathing down their necks and it was time to give us full-time status with benefits before they got nailed by Employment Standards. However, some of us made more money than they wanted to continue to spend, or had health problems. Their solution in my case was to dream up not particularly coherent reasons to claim that the position didn’t exist anymore, but that they were creating a “new one” that I could apply for “if you want to. But you probably won’t want to.”

After the initial shock wore off, disgust set in, and a grim recognition that yes, this is how big companies and their little people behave – I’ve seen it many, many times before. I was a little taken aback by the amateurish tack (for heaven’s sake, just cough up a settlement and let’s be done with it), but I realized they were trying to get by on the cheap, and have probably gotten away with it before, and what’s more, they needed me to set up the new position before they dumped me. Um, no. My lawyer quickly set things right with a minimum amount of fuss, and I was soon happily on my way with a fairly reasonable severance cheque.

And a decision to join Laird in Germany. We’re both enthusiastic to put an end to the repeated long separations, since his job takes him there much of the year. I’m raring to leave Toronto. I love travelling. I’m a big believer in being grateful for wonderful opportunities that come my way by grabbing them with both hands. So, I’m off. I have a high school reunion to go to in July, so I’m hanging out until then, and flying to Munich after it’s over. Until then, let the couch tour begin. I’ll be camping, visiting friends and relatives. Next weekend I’ll be up in Tobermory, at the Orchid Festival. And I’ll blog my way through it all, every chance I get.

Talk to you all very soon.

Pugnacious when riled…

Indoor garden equipment offers many multi-purpose utensils, particularly for pet owners on muddy spring days. For example, the small pruning shears are handy for excising burrs from the fur of Jake’s feathery hind quarters, and the 50ft curly hose (the one that stretches all the way outdoors onto the deck) is particularly useful when attached to the warm water faucet of the kitchen sink on a cold day. I know what you’re thinking… shame on you. I use it to spray off all the mud and gunk he picks up at the park. Otherwise, it dries and falls off him, leaving me to sweep up the sand and dirt dunes that accumulate wherever he happens to lay down — including the bed. I pray that this “Spring” thing is over soon.

The park is supposed to be a place for Jake to work off steam, and for me to relax while I obediently throw the frisbee for him. I should have known that today wouldn’t be that kind of day the moment I stepped out of the car; the field was ankle-deep in mud, and the wind was howling. It may be spring, but even bundled up in a hooded parka and winter mitts, the wind was bitterly cold. It brought new meaning to the expression, “chill out”. How on earth could the ground not be frozen in this weather?

An adolescent German Shepherd ran over to worry Jake as he fetched the frisbee, and as Jake tired I could see that the young dog was determined to beat him to it on the next toss. Willing but wary to include the dog in the game, I asked the stylish young woman who followed if her dog would bring the frisbee back if he actually got hold of it. Let me take a moment to say that I have spent many hours in parks and green spaces watching dogs bounce away with my $20 floppy frisbee and waiting while their owners chased them round and round, fruitlessly trying to get it back. My tolerance for people who let their unschooled dogs off leashes in crowded urban areas is already low, but today, it was as far below zero as the wind chill factor. It seemed a reasonable request.

The woman, who made no move to retrieve her dog and looked ready to settle in to watch her dog chase my frisbee, responded with an inane smile and an, “oh, I’m starting to teach him how to do that”. Great, I thought. I politely asked her if she would take him back to the other end of the park so that I could continue to play fetch with my dog. Her indignant and haughty response caught me off guard: “WHAT? He’ll run wherever he wants to, how do you expect me to keep him away?! You mean you want me to put him on a LEASH???”.

I was speechless (uncharacteristic, I admit), and mumbled that I would take my dog to the other end. I turned my back on her, and made my way to the other side of the (large) park with Jake. I was relieved when I spotted her walking in the opposite direction. When we were what seemed to be a safe distance away, I resumed throwing the frisbee for Jake. Within seconds the young German Shepherd was back, it’s owner a dot in the distance. I called out to her, “Yes, please put him on a leash!”. She didn’t appear to hear me as she walked closer, and I yelled louder, “I think you should put him on a leash now!”. Apparently she heard me the second time, because she had worked herself into a high dudgeon by the time she reached me. She stopped in front of me and yelled, “if you don’t want your dog mixing with other dogs don’t bring him to the park — leave him in the back yard!!”.

That did it. At this point, the only steam being worked off was coming out of my ears (like any good Canadian, I may *look* nice – and I am — but “pugnacious when riled” is my secret middle name). The woman launched into a spirited (and loud) offence, but by the time I finished verbally beating on her, she was desperate to get her dog and get away from me. The dog took her efforts to grab him as a big game and refused to be caught, giving me ample opportunity to berate her for being an irresponsible dog owner and for being “one of those people who spoil it for everyone else”. By the time I caught her dog and handed it over to her (with a final “you should be ashamed of yourself”), her humiliation was complete and she was literally in tears. I was heartless. I said, “cry all you want now, but you’ll really have something to cry about when your dog runs into the road and gets hit by a car. What were you thinking to let him off leash when he won’t even come when he’s called??”. I relented a bit, and continued a bit more gently, “There are dog obedience classes you could take at High Park”. She didn’t stick around for the details, and high-tailed it out with her unruly dog, snuffling all the way. Yeah, I’m a hard-ass. I didn’t spend a full year investing time and money training my dog to take guff from nitwits. My dog may be obedient, but dogs don’t come that way, people.

Jake and I finished our game unharassed, and made our way back to the car. It was so cold that he trailed muddy icicles from his underbelly and legs, and all that was left of them by the time we got home were black puddles all over the back seat. I hosed the rest off on the deck with warm water from the 50 foot curly hose, and once back indoors, watered the plants for good measure.

There’s nothing quite like a heated exchange on a cold afternoon.

Keeping it reel

I was very sad to see that my favourite video store, Just4View, went out of business this past week. It was a small business that has been a fixture in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood for years. The owners were a quirky couple who were very knowledgeable about their large selection of old and foreign films, and who always had a cookie or two behind the counter for visiting dogs. Jake, my border collie, was a shameless beggar; the minute we walked through the door he’d station himself in front of the counter, sitting motionless and staring at the owner in his silent but demanding way. If it was a busy night and it took too long to get service, he’d rear up on his hind legs and slam his front paws down on the counter, like a drunk pounding his fist on the bar for a drink. It never failed to produce a grin and the desired results.

In mid-December, Rogers Video moved in almost directly across the street. A big glitzy chain with lots of capital, they immediately made their mark by undercutting prices. Now that the competition has been annihilated, I have no doubt they’ll raise prices to market levels, if only to afford the legions of poorly-paid pimply part-time teenagers behind the counter. Well, I’m taking my dog in, but this time it’s gonna be his hind leg that he lifts against the counter.

Fortunately, the competitive environment is not nearly so bleak in the orchid community here in Toronto…

A crisp fall day…

It must be fall… everyone is coming down with colds and flu, like leaves falling off the trees. Including me. But it’s a crisp fall day outside, the skies leaden and heavy the way October skies often are, and the maple trees in High Park are at the peak of their radiant autumn colours of gold and red. The dog and I spent some time staring out the back window for a while, both bored, and finally his big brown eyes convinced me to to haul my butt into the car and over to the park for a short walk. I pulled out my trusty walking stick, leaning heavily on it against my various aches and pains.

We parked in front of Hawk Hill, and as I got out I noticed a group of people stationed at the top of the hill, armed with binoculars, lawn chairs, telescopes, and notepads. Curious, I approached them, and heard calls back and forth between them as they stared up at the sky.

“There’s a group of five approaching low from the northeast”

“I’ve got three up high”

“Another red-tail”

“I’ve got two more red-tails”

And so it went. I looked up, trying to figure out what they were looking at. I saw nothing, and for a fleeting moment I wondered if they were all nuts.
“Whatcha looking at?” I asked one lady as she lowered her binoculars, looking a little less certain than the rest.

“Raptors”, she said. “Hawks”

“Oh, so that’s how this hill got it’s name. Are they migrating?” I asked

She nodded. I looked up again, and after a few moments I spotted little specks moving in the sky.

“How can you tell what they are?” I asked her, bewildered.

“They’ve been doing it for years”, she replied, nodding toward the rest of the group and wearing an expression that indicated she was only slightly less bewildered than me.

I left them to their work, noting to myself that the trees weren’t the only thing contributing to the local colour.

We walked through the groves of maple and oak and the occasional red pine, and the air smelled of fallen leaves and damp earth. A few lingering crickets chirped in the background, but otherwise it was quiet and tranquil. I threw the frisbee for Jake a couple of times, and then we made our way across the street to “Dog Heaven”. There, tranquility broke into pandimonium. Running, wrestling, barking, happy dogs. Dozens and dozens of them, playing and chasing, growling and sniffing and pulling each other around at the end of long sticks. Owners gathered in packs around the picnic tables, smoking and chatting and watching, voices punctuated by the shrill call of a woman’s voice crying over and over, “Wendo, stay! Wendo stay! Wendo stay!”. Finally a man’s  voice broke over hers, “Wendo come! Wendo come! Wendo come!”. Jake looked over the scene, and looked back at me with his pink frisbee hanging from his mouth. I swear he rolled his eyes. He trotted past, ignoring all. We wandered down to the community garden, which was pretty much abandoned for the year. Tired, we both made our way back to the car, and home.

Take all my money, but leave my garden tools….

My car was broken into last night. It’s parked in a garage of sorts (cement block hut, really) in the back alley, and somebody broke through the passenger side window. Probably kids or a rubbie looking for change, which they didn’t find. They probably gave up after rooting through a bewildering array of old coffee cups, empty water bottles, wrappers, papers, and other assorted “things” that should have made it to a garbage can or recycling bin long ago. The stink of mildew and old dog must have discouraged any lengthy exploration. Anyway, Laird called me at work to break the news, he assured me that nothing was stolen, not even the old car radio and tape deck. He discovered the break-in when he got in to take said vintage 1991 car to the mechanic up the street to see about its disconcerting habit of stalling at high speeds.

I’ll be honest, my first thought was dismay. Damn! Why hadn’t I just left the door unlocked so they wouldn’t have had to break the window?? Then I realized I’d left all my garden tools in the trunk. My garden tools!!! My new fancy-dancy Telsco Weeder, the one I haven’t even tried out yet!! Laird hadn’t actually looked in the trunk (it’s a hatchback), but he assured me that no one would have stolen garden tools. I wailed anyway. Why wouldn’t a burgler want my garden tools???

He called me back later to tell me that all my tools are safe. After we spoke, he had walked over to the mechanic’s shop, in the rain, to see if they were still in the trunk.

The man is a keeper. He may not understand gardening, but he sure understands me.

Bringing the outdoors in

I’m ready for winter — bring it on. I spent the entire day, from 9 in the morning until 11:30 tonight, putting my grow room together. I covered the walls and floor with heavy-duty plastic (to help keep the humidity up and the water out of the apartment downstairs). This was no simple job; I had to pull everything out, then work around the mess with huge sheets of plastic and a staple gun. I ran out of plastic twice and had to make extra trips to the hardware store. I put up racks for mounted orchids and my big staghorn fern to hang from, and re-hung the hanging plants. Then I brought 90% of my plants indoors, arranged them, purged them of bugs, repotted some, and watered all. The humidity was up nicely at 60% to 70%. If I can keep that going all winter, I’ll have lots of flowers and new growth on my orchids this year.

I did eat — Laird lured me out for a late lunch at an Irish pub on Bloor Street. On the way out, we waded through the Harvest Festival crowds one last time, and had a close encounter with an east Asian Elvis impersonator who was crooning ballads on a portable karaoke machine almost outside our front door.

Back home, I realized that moving things indoors meant everything on the deck needed to be re-arranged. So I put myself back to work and swung the corn broom around for a while. Though a bit less “dense”, the deck still looks nice — it’s just a little more roomy. I figure there’s at least another month to six-weeks of deck weather to enjoy.

I even paid “some” attention to my african violets tonight. I watered the droopy things, and spritzed them with Neem oil and insecticidal soap. They’re looking distinctly better…. maybe I won’t throw them away after all.
Yeah right.