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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Flutter Bye Free (and Other Stuff)

Wow! There are tons of ways to get involved in creative writing out there and I’ve just scratched the surface. Having the Internet at my fingertips has made all the difference in exploring opportunities. In a matter of a few weeks I am now receiving information on tips and workshops and competitions and linking to others who are on similar journeys and that is all very exciting.

Last night I received a tweet on my feed about a 200-word fiction competition and so I sat down and “penned” something for it. I have no expectations of winning. What I love is the challenge. It’s a bit like school without much of the associated tedium.

I enjoy being given a task- this was to write a story about alienation or quest for belonging – and then trying to write for it. Taking part in challenges like that can only help strengthen my writing skills and stretch my brain in creative ways.

I made myself laugh with the story I wrote for that competition and it ended up having a butterfly in it too, which reminds me I should update what has happened with the butterfly I discovered yesterday!

The Butterfly Finale

I woke this morning to bright sunshine pouring in my windows and the butterfly flapping away in the jar even in its relative dark spot on my closet shelf. I realized that human intervention was going to be the death of the poor thing whether I tried to help it or let nature take its course. Its fate was predetermined by human intervention in the first place when it wedged itself into my window frame last autumn.

In the end, I decided it would be better for a wild creature to have an hour of fresh air and freedom, flying in the sun and surrounded by wilderness smells than to be cooped up in a jar for several more weeks in hopes of staying alive until spring arrives.

For the morning, because it was bitterly cold with the winter wind yet, I set it loose in a spare bedroom with the door closed.

Butterfly in March

At half past noon, while home for lunch, I set the jar on a pine-needled snow bank but it sucked its wings up tight together and started vibrating. It wouldn’t budge.

Butterfly Brrrrr

So then I second guessed myself and took it back indoors and set the jar in a sunny window where upon it began flapping around frantic again. So, with momentum on our side, I stepped out into the yard and peeled the lid off the jar and the butterfly shot straight up like a rocket into the blue, blue sky, then soared sideways on the arc of a wind stream and flitted high into a stand of trees before I lost sight of it.

I wished it well and a bit of joy for the time it had left. It was definitely the right thing to do. I smiled to see it fly away free.

Blue Skies, Away!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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Butterfly Magic

I’ve experienced a miracle this afternoon.

The story begins a few weeks ago on an unseasonably warm winter day. Those are awesome days and perfect times to throw open all of the windows and air out the stale smells that accumulate from October through February.

When I opened my bedroom window there was a startling flutter and I looked down to see a butterfly wedged in the window frame. I quickly realized that it was dead and the dried wings simply moved as the tension of the closed window relaxed and air rushed past. I tried to blow it off but it was stuck, maybe half frozen there.

It upset me a bit to have to wedge the body back in tight with the window later that day. I knew it was dead but still sad to see a beautiful butterfly squished.

Today, March 24, was the first warm spring day we’ve had since then. I ran around opening windows again and the same thing happened only this time, when I popped the tension on the bedroom window the butterfly really did spring to life and flit and flutter against the screen before sailing off like a leaf, spiraling downward and landing softly on the tip of a pine tree branch.

Stunned, I allowed the realization that it was actually alive and had been this whole time sink in as I watched it perching on the branch in the front yard. Then I panicked. There’s three feet of snow on the ground and it was already after 5 pm. The sun would set soon and the butterfly would freeze to death for certain.

I ran downstairs and threw on my boots and dashed out the back yard and around to the front. I haven’t been maintaining the front walk this winter so the snow was well over my boot tops as I trudged through to the tree I saw the butterfly land in.

I couldn’t see it. I scanned all around the white expanse of my yard thinking it had to be close by, maybe already freezing in the shade that falls on that side of the house first. I crouched down at the base of the tree where there was some exposed ground and after looking inch by inch closely at the pine cones and rust-coloured needles, spied it, wings tight together and vibrating. It was sitting on a little pile of snow crystals among the dirt. I reached in and easily palmed it and then cupped both hands around it gently making a bubble and started back for the house.

I could feel it come to life in the warmth of my hands and by the time I got in the house it was batting madly trying to get free. I put it in a bowl with a glass lid and it is lovely. It has orange splashes and several degrees of brown on it’s wings and as soon as I set it in the sun it spread them wide and slowly fanned them up and down. I can only imagine how good it must feel to spread your wings after having been sandwiched in a window all winter long.

And for me… ohhhh to see such vivid colour on a living, breathing creature after these long, silent, dark months of winter. Wonderous! I kept my eye out for creepy crawlies this afternoon as I sat in a lawn chair in a little snow-cleared patch of my back yard while the dogs played but nothing moved. This butterfly is a feast for the senses!

But how has it survived? We’ve had a cold winter this year and a long winter. It was between the plastic frame and the elements that sat at minus 40 often over the last few months and usually around minus 20 or so. How have its wings, so delicate that I didn’t want to touch them as I scooped it gingerly into my palm under the tree so as not to injure the fine hairs on them, survived temperatures so cold it cracked two plastic shovels in my yard this winter?

I’m amazed. And now I’m worried that I may be killing it with kindness. Is it better to try and save it in an ice-cream pail until real spring arrives so it can emerge into the light as it probably would have if I hadn’t opened the window today? Or, is it better to let it fly free and survive only an hour before succumbing to the cold for ever?

Human intervention. So often we mean well and still screw it up for nature.

Somehow it has survived without light or food or water or room to stretch its wings all these months and so I am inclined to keep it in the pail with air holes in semi-darkness  and see if it will stay put until the snow is gone and some green returns to the woods around us.

Only now that it has had a taste of freedom, it is frantically flying about in the pail and I’m sad to have confused it.

UPDATE !

I decided to see if it had settled down and maybe I could get a photo for this post and it’s good that I did. It was lying lifeless on its side at the bottom of the pail. I opened the lid and it had spilled the shallow plastic lid of water that I’d set inside. Drowning in a millimeter of water! I’m such a loser.

I dumped the whole thing into the bathroom sink and it didn’t move. I nudged it upright and just like before, the wings began to vibrate in spite of being soaking wet.  Poor thing. What a day.

I set the pail upside down over top of it and went for a new, smaller container and by the time I got back to the bathroom it was flying around inside the pail. It was tricky moving it from there to the new container.

Now it is snuggled into an icing jar with air holes, NO water and not enough room to harm itself … I think! Back into darkness on my clothes closet shelf and safe from cats … I think.

Nature never ceases to amaze me. I love when stuff like this happens and I thought it was worth sharing.

 

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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Wolf Wake-up Call

Wednesday morning I was up and out the door early, just after 6 am. The sky to the east was that pre-dawn bluey-green hue and as soon as I shut the house door I noticed the crisp winter air was filled with howling.

There are a few wolf packs in the area where I live and one close by that is very active. This time of year they are mating and people have spotted scat, tracks and kill sites from their hunts all over the ski trail.

All the same, I hadn’t heard wolves all winter which I found quite distressing. Last winter I could hear them nearly once a week when simply out with my dogs for their last pee in the backyard before bedtime. I associate howling with night time and star-lit skies.

It made that morning howl special, as if hearing a long-lost friend calling out from the woods. I wanted to sing back encouragement, “Here! I’m over herrrrrrrrrrre. Yes, I can hear you. You’re getting close.”

Their morning song was also quite different to my ear than the night sounds I’ve heard them make in the past. I’ve heard wolves hunting- the thrash of elk hooves stampeding across the golf course followed by various wolf calls as the pack communicated with one another during the pursuit until the dying wails of an elk pierced the night air followed by the celebratory kill howl of the pack that wrapped up the event.

That chilled me. Would the wolves go hungry or would a frightened elk meet its end? The hunt was as awful as it was natural and necessary and I felt compelled to witness its outcome standing alone in the dark of my yard.

You can’t measure nature in win-loss scores. Nature stands alone and it is unfair to attach any sort of good vs. evil or concepts of fairness and justice to the unfolding of a natural world. There is suffering. As humans, especially in “developed” countries, we don’t accept suffering as a natural state in our lives. We fight its every uncomfortable instance with medications, alcohol, therapy, denial … but in the wilderness, well…

I can remember thinking of the elk, “Oh please just die now. Let it be quick. Just go.” And then the wolves howled their success to the moon and at least on that one night their bellies were full and their pups offered a further chance at survival. And I just hoped it had been a bull elk and not a cow leaving a calf orphaned.

The morning song I heard this week was soulful; completely different than the hunt. Like long drawn out stretching and yawning. “Good morrrrrrrrning. Good morrrrrrrrrrrning,” they seemed to be greeting one another and the world gently. Perhaps like most of us they were not quite ready to wake and move on from their warm nesting spots of the night before and into the cold winter day full of activity and chores.

I stood in the yard and closed my eyes and let the sound fill me up. When they had fallen silent again, I hopped in my vehicle and hit the highway feeling incredibly fortunate that this is where I get to live and that hearing wolves calling is a gift I can count on with some regularity.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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Learn Something Would Ya

I read The Walrus magazine and the writing is very intelligent which makes me feel dumb but getting smarter because I’m usually not finished reading one issue before the next one arrives in my mail box. I like the challenge their articles give my brain. It’s a workout for sure.

Anyhoo, there was an ad in the latest issue for literary arts workshops, courses etc in Banff, Alberta. I allowed myself to read all about what the course (Wired Writing) entailed before looking at the fees and eligibility criteria.  Gotta dream before you can make something a reality, right?

So it won’t be this year that I apply but that’s not to say that a year from now I won’t! It looks great- 20 weeks of mentoring by an author and peer mentoring within the group of writers. Of course two of those weeks are spent right in Banff which couldn’t hurt and certainly wouldn’t uninspire a person!

My work is sending me on a half day course all to do with social media. The individual speaker topics don’t sound amazing but I hope to glean something from the day and meet some interesting people AND

apparently we are getting a summer student to help with all things multi-media. I’m really looking forward to picking the brain of a 19-24-year-old who uses this stuff like it was a third arm. I wish using technology and social media came naturally to me but more often than not, I feel like I’m lost in the translation of a new language and never quitttttttttte getting it right. But I want to get it right so keep trying, I will. (That last sentence is dedicated to Yoda.)

I’ve noticed that a few universities now offer certificates and courses in social media use and why did no one ever tell me that a person could get a degree in creative writing? What the hell!!!!

University was a serious struggle for me. Thesis what? Bibli O’Graphy, huh?

I studied cultural anthropology and had taken a course on economic structures and culture or something of that sort and we had to compare two different systems and stake some claim as to which was better or I don’t know. Look at me I still can’t really explain it plainly, but what I could do and did do, which got me a flying failure of a mark, was to write a short story about how the USA took over Canada without firing a single gun because they took us over economically and pop culturally through the use of one of those systems and the reason we lost was because we were using the other system.

I thought I did a bang up job of illustrating the two systems.

The prof did not.

My favourite professor from my cultural anthropology degree hired a couple of us students to help pack up her house when she retired at the end of my fourth year, well technically I guess it was my fifth year in, (ARG the drudgery!) but anyway …

she said to me,

“You never did learn how to write a proper paper, but you were never afraid to ask the hard questions.”

I don’t believe I ever earned anything better than a C in her classes but I was so dang proud when she told me that. She said she would be using my mediocre papers as part of her research as she wrote a book in retirement about how her students’ views of western intervention in developing nations over her decades of teaching in universities had changed.

And, I suppose if I’d have really heard her back then, I’d have signed up for journalism right away instead of waiting another 10 years. It’s not being afraid to ask tough questions that can be important in that field and was, in the end, the field of study that landed me on the dean’s and president’s honour rolls. At least I did something right in the end.

I think what I’ve come to learn to love is that there are many different writing styles and voices and I like that I am beginning to be proficient at several of them. Never the uniworsity paper, perhaps, but maybe I’ll still land the social media, children’s author, novelist voices in this lifetime.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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Flirting with the Bison

Bison bison bison”     The genus is so spectacular and so acutely aware that they are spectacular and due some adulation that you must repeat their name three times while clicking your hiking boot heels together or risk being charged.

I just returned from another trip to Elk Island National Park and the plains bison were everywhere! The snow is beginning to melt in the meadows and along the roadways so the herds are moving in. I had to dodge frozen poop rocks on the road. Actually dangerous to the windshield of the unsuspecting driver behind you, it would be like running over and kicking up an apple-sized rock behind your vehicle.

Bison are a strange but magical beast. I don’t think you can help but fall in love with them. When watching them walk, I wonder how their legs can hold up their large bodies. It’s only when you see them airborne, moving from saunter to sprint in two gallops that you realize they are in fact built for running and speed. Masses of muscle and large head on short stick legs, tails raised and all four hooves off the ground, they literally float at mach speeds. They are magnificent.

Wasstrom's Flats and Elk Island 155

I think I’d rather go up against a black bear in the wild to be honest. There are no two ways about it. The bison are wild and they can be aggressive if surprised or provoked and during the rut or when cows have new calves. And by the time it would occur to you that you should have been running for your life, chances are you’d already have been flattened. They’re that fast and agile. Go ahead and zig. Just try to zag. It’s not going to make a difference!

Yesterday after lunch, I headed out for a stroll in the sunshine and nearly tripped over a bull.

How?

I know that’s what you’re asking. If they’re so ginormous, how could a person trip over one?

They are silent. They lie in the snow or on the grass under a tree like boulders, perfectly still. I was meandering on the path oblivious when the bull jumped to its feet, facing me head on and flicking its tongue about.

I held my ground, about 30 feet away and marvelled. I tried to send a message of calm and non-aggression and after a good look, left him alone. I looked for him at the end of the day again and he had travelled only a few more feet to sit and sun his back on a ridge overlooking a frozen lake. Out of respect, I stayed further away and let him have his sunny spring moment before sunset.

Now, I would say that most Canadians identify with the plains bison – Bison bison bison- but in Elk Island there are also wood bison – Bison bison athabascae. They are about 15-20% larger than a plains bison with a pointy vs. rounded hump and a few other differentiations. They make me think of the leggy runway model version whereas the stocky plains bison is the friend you call when you need help moving houses. Apparently the park weighed in a wood bison bull a couple of weeks ago that was 2,700 lbs. I’m not sure if I would have been able to touch the top of its back if standing beside it on the ground. Can you imagine?!

I saw three moose on the trip as well, elk and a porcupine. I’ve mentioned before that the moose has always been my favourite animal, but once again, it felt like I was flirting dangerously with the bison as it attempted to stampede its way into my heart aiming for first place.

Wasstrom's Flats and Elk Island 160        Wasstrom's Flats and Elk Island 165

The bison is everything the moose is not- stoic, charming, old-soul emanating from it, powerful, social and intelligent. Moose are goofy looking, goofy acting and I’m not so sure very smart but awesome in deep snow. The moose is kind of like your best friend from junior high, still gangly and awkward after all these years.

Have I moved on? I’m not ready to let go of the moose just yet, but I can’t deny that Bison bison bison has my attention, or that my heart doesn’t do a little flip each time I see one.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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Great Dane, Great Love

buddies 005

He needed a foster home. I wasn’t really set up for it, living in a rented basement bachelor suite with a Great Dane and two cats, but he needed a safe haven. Those are hard to come by in small, remote, northern Canadian towns that are overrun with hungry stray dogs and where the local rescue agency volunteers’ homes are continually filled to the rafters with pups and cats. I called the rescue agency and let them know that I’d found him and that I’d hang onto the little guy until they had room.

His coat was brown and scruffy and a fat belly protruded around skinny legs. I’d later learn that was because he was full of worms, but initially, I looked at him and thought that with an orange sweater on he’d look just like the A&W Root Bear. I christened him Rooty Root Bear.

My Great Dane, Piper, was just shy of her first birthday when I brought Rooty Root Bear home. I had adopted her as a puppy from a humane society in British Columbia before moving back to Saskatchewan. When I showed her Rooty, she acted as if I’d brought her a new teddy bear. She loved him up and laid on the ground so he could romp all over her, acting tough and chewing on her cheeks and ears.

Volleyball tournie 015      Volleyball tournie 016

Volleyball tournie 018

It was a couple of days before one of the rescue volunteers could meet up with me at the local youth centre to check the puppy out and give him his first set of vaccinations. The first thing she diagnosed was lice. It was all I could do not to vomit on the spot once she showed them to me in the thick of his coat crawling about. If he wasn’t so dang cute, I’m not sure I would have taken him back home with me that night. There still wasn’t any room for him within the rescue shelter homes so back I trodded with Rooty Root Bear under one arm and a bottle of delousing shampoo in the other.

I bathed Rooty, the wee guy, in the kitchen sink and then bleached it. I trashed the floor rugs and started washing the dog beds. But how to bathe Piper? A Great Dane and late autumn. Too cold to wash her under the garden hose.

The bachelor suite had only a mini shower stall. Lift your arms to scrub the shampoo on your head and you’d take the skin off your elbows. It was so tight. There was only one way about it. I stripped down to my underwear, got in with her and shut the door. Every time I turned her to scrub another spot her nose went squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeak as it smeared across the plexiglass and made me laugh. The situation was so absurd.

Piper turned one. I bought party hats.

Piper's First Birthday 004

It lasted a whole 30 seconds before Rooty Root Bear ripped it off Piper’s head. I put another on her head and then strapped one onto Rooty which he pulled over his face and proceeded to attack.

Piper's First Birthday 008

Piper's First Birthday 012      Piper's First Birthday 009

Piper's First Birthday 013

Rooty Root Bear was a lovely little guy and he mimicked everything his big buddy Piper did. He didn’t have accidents in the house because he went outside just like her. He quit crying at night in his kennel because she put her nose to him at the kennel door and calmed him.  He learned to climb the stairs one by one because he wanted to follow her up and outside. He learned to wait patiently for his food because Piper sat and waited for hers.

I thought about keeping him. I really did. They got along so well and the cats accepted Rooty too

Theodore and Jack 2013

but, I realized, in the town that was my new home there was an ongoing need for short-term crisis housing for strays and I couldn’t keep him and continue to help other needy animals. I sent Rooty south to a long-term foster home in Saskatoon where he was quickly adopted by a loving couple with a young German shepherd who needed a friend. And Piper and I went on to foster several more pups and an adult dog. Always the friend, the social butterfly, the one to calm and play with and cuddle too, Piper has been a fantastic friend to many frightened, lonely, scared, sick dogs in her first three years of life. She is truly a Great Dane with a Great Heart and a lot of Love to share.

Olson play 017      Joe 008

Pup-pup 097

And when I was in my new house with a big back yard… I caved in and kept two of the fosters so now Piper, 4,  has a pack to belong to and she’s never short on someone to play or cuddle with.

Charlie and True.

Summer 2010 040      Autumn2010 020

True 2011 025     True 2011 034

Autumn2010 025 And Piper too!

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2013 in PonderQs

 

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Strange Things Happen

Narrows March2011 001

My guard goes up when the wind blows coldly from the east, from the east

Strange things happen when it whips up wildly; uncommon, unsettling

Strange things happen when the east wind rips across your face like cutting ice.

 

Feathers of a dead bird blowing across the snow, across the snow

Like grains of sand blowing roughly over empty streets; pebbly white noise

Like grains of sand in a cowboy western, snow swirls in the empty street.

 

Tuck in. Hunker down.

Don’t be wooed by the sunset to the west.

Strange things happen when the wind blows coldly from the east, from the east.

Late Fall 2012 097

Today there was a biting wind out of the east. The wind doesn’t often come from that direction and when it does it can bring terrible weather that wreaks havoc. There were bird feathers blowing down the street one by one mixed into grains of snow – something got eaten by a fox or owl…

I believe east winds are suspect because my many years of paddling and guiding in the backcountry have taught me to be wary of east winds. And now it’s just a body thing. I came out of work at noon to walk home and the wind smacked me hard in the face and I had an instant reaction. A batten down the hatches reaction.

Nothing bad happened so obviously bad stuff doesn’t always happen with east winds but my bones believe all heck may break loose. It’s hard to ignore that sensation. The creepy, watch for lightening strikes in summer and blizzards in winter sensation.

Late Fall 2012 085

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in PonderQs

 
 
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