Saturday, June 30, 2007


At the market
Carrots with their tops on
Peas with their pods on,
Vendors with their smiles on
Selling expensive mushrooms.

At the market
Marigolds and marjoram
Sage and thyme and tiger lilies
Coleus and columbine
Guarantied to grow.

At the market
Syrup made from saskatoons
Jam made from blackberries
Relish made from red tomatoes
Bread from rye and something else
Natural and healthy.

At the market
Saxophone is giving a concert
Country singer singing the blues
Children’s choir on the loud speaker
Neighbours talking over it.

At the market
Sunny days and hot dogs
Coffee bar and seafood
Sausage man and hemp shirts
City streets transformed by magic
The gift of summer at the market.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I like peonies. I like the deep red ones that were in the back flowerbed when we bought the house. We wanted them in the front flowerbed, so we moved the plant. But we must have missed a little root, for now there is one at the back, and one at the front. We are keeping both. I like peonies.

I like the pink ones. We first got a root from John and Marie and planted it in our first Edmonton house. Then we started it again in the second Edmonton house. Now, in their fifth summer at the third Edmonton house, the pink peonies are smelling like Heaven and taking up more space than we gave them. They are growing through the railing on to the front steps. But we won’t cut them back yet. I like peonies.

I like the white ones. We first got the root from Peter and Marilyn. I was so impressed because they were standing up brave and straight, strong and luscious, smelling wonderful! We brought a piece of the root when we moved from our second Edmonton house. The flowers are standing brave and tall between the lilies. They are shading some lilies, maybe a little too much. Maybe we will move the lilies. I like the lilies, but I really like the peonies.

My father likes peonies. Two colours of them were standing in a vase on his kitchen table when we visited last weekend. “I thought I should pick them,” he said. “There are so many out there, so I took some to Nancy at the post office and Sandra at the farm.” I never knew he cared about peonies.

Mom used to grow the peonies. They would bloom in the yard on the farm in June. If there was a wedding or a spring tea she would arrange them in lavish bunches, garnished with leaves.

Sandra likes peonies. There are several colours in her garden, and there were more on her kitchen table, the earlier ones that Dad brought before hers came out.

It’s a thing in my family I guess—liking peonies.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Several weeks have passed since I first tried to email a fan letter to Elizabeth Ellis. It is not something I normally do, sending fan mail. People worthy of fan mail get a lot of it, I hear. I hate the thought of taking up their time having to reply to me. But I had made a New Year’s resolution to contact people who wouldn’t expect to hear from me. I had not been thinking of contacting people I have never met. Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should make an exception in this case.

Elizabeth Ellis is a Texas storyteller, one who turns pain into laughter, just my cup of tea. David discovered her at a conference in 2004. I didn’t hear her tell a story until last fall when we went to the Jonesboro Festival. Once she got on to my radar, I followed her shamelessly from tent to tent for the whole week end, listening with all my senses to a huge repertoire of stories, short, medium and long. She never knew I was there. In tents that hold more than a thousand people you don’t exactly notice every stranger.

You can influence someone and never know you had. After that weekend I would imagine her pitch and rhythm, matching my voice to hers every time I stood before an audience to start a story. I thought of all the plants that draw sustenance by attaching themselves to living trees. It seemed unethical that she should have a parasite and not know it.

So I went to her website and launched a fan letter into cyberspace. It was returned. Undeliverable mail,” is what the message said. I patted myself on the back for trying, and settled down to live my life. But in the quiet moments when my mind wandered, it wandered back to that undelivered letter and tried to make improvements.

I went back to her website and tried again. The machinations of cyberspace are always unpredictable. But the second letter came back, same as the first. I vowed to definitely get on with my life.

It didn’t work. More revisions came into my head when I was trying to compose a grocery list. So I returned to that website, passed through the main page, and into the murky interior where I pressed another button and got a different email address. That one worked. She got my letter. She was pleased. She wrote back to me the very next day. She said she hardly ever gets fan mail.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


We went to Hamilton Ontario expecting to find McMaster University and maybe a steel mill or two. We definitely did not expect to find a castle. But there it was, a real castle, Dundurn Castle, built for Sir Allan McNab in the 1830’s. In the castle there is a schoolroom, the place where the McNab children were educated. And lucky for us that they were educated, because young Sophia McNab kept a diary.

Sophia’s diary recorded information about daily life at the castle. Today that diary is perhaps the most influential document used by the guides who recreate the castle’s history for the tourists. They know which rooms were used for what purpose.

Doesn’t it make you just want to keep a diary, something to ensure that the record is accurate, a reference book for the tour guides in the unlikely event that your house is still standing 180 years from now?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I almost found out how nuns live, something I have always wondered about. I never quite believed it was exactly like it is in Sister Act and Sound Of Music. And I really was curious about it, still am.

I probably would have found out. I was sitting right next to a nun on a flight from Edmonton to Hamilton. There was plenty of time to ask questions, only I didn’t know she was a nun. She seemed like an ordinary person reading a book. I was reading too.

The weather was bad on the way toward the ground, bad enough that even the most private traveler could not fully pretend to be reading a book. When we had landed safely, and the thundering applause of the passengers had faded away, leaving us only the sound of the giggling children, we began a little conversation, the kind of grateful chatter you undertake on such celebratory occasions. She observed that the children thought the bumps were included at the end of the ride as part of the price of admission. I asked a few questions, and learned she had been visiting a sister in Alberta. I assumed she meant a sibling.

Instead of racing off the plane, we stayed in the cabin, lightning flashing, hale pelting. When we had been there half an hour, and the stewardesses had given up trying to keep us from going to the bathroom, my seatmate got out a cell phone and made a call.

“Sister Anne,’ she said, “This is Sister Mary. I’m in Hamilton. Sister Joan is supposed to pick me up here, so if she calls can you let her know I’m here, but we can’t get off the plane until the storm passes.”

The voice of adventure spoke to me. This is your chance, it said. This is perhaps the only time you will ever be fully free to learn about the life of a nun by asking simple questions. But the voice of propriety spoke louder. It is rude to listen to telephone conversations, she said. It is even more rude to ask questions about the things you overheard while listening in on telephone conversations.

I went back to reading, vigorous reading, the kind of vigorous reading that inspires curiosity in others. I was reading Braille, as I so often do on planes. I had already finished the book I had brought, but I was hoping my reading, and our new friendliness would give her the courage to ask me a question about the Braille. So many other strangers have sat beside me over the years, waiting for the right moment to ask about my book. They say, "Is that Braille you are reading? Or, "Are those just letters or do some of the dots mean actual words?”

If only she would ask, then I would get a turn to ask. Just what I would ask I did not know, but I was sure I would think of something. Maybe I would start with, “I just couldn’t help but overhear your conversation in this small space, and there are some things I have always wanted to know.”

If she would just ask, then I would ask. But she didn’t ask. Maybe she already asked some other blind traveler about Braille. Maybe she’s a Braille teacher. Maybe she is simply too well mannered to intrude on the reading privacy of strangers. Maybe she isn’t even a curious person, not even a little bit curious, though I doubt that. Whatever the reason, she didn’t ask, and so I didn’t ask, and now I don’t know, which is too bad because I really wanted to know how nuns live in the 21st century.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


“What do you hope for Murray?” I asked
“I hope to have sex again,” he said. Murray was seventy-five.
“What do you hope for, Olga?” I asked.
“I hope they won’t bring me tuna sandwiches again,” she said. “I am allergic to tuna.” Olga was eighty-nine.
“What do you hope for, Doug?” I asked.
“I hope for complete nuclear disarmament,” said Doug. Doug was seventy-eight.
“What do you hope for, Vera?” I asked.
“I don’t hope,” said Vera. “I just take care of my husband.” Vera was eighty-four.
“What do you hope for, Robert,” I asked.
“I hope people will enjoy reading my poetry,” said Robert. Robert was ninety-three.
“What do you hope for, Jenny?” I asked.
“I hope to die soon,” said Jenny. Jenny was seventy-one.
“What do you hope for, Ruth?” I asked.
“I hope they have chocolate for dessert,” said Ruth. Ruth was eighty-seven.

“What do you hope for, Granny?” I asked.
But wait a minute. Let’s tell the truth here. I didn’t ask that. Granny died ten years before I learned to ask old people what they hope for. And that MIGHT BE THE REASON why, on the night after the fair, Granny called me to say “I waited all day for somebody to come and take me to the fair, but nobody came.”

And I learned to ask people what they hope for, even when they are old.

Monday, June 04, 2007



In any life there are hope moments, moments that count in the big picture, moments that make a lasting difference. Sometimes we recognize them when they happen. At other times the recognition comes years later.
One of my hope moments happened when our son was four years old. It was a hot and dusty day. The temperature in the old Volvo must have been near the boiling point. We were making a visit to the foster parents who had delivered him to us just prior to his first birthday. We had done our best to keep them alive in his memory, selecting a prominent backyard location for the tree they gave him, telling him stories of how good they were to him. Still, you really don’t remember much of the first four years of your liefe.

This was the first time he would return to their home.
We were only a few miles away from our destination when he said a word that sounded like: “Bird.” We looked around but nobody saw a bird. He kept on saying: “Bird!” We kept on looking. Soon we were all impatient, wanting to change the subject. With tension mounting, we were relieved when the house came into view.
In only a moment we were out of the car and at the front door. And what did we find just beyond the door sill? Well, you may already have guessed it. It was a bird, a brightly-coloured, chirping, singing, calling bird. His foster mother, smiling with delight said, “That bird remembers you. Your playpen used to sit right here.”

We were dumbfounded. For he, a boy who had left this house before his first birthday, remembered the bird. It was a time of surprise, a moment that brought into question all my beliefs and assumptions about memory. It was a time when I realized that the world might just be amore mysterious and interesting place than I had thought.

Since that day I’ve been a little more conscientious, tried to be a little more informative when talking to babies. They just might remember something I said.