Dydd Dewi Sant Hapus

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Dydd Dewi Sant Hapus
Happy St. David’s Day

March the First, St. David’s Day:  and here, in Island View, the snow accumulates and I can hardly see the trees at the bottom of the garden. A squirrel gnaws at the sunflower seeds put out by my beloved on the step by the sliding window so that Princess Squiffy, the house cat, can have her morning cartoon show, her Squiff and Squirrel, through the glass of the sliding door. Nose to nose, cat and squirrel, separated only by a thin layer of glass, stare at each other, like Roman gladiators.

Temperatures are still low and snow continues to fall. Softly, gently, it fills the hoof prints left in the old snow by the hungry deer who come each night to empty the bird feeders.  Gone, all gone, everything that squirrel and bird have left behind. Seven deer visit us. They troop through the garden every night, moving from tree line to feeder along regular pathways trodden down by their hooves. Sometimes I see them, in the middle of the night. They cast eerie shadows beneath the moon and startle if I move too fast and they spy me at a window. If I am quiet, I see their delicate muzzles, their long black tongues reaching out to lap up the precious seeds that will keep them going through this long, hard Canadian winter, a winter made even harder this year with its incredible changes, its highs and lows, its rains and snows, its fogs and thaws, its icy rain, then plummeting temperatures with black ice threatening again and again.

St. David’s Day/ Dydd Dewi Sant. In Cardiff / Caer Dydd, the daffodils blow their trumpets beneath already flourishing trees. The Feeder Brook, aka the Black Weir,  flows steadily through Blackweir Gardens to join the Taff  and the Taff runs out to join the Severn, and the Severn flows out into the Irish Sea, and that joins the Atlantic, and the Atlantic flows into the Bay of Fundy, and the River St. John flows past the end of my road to eventually join the Bay of Fundy and then the Atlantic Ocean, and now, on St. David’s Day, we hold hands in a great North Atlantic Wave and we are all united, from snowy sea to shiny sea.

My day-dreams carry me back to Cymru / Wales, that land of song where the wind conducts the daffodils and their pale, brass voices are raised in a hymn of hope that all will be well, that their spring, that was once my spring, will join this spring, that is now my spring, and that sunshine and flowers will triumph and that brighter days will soon return …

Not that these days aren’t bright. A new snake skin of snow covers the ground and the old, sloughed skin gradually disappears as a blank, fresh page invites new footprints.  A new month, a new page, a new beginning.  The signatures of crow and squirrel, Blue Jay and Chickadee, cat and dog appear as if by magic in the garden’s autograph album. A mysterious finger traces those special words Dydd Dewi Sant Hapus / Happy St. David’s Day and the snow continues falling, blanking out all memories from my old man’s mind.

Okay

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Okay

So, I felt sorry for the squirrel, I admit that. But I didn’t bring him into the house. Nor did I open the door and let him in. Honest. Maybe it was the cat. She’s been watching him all day. Yes, that’s it. It was the cat. She saw him out there in the cold, felt sorry for him, slipped open the screen door and let him in. I could believe that. But no, I don’t know how those nutshells got there. Of course it wasn’t me. You know I’m allergic to nuts and no, that wasn’t me sneezing. It must have been the cat. Or the squirrel. Have you looked for him? I bet she’s round here somewhere. Why are you always blaming me for everything?

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Evidence? I don’t call that evidence? What are you accusing me of anyway? And no, I didn’t leave that tiny crust of bread in the nut pile. Must have been the squirrel. You know I like bread. Squirrels don’t like bread. I bet she left it there. Or the cat. What do you mean: it couldn’t have been the cat? How do you know she didn’t jump up on the counter and eat all those nuts? You’re just guessing and you want me to look bad. She does jump up on things, I’ve seen her do it. She’s always good when you’re around.  She’s not so good when I’m here on my own. That’s why I call her Vomit. I know she doesn’t throw up on your chair, but she throws up on mine. I bet she organized all this, just so I would get the blame.

What do you mean, you’ve left it up to the jury? What jury? You’re no taking me to court for this. Are you? Seriously? I can’t believe you’d find a jury willing to convict me on the suspicion that it might have been me, not on the sort of circumstantial evidence you’re presenting in those photos. And no, I’m not doing lie-detectors or DNA. The jury’s out there now? I don’t believe you. You can’t bring a jury home, to this house, to convict me of the crime of eating your pistachios. Can you? What do you mean: look out of the window? Oh no! You can’t be serious.

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Squirrel

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Squirrel

He’s here for the food on the picnic table, of course. He’s been here before, even in bad weather, and he knows where the treasure is: buried beneath the snow. I can’t believe he’s out in this. He should be in some little squirrel cave, tucked in, nice and warm. One of my best friends told me he was going to drive to Halifax today. What drives people out on a day like today when the snow is deep and still accumulating, when visibility is such that I can hardly see beyond the trees at the edge of the garden, when more snow, higher winds, drifting snow, and blizzard conditions are all around us. There is also the possibility of ice pellets and freezing rain when the snow finishes. “Stay home, little squirrel, stay home,” I told him. “It’s not a good day for travelling. I can hardly see the road through the falling snow.”

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Squirrels are tough, though. They must have Welsh blood in them the way they tunnel and dig. Unsnubbable on the trail of some winter seed and totally defiant against wind and weather. “Did you see him?” my beloved called out. “See who?” I asked, clicking away busily with my Christmas camera. “The squirrel,” she said. “You should take a picture.” So I did. And another and another. I caught him first head down, back towards me, guzzling, deep within his snow cave.

 

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He reminded me of Lorca’s roosters: “Los picos de los gallos cavan en busca de la aurora / the roosters’ beaks dig in search of the dawn.” I wanted him to come out and look at me, to show me what he had found. I didn’t have to wait for long. Then it was in (click) and out (click). What a cheeky chappy.

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I wonder why I always call this squirrel ‘him’. Maybe I never learned enough about the birds and the bees when I was a child. I find it hard to tell the difference between the genders of animals unless they have antlers (male) or, like the birds, they have distinctive plumage. Then it is much easier for me to tell them apart. I had a tortoise once, back home in Wales. I called him Henry, don’t ask me why. It took me two years to find out that Henry was actually Henrietta.  I guess I was slow on the uptake. Dai Bungalow: not much in the top storey. Or should that be story? There, I’ve looked it up:  storey in the Oxford Dictionary’s English English, but story in Webster’s American English. Oh dear, there are some things I still have to look up.

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So there he is, Mr. Squirrel, perched on the balustrade, about to make his final farewell. Fare well, Mr. Squirrel. Come back soon. I am so glad you didn’t decide to drive to Halifax.

 

 

Cat & Janies

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Cat & Janies

Everybody needs a cat to keep them honest. Dogs are cynics. Cats, on the other paw, are born manipulators. Princess Squiffy, seen here, is intent on the red squirrel that is eating seed just to the left, outside of the picture. PS is trying to hypnotize it, draw it close. If it comes near she will pounce and scare the ‘bejabers’ out of the poor squirrel.

Behind the cat are three blossoms from Clare’s geranium collection. Clare salvages the best geraniums each fall, re-pots them, and keeps them indoors throughout the winter. They bring us joy and color whenever they blossom and are as bright as male cardinals against the snow. We have a pair of cardinals who visit regularly, but hungry, prowling neighborhood pussy cats are often on patrol, so the cardinals are very wary and do not hang around for long. I can’t say I blame them. I don’t mind the blood red reflection of the geraniums on the snow. I am adverse to the blood-red of real blood.

Speaking of which, as I grow old and my skin becomes drier and more like parchment, I find I cut myself much more easily than I used to. This morning I pumped gas into the car. The air was cold, my hands were cold, my skin was taut. I noticed nothing until I got inside the gas station to pay. I had blood all over my hands from a half-inch crack in the skin of my right index finger. I do not know how it happened. But there it was. The young girl in the gas station was excellent and cleaned and patched me up in no time at all. She was very nice to me. I felt lucky. So I bought three lottery tickets. Within five days we’ll find out whether I was lucky or not.

It’s wonderful to be around young people. So much bounce, so much energy. So much joie de vivre. Mind you, our granddaughter wears us out in no time at all. I guess I’ve earned peace, rest, comfort, and relatively easy living in my retirement, mon âge d’or, just like Princess Squiffy. She’s a house cat, incidentally. She can look at that bountiful banquet of squirrel and bird, but she cannot reach out and touch. She can merely make the window rattle as she charges the sliding door. She reminds me of the Pelican, whose beak can hold more than her belly can. Except in her case, especially with the birds, it’s more like her eyes behold more than her belly can. Whatever I do, I don’t want a kitty smorgasborg, nor do I want to turn the bird feeder into a pussy cat feeder.

Speaking of pussy cats and how they belong in houses, here’s one of my favorite short poems from Guillaume Apollinaire: Le chat (1911).

Je souhaite dans ma maison :
Une femme ayant sa raison,
Un chat passant parmi les livres,
Des amis en toute saison
Sans lesquels je ne peux pas vivre.

I searched for the text online, as I had mislaid my own collection of his poetry. By the
way, Apollinaire is one of the few poets (English, French, Spanish, or Other), whose
poems I did not give away during the ‘Grand Clean Out’. The little drop down offered to
translate this page for me and, for once, I clicked it. Here’s their rendition of the poem.

The cat

I wish in my house:
A woman having her reason,
A cat passing among the books,
Friends in any season
Without which I can not live.

 Now all I need to ‘make my day’ is a poem about Geraniums, and I know exactly where to find one.

 

Dandelions

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Dandelions

My flowers drink water dosed with chemicals to keep them alive.
They survive in the vase on the kitchen table,
refusing to crumple. They fly bright flags as if trooping
their colours for Their Majesties, the King and Queen.

They withstand both sunshine and shade, neither wilting
nor fainting under the hot summer sun. In this house
there dwells no queen, just a domestic pussy cat,
Princess Squiffy, who knows she may look at a Queen.

“Your Highness,” say Cape Daisies as pussy cat passes.
“Ma’am,” say Peonies and Pansies, bending their knees.
Outside my window, the garden fills up with onlookers:
still-green Tomatoes, Clematis, and a tall Hollyhock.

A multitude of weeds crowds onto the lawn. Dandelions
spread splendiferous, waiting to take plebeian selfies.
Plebs, they are, vox populi, people’s voice, people’s choice.
Some ancient god must have loved them very much,
for they are ubiquitous, and totally indestructible.

Comments: A glittering plain of ice scintillating in the early-morning sun stretches across the garden. The deer visited us last night, self-invited to a bright moon Maritime Kitchen Party at the bird-feeders. They danced the dark away, leaving lunar craters half-empty with doubt, half-filled now with sun and shadows.

Now is the time to recall the flowers that blossomed last summer. Now is the time to purchase flowers and hold them captive in vases on the table looking out the window at the places they should be. Ground Hog Day, St. Valentine’s Day, St. David’s Day: each day brings new flowers. Wistful we look at iced-up sidewalks, frozen lawns, and glassy roads. We long for the freedom to roam among flowers and plants, without these -15 C temperatures, without these chill north winds that chill us, cutting to the bone.

Today, I will risk a journey to the flower shop or the super-market. I will indulge my need for light, and color, and the tang of hyacinths floating across the table-top. Tomorrow, I will take pen or camera, and I will bear witness to the breath-taking brevity, the shortness and beauty of this floral existence.

Birthdays

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Birthdays

Birthdays blithely march on, virtually unstoppable, goose-stepping through our lives. Milestones, they are markers that measure the maps of our lives,  engravers that carve another notch into our lives. And as we get older, each birthday brings, as its gift, not just another candle on the cake, but another ache, another pain, arthritis in a different joint, another reason to limp and walk with a stick, a decaying tooth, a filling that falls out, a few less hairs round that developing bald spot, a lessened desire to go out in the cold and dig that snow.

Snow: this year, it snowed on my birthday. Then when my friend’s birthday came round a few days later, it rained. My birthday was cold (-16 C). His was hot +7 C with 71 mms of rain and a flooded basement from which he had to remove his carpet. Then came the flash freeze and the mercury dropped to -17 C overnight. Birthday presents, birthday gifts, an accumulation of ailments and ills, of sorrow and woes, but among all this, the occasional revelation that makes everything worth living for. This year it was a Swarovski crystal pen that sparkles in the sun and brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. Then there came a lottery win, a whole $10.00, not much money, but a sign of good luck, and “loads better than a kick in the rear end from a duck in yellow gumboots standing on a brick”, as one of my good friends used to tell me.

Language: now that is also a gift. And how it changes from place to place. Knowing that I should be speaking French, not English, I spoke to my French friends in Spanish, with the occasional word of Welsh thrown in. At least it wasn’t English. Knowing I must console my Hispanic friend in Spanish, I wrote to him in French, a local dialect of chiac in fact. Well, at least it wasn’t English, and I only used two words of Welsh, wara teg: fair play. Old age plays such tricks on us. Just before my grandfather passed, he forgot all his English and spoke to us in Welsh and Italian. I guess he picked the latter up in WWI when he was stationed in Italy. He certainly was  a fair hand at Italian opera and knew many of the most famous arias by heart.

So what does the next birthday mean and what does it bring? I look at Brexit, at Venezuela, at the United States, at the newly fledged and sadly reignited language dispute here in New Brunswick, and I am reminded of the coal man with his sack of coal  and: “cobbledy-cobbledy, down the hole”.  Or cobbledy-cobbledy into our Christmas stocking with those shining black nuggets. Or cobbledy-cobbledy into our next birthday parcel. Alas, as age increases, there is nowhere to run to and nowhere to hide. Inside the bed, perhaps, with the teddy bears, and the blankets pulled up over our heads? Inside a large brown paper bag, as the Goons on the BBC’s Goon Show would respectfully suggest? Under the bed, like the lunatic who is a little potty?

Hopefully, those next birthday presents will include a sense of humor, so we can laugh at our troubles and smile at our woes. It may contain a sense of second sight, so we can see the silver linings to all those seemingly black clouds. Or maybe just a transplanted backbone and the ability to stand up straight and withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or, there again, a large umbrella under which we can shelter from the rainstorms of life. Whatever: I wish us all well, all we who populate this world and love it and want to change it for the better for all, and not with the spider-webs of deceit that proclaim self-glory, self-profit, and reveal a renewed sense of privileged power filled with a glow of self-worth and temporal false glory.

Take These Chains

 

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The Great Chain of Being … Happy

The Great Chain of Being, a concept applied to Medieval Literature by Arthur Lovejoy, suggested that all beings are related in hierarchical structures that link them from top to bottom in an ordered chain. I have always liked that idea and see myself as one among many voices, past, present, and hopefully future that feel and write about the joys of living on this wonderful planet that we inhabit. This thought immediately poses the question: do we write from joy or sorrow? Obviously, it depends upon the individual. Equally obviously, we can write from joy at one stage of our career and from sorrow in another stage.

Antonio Machado phrased it this way: En el corazón tenía / la espina de una pasión. / Logré arrancármela un día: / ya no siento el corazón. I felt in my heart a thorn of passion. One day I managed to pluck it out. Now I no longer feel my heart. Machado is a seemingly simple poet, but that simplicity is oh-so difficult to translate and imitate. So: what happens if we write from that interior passion and then, one day, we wake up and the passion has gone? Good question. Some people stop writing. Others take to drawing. Others take photographs. In my case, I have sat in a south facing window just gazing at the sunshine reflected off the snow and pottering through my favorite poets.

Francisco de Aldana is one of my favorites and I am drawn to reflect on these lines: Hallo, en fin, que ser muerto en la memoria / del mundo es lo mejor que en él se asconde, / pues es la paga dél muerte y olvido. I finally discover that to be dead in the world’s memory is best of all, since the world’s wages are death and forgetfulness. While these words will seem gloomy to some, to me they express the joys of retirement, the wonders of just sitting and looking out of the window, the escape from the necessity to produce, to achieve, to be ambitious, to grow a career, to drive myself on and on. “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” Words of wisdom from the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies.

When I sit and stare, I also think, observe, and remember. And I see things I have never seen before: how light changes the world, how sunshine falls on the petals of flowers, how texture is changed by changing light, how light slips through the fingers like water or sand. The end result is an inner peace that accepts things for what they are and the world for what it is.

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In my privileged case, and I realize just how lucky I am and how fortunate I have been, I have grown to appreciate the tiny things, the small achievements. And small things now satisfy me: the completion of a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw, the nature of light, the beauty of an orange, peeled and tasted, its life blood still fresh upon my fingers and gracing the air, words prancing in lines and chains across a page, the dance of shadow on wall.

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