It’s Canada Day here in Toronto, the anniversary of the day in 1867 when Canada became a Confederation with a Parliament etc.
The city is quiet, with very little traffic (many people being up north at cottages, or away on holiday). Around noon there will be the twenty-one gun salute and other ceremonies in Queen’s Park, the gracefully old-tree-rich park behind the Provincial Parliament buildings. It’s just a few blocks from my house. I headed out that way this morning for a quick pedal, hoping to get my blood moving and get home before the rain and thunder storms that had been promised for 10.30.
But I was waylaid as I entered the park by the sight of a woman in white cotton pants and top picking from a huge old cherry tree at the corner. Its blooms were stunning six weeks ago and now the cherries were hanging ripe and inviting, almost black, and mostly too high up to reach. I put my bike down on the grass, said hi, and the woman called out “there’s plenty right here; the other branches are too high”. And so we held down a the trailing leafy and berried end of a mighty branch with one hand each and with the other picked and ate cherries one by one. They were small (“smaller than last year” she told me, a touch of the Caribbean in her voice) and intensely flavoured, at once tart and sweet. It felt like the best kind of luxury, and a wonderful way to celebrate Canada Day, to be picking cherries right from the tree, chance-met strangers sharing bounty.
Tall people with strong ladders may well pick the rest, all too far from the ground for us to reach…and so a few minutes later I headed off. The breeze freshened, the sky was greyer, and colours glowed in the eerie pre-rain light. A friend called me on my cel as I headed up a leafy side-street. I stopped and stood over my bike to chat with her. But then I tried riding one-handed (getting on and off are the hardest things of course) as we chatted, and all was well until the first rain started pelting down. We agreed to talk later and I tucked my phone away, hoping it wouldn’t get soaked.
That ride home was almost as pleaurable as eating the cherries. The rain was warm, a gentle lukewarm shower, that sometimes turned into more emphatic pellets but was never chilling, more like a water massage. One guy was running down the street in a big hurry but everyone else I saw just kept walking unconcernedly under an umbrella, or else paused under a tree to take shelter.
The whole ride was a reminder, one way and another, of how precious trees are, a shelter, a food source, and a reassurance that life goes on.
Now I’m back home, changed into dry clothes, and sitting by an open door typing this (how freeing a laptop is!). As I think about trees and their place in our world, I’m reminded of the wonderful books by John Vaillant: The Golden Spruce (a story from Haida Gwai aka the Queen Charlotte Islands) and The Tiger. I heard him speak a few weeks ago at a PEN event and now am deep in his tale from far eastern Siberia, about the tiger who hunted men. The writing is wonderful, with generous-to-the-reader limpid sentences and images of great beauty. Somehow there’s no self-consciousness in his writing, no ‘see how lovely this sentence is!’ feeling. Highly recommended.
Speaking of books, I have to get back to work. Now that I’ve hit my stride and am immersed in my Persian World book project, the days feel too short, and my head is full of lists of what needs to be done next. That includes getting more recipes drafted and tested once or twice before I can send them to friends for more test-driving. (I like the idea of recipes being taken out for a spin, like a new car.) And it’s summer, the season of cherries and other fruits, so important in the cuisines of the region. I mustn’t waste the moment!
Happy Canada Day, and an early happy Fourth of July, to all.