Sunday, September 12, 2010


What a packed week! All over the city the children have made it to school and now this coming week the young adults start back to university, with hopes and fears and edginess and optimisim.

And to keep them company in all those contradictory feelings, the weather has alternated between chilly and damp, and sunny and intensely warm. So we dress in layers and adapt minute to minute, (a good description of what life demands generally, don't you think? ). This is the season when some are still wearing flip-flops and others are already in tall leather boots. The cityscape is a treat these days, is I guess what I am saying.

This weekend I went up to Grey County to stay with friends. The smell in the air when I arrived was pure autumn, that sweet smell of drying starting-to-decay leaves. It seemed strange, since the trees are still green green. But the chickadees are already fully into their winter chickadee-dee-dee song, and in some places a few leaves are starting to turn colours, so it's time to admit that this wonderful summer is really and truly winding down. We had a sauna, in the evening after supper, as the rain dripped down in cold drops. It was especially wonderful to get heated through, snug in the scent of hot cedar, and then sit outside in the chill and damp, billowing steam, impervious to the cold, sauna-invincible for the moment!

I'm off to Ottawa on the train, rushing through the countryside under a huge cloudscape of a sky, white billows riding in the blue in all directions. Tomorrow I'll make the long drive to Grand Manan with my friend Lianne, who has a house there. I've never been to this storied island in the Bay of Fundy, a ninelty minute ride from southern New Brunswick. It'll be a bit of a marathon, but fun too, to cut through Quebec and across northern Maine, all in one day. I haven't travelled that route since driving to Maine with the kids in a little Honda Civic seventeen or eighteen years ago. I'm due back late Friday (it really is a quick trip!).

Right now the passengers in this train car with me are mostly sleeping, deep breathing on all sides, secure. I was talking the other day with Lillian about my grandparents, who ranched in northern British Columbia and didn't have a car until 1959 or 1960. They travelled everywhere in a cart or a buggy or sleigh, or else on horseback. By choice, they had no phone. So distances were entirely different from how they seem to us these days. The train then represented travel to them, the way they could get from where they were to Vancouver or to Eastern Canada, a rare treat. I find myself trying to imagine the state of mind that that situation produced in them. Perhaps, in the same way that radio is more exciting than television, because we visualise situations rather than passively receiving them on the screen, living in relative isolation meant that books and visitors became more vivid, more precious, richer in many ways. What do you think?

I know that when I am rushing (actually, or in my head in anticipation) from the email world to the telephone to chatting with a friend who has dropped by to writing a blogpos, something is lost, a deliberateness perhaps, and a rounding out of my thinking. And when I listen to the radio in the morning, which I enjoy, it does indeed scramble me a bit, sending me off on thoughts of this and that, so that I need my run to get me back into thinking in an extended way about a piece of writing or another creative idea.

Has this blogpost gone from the idea of the start of the school year to musings on relative technologies and how they affect our state of mind? It seems so. I'm not writing as a Luddite here: I would not want to live as my grandparents chose to. I love the comings and goings with friends on the internet and the phone and in real life. I thrive in the social vibrancy of the city. But I do wonder at the difference s between my rippled mind and the calmer stiller pool that the mind of a contemplative or a person living less socially must be.

In the course of last week, because it was chilly and there was a Rosh Hashonah meal out and another celebration, this one a birthday supper, I ended up making five skillet cakes in the space of seven days. Hilarious when I look back on it. And they each vanished, down various happy gullets. One had a thick coating of wild blueberries on it, others had cooked chopped purple plums, one had the end of the peaches... and all of them were tender because they were made with mostly pastry/cake flour, usually whole wheat, and only a little all-purpose.

Another cooking note: I cut some corn kernals off the cob the other day to add to a simmered combination of chopped end-of- season vegetables, all local, including okra and dandelion greens, a little tomato, tomatillos, zucchini, patty-pan squash, and garlic. The combo, slow simmered in olive oil (the non-local ingredient I love) was just delicious, the sweet of the corn balancing out the bitter of the dandelion, etc.

That led me a couple of days later to cut kernals off and add them to a hot wok as part of a quick little vegetable stir-fry. What a mistake! I mean, the result was delicious, but I have to warn you NOT to stir-fry corn kernals at high heat, at least not tender moist ones. They exploded with a lethal pop and spatter in the hot oil, one by one by one, like little grenades. I moved the corn up the sides of the wok so I could fry my morning egg in the centre, as and I broke the egg into the pan, ZAP!! a double hit of exploding corn kernal sent hot oil spitting up onto my wrist. I am fine, not noticeably burned. But it felt very violent! So my final word on this is, please be cautious with corn kernals and hot oil!

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