It’s the kind of dry
that has the bugs eating any plant they can find,
even the poisonous ones,
just for the juice.
It’s the kind of dry
that smells of sand and wind, of that timeless dust that floats
above the dry-brown brittle grass that pierces bare feet,
making you walk on tiptoe,
wishing you had put shoes on
before leaving the porch to get the book you had left in the car.
Dry, like campfire air,
when you stand close with a stick and
a marshmallow, watching reds and yellows and oranges
dance across embers, your face and your pants heating up,
your skin tingling.
No one wants to say the word fire, banned,
lest a tongue ignites the air in front of your face,
lest you blow a pine forest away like a book of matches ignited at the edge.
A woodpecker taps on a hollow hard tree
somewhere across the dry swamp grass, and
there is a quiet rumble of thunder –
like a communiqué from an West African village far-off down the valley –
too faint to promise anything other than the nostalgia of rain
tap dancing atop dry leaves; of days in the barn
and the rain beating on the metal roof;
of how she moved
while the rain plastered her hair to her face.
There is a certain type of perfect Sunday morning, that happen on the farm in mid-July, that only mystics and writers like Henry David Thoreau and poets like Mary Oliver seem to understand.
We’re out walking the back fields at 8am, sunny, clear, fresh – out in nature the day after a good summer’s thunder storm and three hours of steady rain.
The grass is covered with tiny cobwebs and heavy dew. There is a big puddle for a the dog to joyfully run through. The July full moon is two days away and summer is at its peak.
Loon and jays and robins seem to be omnipresent. The forest and grasses are lush, green drunk in too many shades to describe. One field is coated in wild daisies just beginning to fade. It’s still too cool this morning for horse flies and mosquitoes, so the horses (and me) are at ease with the rising sun and the singing birds.
Two boys from down the road, two 12-year-olds who always seem tied at the hip come cycling up the field to visit with the horses and to ask me if I have seen the one boy’s lost cat. I tell them that our barn cat doesn’t allow for strays. He gets pretty nasty, I tell them, if a stray comes by (all the while he nuzzles playfully against their shoes). They bend over and give him a few pets on the head and then they go off to be chased, and to chase, the colts in the other field.
The colts love it when the boys come to play with them – reminding me of similar boyhood pass times with my brother and other neighbour kids. Being in a field with a dozen happy young horses who are running about and playing amongst themselves.
Listen for wisdom.
Know it when you hear it.
The rest is just details.
Like I said, there are fifty shades of green in July in this part of the world.
The hilltops are lush carpets of limes and olives, the oaks and maples that dominate make me believe that I am a mite on a head of broccoli; the pines, the grasses, the birch, the plants – all of them, united in their greenness – pure energy + water = green.
The sky looks fake – photoshopped blue – when it is seen against this green. The barn roof looks ridiculous in all its redness against this green. The flowers redder, the butterflies whiter, the tiger-lillies more leopard-orange, against the green.
It is the time of hummingbirds. Of a passing loon forewarning us of the coming rain.
It is my mom’s impressive snowball bushes and backfields filled with daisies and blooming milkweed and wild ferns and buttercups and about 20 other types of wild flowers.
Look! Over there! By the back edge of the treeline – a doe and a tiny fawn!
Green is the hum by which summer lives. It is fecund extraordinaire. It is Pan. It is one of the faces of Kali. Of Tiamet. It is sex, heat, reproduction.
A moose, and a bear, and a fox have all been spotted in the neighbourhood. A wild turkey now has six little chicks following her around, and a neighbour has lost a couple of goats. A pair of white spotted pigeons and a pair of morning doves root around in the dirt by the barn.
I’ll tell you what my grandfather told me; listen for wisdom; don’t get hung up on age, or style. Know when to hear it, acknowledge it, listen closely.
2,500 years ago Lau Tzu observed that most people in the world are full of self-righteous bullshit who only want to be entertained and fed.
That observation is as poignant now as it was then.
The general level of insight in our media-driven society has the depth of an infinity pool photograph – the kind of picture you see in travel ads and cruise brochures.
In the photograph you have a line dividing the perspective, where both sides try to be little more than a reflection of the other.
We are chronic narccisists who want little more than to be Labradoodles.
I say this because my grandfather told me that I would have to wade through a lot of bullshit and constant white-noise to hear wisdom.
Assuming I was paying attention when it was said.
Within the hour the sandflies have arrived, doing the Devil’s work, and now small flocks of grasshoppers perpetually disperse with my every step.
It is now wake-up time in the insect world, the sun has reached some magic temperature, and so the birds are now accompanied by the early morning drone of passing flies, natting grasshoppers, and the hum of worker bees and hornets.
Horse shadows grow shorter by the minute.
We circle back as horse flies and deer flies begin to pick up our trail – such nasty little bastards out to ruin our good walk…
Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
So, my mom’s a bit of a baseball freak – to the point that she sat down to watch last night’s mid-season major league baseball’s All Star Game. She’s a big Blue Jays fan, and she wanted to see the 5 Jays who made the all-star team get introduced – as if they were her own sons, and she was the proud mama looking on. Whatever.
Anyway, I decide to catch a few minutes with her.
For those of you who don’t know, the game was played in San Diego. And if you also don’t know, San Diego has the largest naval base on the west coast of continental America. Thousands of troops are stationed in San Diego.
Now nothing goes together better than baseball, hot dogs, beer, and military jingoistic pageantry. And what better place for this than beside one of the largest naval bases in the world.
Major League Baseball and the National Football League are huge supporters of America’s colossal military machine (and are duly rewarded for their support by huge advertising payments from the military).
Last night was no exception.
A massive pre-game baseball-field sized American flag was rolled out by young Marines. A Navy officer sang God Bless America. There was a military fly over. There were endless proclamations of “the young, the proud, the free” who make up America’s military ranks. And if that wasn’t enough there was a huge center-field insignia of 5 fighter jets in formation carved into the grass that could be clearly featured from fly-over camera shots (which were done often).
Half the stadium was filled with young men and women in various military uniforms representing Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Ops, Marines, and god knows what else. The cameras took every opportunity to showcase them.
But what capped it all for me was when the baseball announcer proudly noted, in his welcoming remarks to the TV world watching the game (brought to you btw by the Armed Services International Television Network – who knew there was such a thing?), he noted that American men and women proudly serve their country and are currently stationed in 175 countries around the world.
What the fuck! 175 countries!
I got off my ass and googled “how many countries are there in the world?” and the United Nations’ answer is 196.
That means that US military forces are currently stationed in 175 of 196 countries in the world – 90% of the world’s countries.
And you wonder why the US military budget is larger than the next 40 largest military budgets combined in the world?
Should we spend 5 minutes asking ourselves why America feels that it needs to have a military occupying presence in 175 of 196 countries?
Should we spend another 5 minutes asking ourselves what these 175 countries think about having a foreign military presence stationed within their borders?
Is there any clearer way to describe the idea of American Empire than by this statistic?
(And did you know that no American soldier can ever be charged by a host country with a criminal crime anywhere they are stationed in the world?)
The US military is stationed at all corners of the globe. Their presence is everywhere.
US military spending is currently in excess of 60% of the national budget.
Of course this is not economically sustainable and the military’s multi-billion dollar annual drain on the American budget is slowly dragging the nation into the economic abyss – as commercial infrastructure, schools, universities, research and development, public medicine, and social supports all succumb to budget cuts in order to pay for the military Goliath.
History is full of examples of countries economically failing when their military becomes a bloated leach of the public trough.
America is no different.
Sadly, history also shows that military leaders do not leave center stage without first attempting to create a new enemy that they must be supported in fighting – no surprise then that America has actively invaded countries under every successive president since the 1850’s. Nor is history short of examples of military coups, when their bluff is called.
But that’s all jibberish right? Last night was about a beautiful night for baseball and hot dogs and apple pie; and grown men who are paid $7-10 million a year to smack a ball with a stick.
God Bless America!
Everyday we watch the television news or read in the newspaper about this or that Muslim religious sect that is blowing the shit out of the other – be they Sunnis or Shiites or some sub-sect of either – and we watch in horror (or indifference – usually indifference, as we witnessed by the media-non-event that was the massive ISIS Baghdad bombing that killed 300 and wounded nearly twice as many that occurred last week) as sects tear each other apart in the name of God, or politics, or power (usually power).
But as my mother reminded me this morning we are not so far removed from those days ourselves.
Today is July 12th.
What is July 12th you ask?
It’s Orangeman Parade day, is what it is. Or, at least, it used to be.
Bancroft is a predominantly Protestant region of Ontario, and my mother still has the living memory of the Orangeman Parade – and the little nasty things that could happen to non-protestants on July 12th.
It was nothing for Catholics to be beaten, their business windows smashed, their kids taunted and harassed.
In Maynooth, it was common practice when she was young, for the Catholics to be relegated to only one side of the street.
Sure, it seems that no one cares about such things now, and that Bancroft has always been a peaceful place for any [Christian] denomination to live.
But let us not forget that we took some flak for hanging a Pride flag in the window of our cafe; that Muslims are religiously stereotyped up here; that many locals will not use the services of one of the local vets because he is of East Asian heritage.
The battles for hierarchy, political power, religious authoritarianism, fascistic control never go away. Human nature and history repeatedly teach us these things, over and over and over ad infinitum. Just look at the rantings of Donald Trump.
It’s a beautiful sunny 28C on this July 12th in cottage country. Get out and enjoy it! Summer is oh so sweet and oh so short.
But know your history.
There may not be any sectarian violence on the main street of Bancroft today, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any people around who remember when there was, and can teach you about how quickly there can be again.
sometimes others say it better than I do – article sent my way via Laura Penny…
My partner and I have a rule. If we see the same thing three times in a row, within a day or two of each other, we know it’s a ‘thing’.
We’ve been back in Toronto 24 hours and I’ve already seen three different young women with the tips of their hair dyed green.
It’s a thing.
Then I see a bunch of different girls with purple hair.
Also a thing.
Dying your hair, this summer, green or purple, is a thing.
The same goes for a particular style of boot I’ve seen on at least a 1/2 dozen young women. It’s an ankle-high boot with a thick 2″ heal.
It’s the latest thing.
This summer’s thing.
Things are a thing for a while, then they aren’t a thing anymore.
Remember when Auggs were a thing? Every young woman just had to have them. Absolutely must have them. Would die if they didn’t have them.
Now they’re not a thing anymore.
I saw a middle-school girl in Auggs the other day (back in Vancouver) and I wanted to say to her “they’re not a thing anymore. Now they’re back to being house slippers again, like they used to be.”
My mother-in-law’s great aunt wears them around the house on cold mornings. She loves them.
I wanted to say to the girl “now you’re just being silly, wearing your yesterday things.” But that’s cruel. (And I’m sure her schoolmates have already told her as much.)
Blundstones were a thing with middle class university girls. We had a house party one night and there were 20 pair of them on the floor by our door.
In the kitchen some of them were talking about an “individual in society” course some of them were taking, but I refrained from interjecting.
Starbucks is definitely not a thing anymore. God, remember when it was?
Hipster guys still act like beards are a thing, but they’re not. They like to think they are, but they’re really not.
Craft beer is a thing. Craft beer-making guys with beards like to think they are a thing, but I refer you to my previous comment.
Hoppy beer was all the rage last summer. The year before it was bourbon. Now it’s whisky.
Hand-made hamburgers were a thing, a huge thing, there for a while – there were burger joints popping up all over town when they were a thing – but now most of them have closed. Hamburgers are just food again.
Some-thing is a thing right now in downtown New York, or in the heart of Brooklyn that will be a thing here in Toronto in the fall. (Brooklyn itself was a thing, a super thing, a King of Things – but Queen’s apparently is now the meta-thing, the uber thing. Brooklyn is now just gentrified – which is the worst thing that can happen to a thing.)
Whatever that thing is, it will have stopped being a thing in Brooklyn long before it starts being a thing in places like Winnipeg, or Saskatoon.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a hugely successful book on how things become a thing in modern culture – the book, and Gladwell, were themselves a thing for a while – and when I read it, it made a certain amount of sense about how things become things – initiators, connectors, distributors of the thing – but I’ve forgotten most of it now, and on the streets it still seems pretty murky to me how some thing becomes a thing, and how the herd takes it on as it’s icon-of-the-moment.
I do know however that a thing’s talisman power is fleeting, that what’s a thing today won’t last through a season, perhaps not even until next week.
The change, the novel, the monotony of the ever-new, our endless need for novelty, the movements of the herd, hipster, cutting edge, difference of sameness, the need to be accepted, addiction.
Call it what you will.
Give it an edgy name.
Re-invent the wheel.
Make it a thing.
A new thing.