Monday, 17 August 2015

Water babies

Hot out there and getting hotter. I am appreciating the air conditioning and thinking back to the time fifty years and more gone when there was none, at least where I lived. There was the odd air conditioned store in the late fifties in my home town, but most offices and private homes were at ambient temperature. And in Windsor (Ontario) in August, the ambient temperature was usually in the (pre metric) 90’s. Or more. 

My parents’ two storey brick house would be coolish in the morning, but the heat would increase through the day and by evening the place would be a large brick oven. There was an attic above the bedroom floor with a hatch in the middle of the upstairs hall. My parents had a large fan installed in the hatch and as soon as it started to cool off outside, this fan would be turned on to pull cool air up into the bedrooms. And by 1:00 or 2:00 am, cool air would indeed start to arrive. I recall lying in bed with the bed pulled as close to the window as I could get it, both the bed linens and my body sticky with sweat, waiting for that cool air.

As a young woman I was out in the heat, working as a lifeguard in a pool in suburban Windsor. In weather like today’s we did a half hour rotation, from guard stand (a high seat over the concrete at pool edge), to walking the deck and then, praise be, to half an hour in the much cooler office, checking  swimmers in and out. By 9:00 pm we would be exhausted from the heat and noise and the concentration required to watch for any problems in the mass of heaving children filling the pool. Our only relief was that we (quite illegally) dived off the guard stand into the deep end at the end of the half hour there and got wet enough to survive half an hour walking on the super-heated concrete of the deck. I used to look forward to my days on ‘split shift’ when I worked 8:00 am to 12:00 pm and 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm, missing the worst of the afternoon frying pan effect.

I loved life guarding, however, and it was good money for a student as a summer job. We ran swimming lessons in the morning for children from three to twelve. Afternoons there was the open swim and evenings was ‘family swim’ in theory but mostly drew teenagers in fact. They were hell on wheels to supervise and because I could handle them I drew evening duty a lot. I was the biggest of the female staff and cultivated a reputation as really tough, right up to frog-marching one of the worst offenders out of the pool enclosure in his swim suit and tossing his clothes after him.  (No charges of assault ensued, lucky for me.)

What was the most fun, though, was the little kid lessons. The pool was new and had a very shallow section where most 3 to 5 year olds could stand up and we ran classes every morning in this section for that age group. The women got to teach these classes, mostly, because the littles responded better to women than to most of the men. I had two classes, 9:00 to 9:30 and 9:30 to 10:00 am, mostly of three and four year olds. We didn’t do the pool clean until after these classes so as to keep the water warm and to allow for a lot of pee getting into the water. And mostly what we taught them was pretty simple. How to stand up if they fell, how to put their little faces in the water and, once they were comfortable with that, a face down kick at increasing distances. Some of them were desperately water-shy. I remember carrying one kidlet on my back for most of the week until he finally got enough confidence to step onto my knee and then into the pool.

This is a photograph that the local paper took to go with a story about how little kids could now have lessons if they were more than 36" tall. It is staged, of course, and shows me measuring some of my class with a yardstick. I think I was 19 at the time.

I have a fond memory of introducing my own daughters to swimming. The ED was 2+, the YD 13 months old. ED spent most of the session with her back pressed against the fence around the pool, shivering. I took YD into the pool, lowered her into the water on her stomach with my hand under her chest, and she dog paddled off my hand toward a friend who had her kids in the water as well. I walked along with her, hands poised to grab if she went under, and she got quite a way before she got tired enough to stop. However, both girls had mandatory swimming lessons as soon as they were old enough to qualify, around age four and five. I leaned on the ED to keep going until she had at least an intermediate certificate and drown proofing. The YD became, in her turn, a lifeguard and instructor and has loved boats and water all her life so far. I have always understood why the ED did not enjoy swimming. She was a slim ectomorph with low body fat and always freezing cold in even temperate water. But I note with amusement that Miss G, her equally chronically cold daughter, has had regular swimming lessons from an early age.

I suspect that even Miss G would take to the water today.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


Note to readers: this blog is in large part a record for my granddaughter and so this is a long and somewhat tedious catalogue of life-with-dogs as a record for her. Feel free to quit reading after four paragraphs.

My YD and some of her friends did a three week plus tour down the Nahanni River in the NWT earlier this month. One of the good friend is the owner of a large and loving dog named Bear that the friend and her husband rescued from a miserable situation in which the dog had been peppered with shot. The YD and her friends come to our bush to hike, so I have met this dog from time to time and know that he has recovered from his trauma and is sleek and well-cared for.

While paddling madly through the white water YD and friend both boarded their dogs. Her father and I got Shammy, her beautiful and placid white Doodle (plus her cat who can even unplacid Shammy) and Bear was boarded with friends also. This morning the friend posted on Facebook the reunion with Bear and I am not ashamed to say that I still have tears in my eyes when I think about how joyous that greeting was. Toward the end of her book Rilla of Ingleside, L M Montgomery writes of the reunion of a returning soldier with his dog that the dog was ‘mad with joy’. After watching Bear greet his mistress, I now know exactly what ‘mad with joy’ looks like and I am very glad to have seen it.I am sorry I cannot get it to load here.

The YD’s laid back dog was not quite that excited when her mistress turned up but there was much wagging, ball bringing, dancing and foot licking that carried on for quite some time. I think it was Kipling that wrote of the cost of ‘giving your heart to a dog to tear’ (yep, link ) but it sure can be rewarding. Not that Shammy had a sad time while the YD was away. She was walked, brushed, trimmed, washed (and hosed down if she had found a delightful puddle of poop to roll around in), given numerous cookies and had splendid treats like bacon added to her dog dish. And Callie Cat reduced the local chipmunk population to nervous breakdown status, at which deed I rejoiced. The wretched little beasts have 295 acres to inhabit but insist on making holes in the lawn and flower beds of the other half acre. They deserve a cat who sits over one of the holes in the lawn for an hour at a time ………………  waiting.

JG and I got a dog when the ED was just over two years old. She had exhibited fear of dogs and we wanted her to overcome it. Since I also had a 13 month old baby, getting a large and happy hound was, perhaps, not the smartest move we could have made (three rambunctious young animals, two hands) but the ED quickly took to Rusty (named for his coat colour) and I was agile enough to cope, mostly. I still recall drawing a cartoon of my father, though, the ED’s hand grasped in one of his, the strap of the YD’s harness and the dog’s leash in the other hand, and the dog and leash wound tightly round his legs. In the photo below he has sneaked into the living room and relaxed on a blanket.

Rusty’s life was a short one. He began to have seizures (the vet believed he had eaten something poisonous one day when he escaped his leash) and they were worsened by the stress he felt when we moved to a house bounded on one side by the school yard fence through which the students often teased him. The house was on the curve of a crescent and had a huge fenced yard, a wonderful spot for a dog, but Rusty became defensive of anyone approaching the fences, especially on the school yard side, and ended by trapping the arm of a friend of the daughters who had arrived beside the school fence and then, invited to join them, had entered by the side gate. The dog was confused because people coming in the gate were okay but people at the fence were not and so he grabbed this kid’s arm and held it. No skin break but there were bruised and so the kid’s parents reported the incident.

A policeman arrived to investigate and I took him to the kitchen to see Rusty who, shameless beggar that he was, lay down on his back and waved four paws at the cop, inviting a belly rub. End of incident.

However, the seizures and irrational temper spells got even worse, it became unsafe for small girls to walk him, he became incontinent and totally lethargic and miserable, seizing several times a day. We decided, for his own sake, to have him put down. Sadly the day I took him to be euthanized was the first good day he had had for a month and he bounded into the car, trotted into the Humane Society building with tail wagging and turning him over to them was maybe the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. I sat in the car outside and wept. Heart torn indeed. He was no more than five years old.

JG and the girls longed for another dog. This time we got a small one, a miniature beagle from a pet store. We quickly named him Bugle (for how he sounded on a rabbit trail) and I attempted, without success, to train him. Bugle was much more like a cat than a dog, living with us but reserving his enthusiasm for chasing rabbits and deer on our weekend rural property, stealing mittens from unsuspecting small hands, playing ball with the peppers and tomatoes from my vegetable garden and soaking up heat by lying directly under the wood stove in the cabin. Even at his small size I had to put a choke chain on him to take him anywhere. 

One spring night we arrived at our rural property and he wrenched himself from my hands before I could get the chain collar over his head and bugled off in pursuit of a deer. He did not return that night, not unusual, but as the time stretched out the kids and my BIL and I searched the whole property,  calling and listening, terrified that he had been caught by the damn chain. We never found him. What we did find were his and the deer’s tracks leading to a beaver pond half covered with rotting ice. And I have always believed that the deer managed to cross the ice and icy water but that the dog didn’t make it. Or at least I hope the end was that quick. We advertised and searched for weeks with no luck. And we left his bowl with food for longer than that. 

As soon as they stopped mourning, JG and the girls wanted another dog. THIS time we went to the pound and came home with a small female terrier mix. A sweet and timid biscuit coloured (we named her Biscuit) fuzzy bundle who lay on my slippers as a puppy and had to have one of them to sleep with for long after she grew up. She stayed close to the cabin on weekends but loved to run in the bush if we were with her. She ignored rabbits and deer and even seemed somewhat dubious about squirrels.  She sneaked (or was encouraged to sneak) onto the kids’ beds at night. She loved the fenced yard of the city house and it was quite big enough to satisfy her need for exercise. She tidily did her business behind the hedges unless she was really cross with me for brushing her out and then I would get a protest movement on the stoop of the kitchen door. 

Biscuit lived with us for seventeen years and the only time she ever terrorized anyone was my visiting aunt when she sat on the kitchen floor and held her unwavering gaze on my aunt’s cereal bowl. ‘Why is she staring at me?’ said my childless, petless and elderly aunt. When I told her that this was the dog’s habit with the daughters, who gave her the tail end of their cereal and milk in the morning, my aunt was not much comforted. ‘How much should I leave her?” she asked, a small quaver in her voice. The dog was supposed to stay in the kitchen and after I went to work full time I did not twig to the fact that she did not stay there unsupervised until JG brought home a guest in grey flannels and a navy blazer who sat down on an occasional chair in the living room and got up covered in dog hair. She had appropriated the chair as her daytime nap spot and I had not noticed beige dog hair on beige chair.

We buried her in the old orchard when she finally had to leave us. And I thought I was free to live a dogless and carefree life until the YD, who had longed for a dog for years in spite of my fervent declarations that I would not baby sit, came home with Shammy a few years ago. You may know that since that time this blog has been littered with posts about caring for a blonde and beautiful doodle with no damn sense about either porcupines or skunks.

Dog memories. The YD, as a toddler, used to throw herself onto Rusty when I reprimanded her, cry into his coat and, I swear, wipe her eyes on his ears as he lay patiently under her. The beagle used to scorch his coat lying under the wood stove and come out quite crispy down the back. Scorched dog smells very strange. Biscuit grew a heavy underlayer of fur in the winter and had to be taken outside and brushed and brushed, with any luck in a strong wind, each spring to get the fine hairs out of her coat before every hot air vent in the house was choked with the stuff and it lay in drifts on the floors.

I recall driving home from Kingston to Ottawa in a full fledged blizzard because the dog was alone in the house and would need to be let out. I recall trying to stretch the budget to cover dog food when JG was in grad school and we watched every penny. Rusty ate a lot of leftover people food; he did not like peas and if he got leftover stew, his bowl would be shiny clean with each shiny clean pea isolated in the bottom. Biscuit loved licking out pans and would be between me and the kitchen counter if there was gravy in the roasting pan, waiting until I decanted it into a storage bowl before she got to clean the dregs. I recall one of JG’s childless, petless aunts being absolutely horrified at this sight of an animal licking something people might in future have to use. (Yeah, I washed it thoroughly afterwards. Of course I did!)

The YD’s friends, owners of Bear, come to our bush to hike with The YD and Shammy. It is a pleasure to watch the dogs play together in the snow and afterwards lie side by side resting up for yet more play. And it sure is quiet after they have all gone home.

Today I am free of dogs, cat, grandkid and friend and even husband since he has gone shopping for the afternoon. It sure is quiet and serene. Very quiet.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015


The dog and cat have gone home after somewhat over four weeks with us. The grandkid has arrived (a bit of overlap) for a week and her friend will arrive Friday for the weekend.
I have not looked beyond next Monday.
This does mean, however, that the water bowls, feeding dishes, litter box and chew toys have been put away and I can police the field for bones. There is now a mini iPad and a pile of detective stories on the couch, various hats and shoes and bits and bobs enlivening the landscape, and lots of food at mealtimes.
Tomorrow is boating day. Lots of sandwiches, drinks and snacks. Worms.
Her bedtime, and mine.
Lovely to be needed.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

June Bugs, and other Facile Observations

 This is a Luna Moth that I found clinging to the wall of the house on Friday afternoon. It was in deep shadow, causing the colour in this photo to be a bit exaggerated. We scooped it into a strawberry basket and stashed it on the screen porch until Saturday so that Miss G could see it in all its glory. She released it after admiring it a lot (the grandkid loves bugs of any sort) and it sort of shook itself and flapped off into a tree, muttering imprecations, I am sure. The adults live about a week, I read, meaning that we took a big bite out of its fun time.

This are European Skippers. They are smaller than the size of a quarter and so what you see here is a crop of a photo I took at the extreme of my telephoto, straight down. They are sitting on a clover head, surrounded by clover leaves. Note the eye patch on the top moth. What is interesting about these is that there are hundreds fluttering around our lawn the last few days and piling up in many hundreds on the dirt roads where there is a trace, I believe, of calcium for them. They eat and breed on grass and have only one hatch a year, but the eggs overwinter. We have never seen so many of them at once. Good thing we have lots of grass. They are landing on the YD's dog, who is spending a month with us, and it is funny to watch her try to fend them off. At least, funny to me.

We have too much grass. It has been warm and rainy, interspersed with beautiful sun, and the grass is growing so fast JG is mowing like a mad man and still not keeping up. This weather has also caused the flowers to come ahead fast and we already have orange lilies in bloom, along with the late iris and all sorts of wild flowers. My white lilac was loaded, early.

We also have the YD's cat and I sadly watched her tormenting a chipmunk the other day. Cats do this, and if the chipmunk had not dived for a hole beside the house, I think I would have had to go out, restrain the cat and kill the poor thing quickly. When I stayed with my grandparents as a small girl, there was a barn cat that brought her offspring to a spot below the summer kitchen porch (my grandmother always said she was leaving them for my grandmother to babysit) when they could walk. She would then go and trap a mouse or some other poor wee mite and let it loose, crippled, among the kittens. My grandparents said she did this to teach them to hunt and that we could not interfere as they had to learn to earn their living in the barn. But, soft city kid that I was, I hated the whole exercise. Even while I loved the kitties.I have two in this photo. And the dress is my Brownie uniform for summer camp.

The YD is off canoeing down the Nahanni with a group of fellow maniacs. She did the logistics for this trip and has been preparing for months. One of the trippers has a Spot and they are posting their location regularly. At present they seem to be moving down the river at horrific speed, covering big chunks of territory every few hours. I guess the water must be at a perfect level. It is reassuring to see the distance they are covering as it means they have not had to stop for any kind of mess-up. No one has had to swim, they have not dropped a boat, they are just rolling along. I love the modern equipment that allows me to look in on them like this. The daughter has done this trip twice before, once as an adjunct guide, so she does know what she is doing. (See mama reassuring herself. See mama pretending she is not worrying. Do not laugh at mama!)

JG turned out the boat yesterday and found it full of mouse droppings, nests made of chewed up charts, and other horrors. We do not know how the little monsters got in. Now if the cat wants to torment one of these wretched beasts, I may encourage her. JG certainly would.

Watching another series of thunderheads whisk in. We do not need more rain! Ah well, the flowers love it.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Just after the Ides of May

I drove in to my shopping town a few days ago on a beautiful sunny day. The woods and bushes along the county roads showed every shade of green imaginable, every bush that could manage was in bloom, every roadside was lined with spring flowers. It was a day to be glad to be alive, even with a list of errands and the prospect of lugging bags and bundles of groceries and supplies into the car and out of it again.

Here ‘in the bush’ there are the usual spring insects to dampen one’s enthusiasm for filling in the burned spots on the lawn with newly purchased patching seed. Blackflies in the sun, mosquitoes in the shade, more than the darting dragonflies can handle, worse luck. The hummingbirds are back and swarming the feeder. We have bird song, both spring courting song and exasperated clucking. We have three colours of squirrel and lots of rotten, nasty, hole digging chipmunks. We have had a bear through, necessitating two daily trips for me to take in the bird feeders at night and rehang them in the morning. And JG has just done his second cut of the lawn and field. In the process of this cut, he blew a lot of grass clippings into my laundry basket as I prepared to hang out the laundry. But I have forgiven him; had to if I wanted him to barbeque the steaks.

Spring in Lanark, much as usual except for low rainfall, although we have rain forecast for today. Having typed that, I looked out the office window and saw rain falling. And I meant to get the seed patches in before it started. Ah, well. 

It is Victoria Day here in Canada. We celebrate the Queen’s birthday on the first Monday before the 24th of May, even though that date is not the birthday of either Victoria or our present Queen. It is the long weekend dedicated to opening up the cottage, getting the annuals into the flowerbeds (our frost-free date here is the 24th of May), and getting the salt stains out of the car and a coat of wax onto it. It may also be the first big barbeque of the summer (who cares about a little rain), and it is a fine time for fireworks, weather notwithstanding. Lots of bangs and whistles last night, luckily a good way away.

JG has been out hunting porcupines, with a view to keeping the YD’s dog out of the hands of the vet.
She (the dog) had her second mouthful of quills earlier this spring. Three porkies are the score so far. And JG dug a deep hole and buried them. A bear has been by once and so we are not feeding the deer at all and are, as mentioned, being very cautious with the bird feeders.W e hope to have seen the last of him as we are going to be doing a lot of dog sitting over the next two months and while a mouthful of quills is annoying and expensive, a run-in with a bear could be a lot worse. Just ask one of my neighbours who found one in her kitchen a few years ago. Mostly the black bears are shy and seeing one is a rarity. But there is the occasional ‘garbage bear’ that has learned about human trash pails and food, and that requires sterner measures.

I love taking the paper (or iPad) and my coffee out to the screened porch these days. It is on the second floor of our home and surrounded by trees – it is like being in a tree-house, only furnished with comfortable chairs and tables. On the porch I am in the middle of the bird song with a  view all across the lawn and back field but only steps from a coffee refill. There is a wind chime and usually a breeze to swing it. It does collect every grain of pollen that blows by, but it is fairly easy to clear that away. If I remember. I had a guest in a long knit navy skirt last June, right in the middle of the worst of the evergreen pollen dump, and she was not as easy to clean. 

We have more guests in prospect and so I am finally going to have to bite the bullet and finish the hems on the guest bedroom curtains. And it is raining, a perfect day to stay inside and sew. 

Maybe after a few minutes on the porch.