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School Bells Sing … Are You Listening?

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Remember when the music
Came from wooden boxes strung with silver wire
And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire,
For we believed in things, and so we’d sing.”

Harry Chapin

school days

DAMN! I’m wondering if this is the fire and brimstone of Old Testament lore shitting down on the Okanagan Valley (and maybe your locale too) with floods, fires, and the worst global pestilence of all – good ole boy Donny-John Trump!

The only ones truly thriving in this plague are the chosen ones – comedians…

Summer 2017 – again – has melted away like a deliciously sweet Pralines and Cream ice cream cone licked madly on the Penticton beachfront, the escaped drips available on the front of your T-shirt to sample later.

The diamond glitter of sunshine on the balmy lake water, tropical scents of sunscreen, electric bursts of music and kids’ laughter are, alas, diminishing.

The smoke from surrounding forest fires that’s languished over the Naramata hillside for most of the past month is nowhere to be seen today. Yesterday’s wheezy cough is today’s soothing clear inhale of September joy.

It’s the perfect Okanagan Valley summer day. Or has autumn already descended?.

I scan down the line of parked cars along the sandy beach strip and already there are fewer Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington and Oregon plates… the British Columbia home-grown ones suddenly predominate, something not seen since mid-June when floods, not forest fires were the threat du jour.

And I’m sitting here on this first, beautiful day of September reminiscing about the many many September 1st’s and new school years that rotated past as my kids were growing from toddlers to school-age to tweens and adolescents and then, like reaching the end of the carnival Fun House – half exhilarated, half terrified – stopped.

Stopped dead like a healthy heart in mid-beat. The music went quiet.

summer end.jpg

School day 1, 1990 – I vividly remember standing outside the portable of my 5 year-old daughter’s kindergarten class, gathering her up in my bursting-proud Daddy arms, she in her little white and pink polka-dotted dress, and kissing her so long.

She wanted my hug but she wanted even more to begin this new escapade. “Dad… Dad! Mr. Lambert’s ready for us!“.

One last little squeeze and I released her like a dove winging away, free in the breeze.

I felt a squeezing in my throat, wetness welling in my eyes as she skipped away.

She was so excited to be a “big kid” and entering the classroom with the Oshkosh group of little moppets, most of whom I would watch proudly stroll to the front of the stage in tux’s and ballgowns in 13 years to pick up their graduation diplomas.

She was so little, so pleased, so ready to begin this new adventure.

I don’t remember my parents seeing me off to school on my first day, so this is a treasured memory for me that resists the chalkboard eraser that has wiped away so many other precious moments.

……………..

Remember when the music
Was the best of what we dreamed of for our children’s time
And as we sang we worked, for time was just a line,
It was a gift we saved, a gift the future gave.

……………..

Suddenly, the kids were grown. The long chapter ended.

All of the Back-to-School crescendos and decrescendos, all the adolescent fire, rain and sun whipped and flung in a thousand directions over time, dissipated.

Now it was time to load up the van or the car or the plane (vehicles morphed over time, like my grey’ing hair colour, to accommodate the friends and the sports or dance activities of the time) and fly off to deposit kids and their boxes and computers in university or college dorm rooms.

I wore my Dad jeans up and down dorm stairs and hallways, hauling boxes, taking in the young adult excitement and smell of new freedom hanging loosely in the air. The aura of sexual tension was the wallpaper that lined the hallways filled with crop tops and short shorts and muscle shirts.

And just like elementary and high school times, the post-secondary years blew past.

Scary fast.

Formula One racer fast.

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Yes, my mind wanders through time and space.

There’s a colossal pod of starlings making a huge sound like a rambunctious swarm of cicadas outside my window this morning.

The grand cedar tree across the street is bathed in early sunlight and coated in the grey-black birds as if they’re auditioning for a new remake of some classic Hitchcock film.

The warmth of summer lingers.

But soon, the BC smoke and flooding will be a mirage in the rear view mirror.

Soon, new school clothes will wear out.

Soon, sweet flirtations will erupt in the playground.

Soon, notebooks will fill with pictures and poems and sums and quotients.

There’s a shift, a mental refresh, a reshaping  that occurs when the calendar strikes September… and the universe’s cycle continues its relentless spin.

To every thing there is a season.

……………..

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

autumn okanagan

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Springtime… and Longer Days… on Lake Okanagan

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okanagan scene.jpg

 

Jerry P. – grey mane a ruffled nest atop his head – rumbles by on his rollicking old red Massey Ferguson tractor and twinkles a toothy oversized wave hello.

Jerry’s getting older, maybe in his mid-70’s now, but his childlike gregariousness hasn’t dwindled a bushel or a peck over the years that he’s orcharded his peaches and apples on this spot in Summerland.

The Blossom Fruit Stand his long-gone Dad built, has been a stolid landmark on the graceful meandering highway towards Penticton for more than half a century.

The locals and tourists stop to buy fresh, juicy cherries from Jerry while oohing and aahing at the big floral display of scented roses encircling the parking area.

Jerry grew up here, schooled, partnered, procreated and toiled here. One day he’ll die here in this Okanagan Valley.

The sight and sound of Jerry rattling along these days is as much a sure sign of spring and incoming summer as thirsty chirpy robins at the bubbling pond, or darting calliope hummingbirds at the flowering almond in the backyard.

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Are you, like me, feeling like a child on Christmas morning with the days growing longer, like Donald Trump’s nose?… even the sun shines into our bedroom window at 5 am now, simultaneously both wonderful and irritating because who wants sun blazing in their eyes at the break of dawn? There are greater horrors I know… such as…

… the dark days of December and January.

Shortened winter days are a perennial struggle for me, a passage in a dusky, shadowed tunnel, constantly looking up and forward for the radiant glow that I know awaits… finding purpose in making the days pass productively in the headwinds of underlit hours and weeks.

Seasonally affected? You bet. It’s like (BEWARE: Gender Appropriation ahead!) patiently awaiting, then shedding the monthly feminine menses that afflict and inflict, to reluctantly tolerate the discomfort, but never blissfully embrace.

I was reminded this week – struck actually – while driving down the sloped hill on the winding, paved road from the Summerland Ornamental Gardens, of how my soul yearns for spring… the long, sunbathed days… the mild, garden-perfumed air.

My spirituality, my inner enthusiasm, lives and thrives in the burgeoning splendour of springtime.

The view of the Okanagan Valley and lake that spreads out when coming down from the Gardens is beyond my ability to decently describe, almost like my inability to recount my first sighting of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate overlooking the Incan treasure.

The Okanagan vista is a precious watercolour painting awash in royal blue water, white incisions of late snow, hunter green treescapes with slashes of raw umber rock and soil on the hillsides.

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The undulating hills that hug the lake are infused with 5 o’clock shadow-stubble of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir; a few scattered Western larch, sage and rabbit bush fill gaps like puzzle pieces in the landscape.

Lush greenery abounds in the vineyards and orchards holding ground close to the lake, the Spartan and Ambrosia apple blossoms filled with the busy humming of bees doing their perennial work before French-Canadian kids and Mexican temporary workers take over to finish the job through the season.

The vernal freshness and blueness of the water below sucks you in. The big lake, while fairly narrow, stretches like a towering basketball player 135 k. in both directions, from Penticton in the south to Vernon in the north of the valley.

The lake is incredibly… dangerously… high this year.

A huge collection of logs and tree stumps have washed down the creek, overflowing from melting snows, ferociously rinsing the creek beds of anything not solidly held in place. The flotsam and debris and logs have crashed into the lake like a messy pileup on a foggy highway.

For the next few weeks at least, it will seem like a thousand bumpy wooden Ogopogos (local version of the Loch Ness Monster) have come to the surface to feed on insects and larvae. Canada Geese will line their fluffed goslings up to rest on bobbing bannisters.

Soon… tender, melodious spring will fade into searing summer like blossoms blowing from the peach trees, and it’s a sweet lover that leaves me behind, a lover I’ll forgive and welcome back again and again.

Logs on Okanagan Lake

Spring is where an atheist like me encounters the greatest struggle – the redness of tulips and the sharp golden sunsets, the music in ecstatic, twitterpated birdsong – how is it that somehow, miraculously, a random beauty springs from ethereal blankness?

Yes, spring is here in the Okanagan.

Jerry is happily out and about on his tractor, and my heart soars with the Ospreys as they take wing, feathers tickling the azure sky.

Andrew Greeley writes:

Perhaps the worst thing which can happen to us humans, is to lose our wonder. The tragedy of closing your mind and heart to the wonders of Spring … the wonder of a new born baby … the wonder of love … the wonder of Christmas … Unless you learn to cherish the beauty of Spring, you will never be free from your poverty of aesthetic appreciation.”

blossoms.jpg

Sweetness in the Springtime … And the Living is Easy …

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sun thru window

There is something strangely delicious in the streaming rays of sun lancing – like blood spurting from a sharp knife wound – through the north-facing window of our bedroom at 5 am.

It’s especially wonderful because like a lunar eclipse, it’s both infrequent and fugitive.

For about a three month window starting in mid-May, the tilt of the earth gives us this bright early morning gift.

I wiggle with a boyish enthusiasm as I jump from my bed, almost as if it was Christmas morning and Santa’s treasures lay bountiful by the sparkling yule tree.

Spurning my more typical half- to full-naked walkabout the house to turn on tea kettles and release sleeping felines from their cozy bedrooms, I pull on some pyjama pants and a t-shirt, slip on the well-worn blue slippers anchored by the bed and dance myself outdoors to take in the heady smells of sweet lilac and pine and any other spring bloomer that happens to be awake and alive …

Fluffy neighbourhood cats, peering at me as if I were a predatory coyote preparing to feast on their flesh, scamper away when they spot me. The chirping of robins, the high-pitched song of the American Goldfinch and the occasional cry of a loon are sweet hymns in the air.

I look upwards and spy a couple of crossing white jet contrails against the azure background, like little frothy whitecaps on Okanagan Lake; a flying tin can filled with sunny vacation dreamers or darker worriers of a dozen kinds.

female-goldfinch

 

You know, I have to jump and take advantage of my excitement and enthusiasm at this time of year … because … if I close my eyes for even just a moment, the days shrink shorter like a man in an icy lake, wrinkled orange leaves drift softly to the ground and I’m left in a colourless, muffled, non-flora scenario.

Even Antonio Vivaldi knew how wonderful spring was when he composed his violin concerto The Four Seasons. Is any piece of music more evocative of springtime or any other season than his masterpiece?  I rest my case.

Of course the other seasons are beautiful in their own right, but they don’t trigger the same spontaneous enthusiasm from my inner core.

It’s a very special excitement mainly because it is so brief. If long, mild spring days lasted throughout the year, would I feel the same zeal, the same excitement that blossoms inside me each bright spring morning? I doubt it.

………………….

The things that are most scarce in our life bring on the strong urge to appreciate and treasure their uniqueness.

Let’s ponder this for a moment.

Those things that are plentiful in our lives we develop a muted response to, we become desensitized … a blasé sense of “it doesn’t really matter much”.

“Larry, I don’t quite get it …”, you say … “Can you give me a few examples?” 

Sure.

Some things most of us have plenty (or too much) of:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Sight
  • Peace
  • Sex
  • Taylor Swift
  • Chocolate
  • Kardashians
  • Selfies

Swift selfie

We take these for granted because they’re always there, especially Taylor Swift and the Kardashians.

We forget that previous eras, earlier generations, struggled for survival in the wilderness and put their lives on the line through famines and wars and childbirth. We all know how that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

But we forget the attitude of gratitude. We become desensitized to the wonders of what we have.

Things we often feel short of:

  • Money
  • Time
  • Sex
  • Gratitude
  • Esteem
  • Helium
  • Chocolate
  • Laughter

chocolate laugh

Everyone seems to want the time and money to make their own choices, and yet, most of us work hard and long to pay the monthly bills. And so when the opportunity arises to eat some creamy sweet chocolate after a round of raucous sex, we feel the wonders of play. But if we experience this every day… well… it just becomes a chore that feels onerous and stale. Right?

I know… I know… I can hear you. “Larry… you put CHOCOLATE and SEX on both lists, what’s with that?

The Man on the Fringe knows that we all have different appetites when it comes to sweetness of all kinds … different strokes for different folks. I like to accommodate all tastes in my writing.

………………….

I love and appreciate springtime and then after its brief visit, I lament its passing.

The only thing that keeps me smiling after the daffodils and tulips finish their bloom is knowing, understanding, believing … that the start of another football season will finally bring my Hamilton Tiger Cats a long-delayed Grey Cup in November … close to the shortest day of the year when my springlike dreaming rises again once more.

And then I find my gratitude, realizing that I could have been born a Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan.

I rest my case.

Ticats