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Reflections on Narsicim, er… Narciscim, arrgh… Narcissism

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One of the best, the worst, or the most beautiful (genetic) gifts you can be given is the “N” word… no, not that one… another “N” word…

Narcissus(ism).

Alas, one word, Narcissus, but here I’ll show you three different outcomes, saving the best for last.

Two Beauty’s and a Beast... or is it The Good, The Bad and the Non-Ugly *why do you make these stretches Larry?*

THE BEST (A Beauty): I want, and generally possess, the gift of spelling acumen that allows me to spell most of the hardest words commonly used in English.

Thank you Mom and Dad for this hereditary spelling endowment…. with little effort, I can spell almost anything… EXCEPT…

NARCISSISM (you know I used spell-check to get this, right?).

Where the heck do I place the “C”s and “S”s and how many in which spot. I get tied up in knots.

And truthfully, I couldn’t hold a smoking candle to those sharp-as-Japanese-Miyaba-knives 10-15 year-olds in the Scripps Spelling Bee that I watch with nerdish fascination as they conduct full autopsies on words I’ve never heard and never used in conversation.

Wunderkinder aside, belief and admiration of this trait, this ability in myself, likely qualifies me for the Narcissist’s Hall of Fame; it’s akin to grinning at my reflection in the Oxford Dictionary.

THE WORST (The Beast): What I don’t want but have already acknowledged I am a possessor of… is the trait of narcissism. Doesn’t writing a blog alone automatically qualify one for nomination in the Best Narcissist category at the Oscars? Slap me now Will (What? too soon?!)

The best and the worst forms of narcissism are truly 1st world issues… nobody huddled in Syria, Ukraine, or Sudan gives a flying sh*t about whether they can spell certain words, or if they hold an excessive interest in themselves.

You can’t really struggle for your daily existence and simultaneously admire your visage in the river.

Given the great difficult patch we’re in on this planet – aren’t Global warming, MAGA, and COVID enough trauma for one decade, do we need an unnecessary war? – isn’t something beautiful a soothing salve no matter where or when you live?

Summerland’s first 2022 Narcissi …….. Photo: Maureen Green

MOST BEAUTIFUL (A 2nd Beauty): yes, the national flower of Wales… I say Daffodil, you say Narcissus. Whichever word you use, they are some of the most lovely, regal flowers that symbolize spring for me more than a chirpy robin or even a flamboyant tulip.

Each year, the first daffodil blooms usher in my eldest daughter’s birthday, portend of longer and longer daylight days, and herald the shedding of winter parkas and mitts as they open their amiable faces with an array of delicate petals and mixture of colours.

Contrary to Meg Ryan’s assertion in You’ve Got Mail about daisies: “They’re so friendly. Don’t you think daisies are the friendliest flower?”- NO Meg, as much as I love you, Narcissi (OMG, another spelling when pluralized) are truly the friendliest flower.

But back to the kids… in 2019, 8 kids, for the first time in 92 years, co-shared the Scripps Spelling Bee trophy (and $50,000 each), after exhausting all the words given in 20 rounds without error.

It’s really enough to knock the stuffing out of any aspiring Narcisist, Narsicisst, oh bloody hell… Daffodil!

Twitter Nation Twitterpation

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Are you ready? Good… then let shagging season begin.

Yup, it’s springtime.

Last weekend I began pruning my Ambrosia apple and Italian prune plum trees, sure signs of spring that, in these global warming times, mean more than the return of robins – in this area of British Columbia many robins stopped migrating south in the winter about 10 years ago.

More spring inspiration? This week I was reading the book Bambi to my grandson and was refreshed on the perennial spring ritual of Twitterpation… sweet… but today, seismic global changes have ritualized us into a perpetual Twitter Nation.

Horniness replaced by irritation and rage.

I long for the return of that lovely twitterpation every spring… can’t help myself. There’s a building pressure and excitement inside… long daylight days, greenery pushing through the earth, birds darting everywhere.

I don’t know about you, but this spring feels differently different… yup, different yet familiar, because 2 spring seasons back we all began the crazy journey of pandemic “social isolation”.

That spring of 2020 was VERY different… remember?

  • We formed quiet lineups outside grocery stores… toilet paper shortages… futile searches for yeast or bottled water.
  • We disinfected canned goods and vegetables when they arrived in our homes.
  • We hesitantly began donning face masks and adopted strange interactional rituals such as elbow bumps.
  • We avoided restaurants and movie theatres like… well, like the plague.
  • We took in newscasts overfilled with stories of ICU units jammed with the dead and dying, tractor trailer morgues outside hospitals, impassioned daily updates by the likes of Anthony Fauci, Andrew Cuomo and our local health bosses.
  • We anxiously anticipated the invention of a miracle-vaccine pulled from a science magician’s hat.

Yes, spring 2020 was much more Twitter Nation than Spring Twitterpation.

Twitterpation is filled with enthusiasm and ebullient zest… Twitter Nation often unwinds with bitter vitriol.

There was no zest in March 2020…. twitterpation just melted away with the dirty winter snows… leaving behind a trail of…

… worry, fear, and uncertainty that filled our hearts and minds. Here’s a song (The Blessing and the Curse) I wrote and recorded in those dusky times reflecting that virus-laden uncertainty…

Then one day the miracle vaccine arrived. Hallelujah, we’re saved. We stood in vaccine lines breathing a collective sigh of relief. Sort of…

And yet – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Here we are in the twitterpation time of year once again… but…

… the worry, the fear, the uncertainty is still with us.

But, not so much arising today from a nasty biological virus, but from a surging maniacal pathogen called Putin.

This virulent bug has infected the human body, and humanity’s immunity systems are struggling just as they did with the COVID contagion.

The world is getting screwed and it doesn’t feel like the giddy sensation of twitterpation at all. Not a bit.

Ukraine is a rape victim that resists and struggles, but, weaker than the wretched perpetrator who insists upon having his way, will likely… sadly… succumb.

Through the unexpected and unwanted destruction and sadness, and with no easy answers in sight, I have to find solace and hopeful signs even when the forward view is bleak.

In spring, hope springs eternal, so…

I’ll leave you with an Emily Dickinson poem that highlights both the beauty of spring light and also the perishability, the impermanence, of spring… the blessing and the curse of our times you might say…

Emily Dickinson

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

Blooms in Ukraine’s Carpathian Mountains

How An Atheist Gets To Heaven…

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Rejoice… Heaven exists!

I’ll bet you didn’t expect that from me, right?

Yes, there is a heaven, a place where we’d like to exist eternally … for the believers – the Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists et al… AND even us atheists too!

…….

(WIKIPEDIA: “Heaven is often described as a “highest place”, the holiest place, a Paradise, in contrast to hell or the Underworld or the “low places” and universally or conditionally accessible by earthly beings according to various standards of divinity, goodness, piety, faith, or other virtues or right beliefs or simply divine will. Some believe in the possibility of a heaven on Earth in a world to come.”)

…….

You likely have your own vision of heaven, and I hope you are, or will, get there… in my head and heart, spring is unassailably a synonym for what I conceive as heaven.

Spring – a spiritual moment, a world, I never want to leave.

Spring – my forever place.

Spring must have fine things
To wear like other springs.
Of silken green the grass must be
Embroidered. One and two and three.
Then every crocus must be made
So subtly as to seem afraid
Of lifting colour from the ground;
And after crocuses the round
Heads of tulips, and all the fair
Intricate garb that Spring will wear.
(Hazel Hall)

If a year taken by season was a musical LP record, then these past two weeks have been nature’s most beautiful love song with frills and beauty akin to what Antonio Vivaldi bowed his violin to centuries ago in his Four Seasons.

To saunter down my rural Okanagan road in the early evening sunshine with its long shadows brings a clear understanding of fierce hunger in a fine Italian cook’s kitchen…

… to be assailed by May’s potpourri of delectable scents… first the lilacs, next the lily-of-the-valley, finally the sweet mixture of blushing apple and plum blossoms.

Flickers and robins, red-winged blackbirds, white-crowned sparrows and goldfinches, provide the musical choir… spring’s Hallelujah Chorus.

A blind person need never see a bird in flight, nor bloom in their lifetime, to revel in the symphonic and aromatic air.

My wife Maureen’s childhood home surrounded by multi-toned lilacs

But the moment passes far too quickly…

Like Jim Croce, I want to save Time in a Bottle.

Stop the clocks.

If there is a perfection in time and place, a memory emblazoned like a first kiss, this is it.

Do I sound like I have Seasonal Twitterpation Disorder? (STD?... hmmmm… maybe a more suitable acronym exists for this!).

Of course I do.

It’s as sensual as any carnal activity (although the trees and flowers are putting on their “clothes”, rather than shedding them).

Annually, as winter grows long-in-the-tooth here in the Great White North, I find myself craving in the early evening’s darkness … I eagerly anticipate the arrival of warmer temperatures, longer languid days, profuse blooms, new avian visitors.

Then one day it emerges… I close my eyes and drink it in greedily, soak in the warmth, absorb the energy that abounds in the air and in the ground…

… and then, eventually, I breathe out as swirling white blizzards of blossom petals drift and sail – like a pillow fight unleashed in the air – and the moment all too quickly subsides, the winds grow still and the ecstasy begins a slow “return to earth”…

…….

Inelegantly, and without my consent, time passed.” (Miranda July)

…….

Akin to reincarnation or re-birth, I get to live in my paradise for a few weeks once every spin of earth’s cosmic calendar, a tempting and luscious amuse bouche that leaves me just a wee touch short of sated and always looking forward to its reappearance, like a dream… of heaven.

McIntosh apple blossoms in a neighbour’s orchard

I Feel Pregnant With New Normal Spring

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chest burst

SPLATTER! My belly bursts open and ruby red blood explodes violently over spring’s natural art canvas.

Despite all the negativity associated with this viral pandemic – and there is tragedy in all directions, whether to health or economy or social structures – there’s an immense pressure of delight inside me that wants to burst out like the gooey creature in the movie Alien.

I pry my eyes open and check to see that I’m still intact after this scintilla of daydream imaginings subsides.

Yes! No burst belly. No blood. I’m all here. I smile.

This explosion of non-medicated pleasure must be akin to the feeling that others experience when they talk of being “Reborn”.

It’s spring.

The perennial Louvre that awaits outside my front door is so much more apparent to me this year. Thank you Coronavirus.

More than I can recall in decades. Thank you Coronavirus.

The lilacs and lily-of-the-valley are sweeter, the rhodos are more colourful, the Scarlet Tanagers more orange and chattery. Thank you Coronavirus.

Maybe it’s all a sense of nostalgia. Or … could it be my caffeine consumption has skyrocketed from lack of scheduled activity? Where’s the cause and effect?

Bottom line? I LOVE spring.

Spring blossoms - The Boston Globe

Sure, I like all the seasons, but I love Spring.

Spring and fall are like a pair of fraternal twins… similar in some ways, but definitely not identical.

Spring is Vivaldi’s helium-laced concerto… I listen to the bud-burst of violins and my mustard-stained T-shirt morphs into a tux, my bottle of Corona Lite becomes a delicate flute of champagne, and I speak with refined precision where once I generously littered my sentences with F bombs and ill-spoken slang.

  • Spring is a newborn lamb that frolics and delights in the moment with no thought for the future or worries or negative events that may befall it in months and years to come.
  • Spring is childlike and curious and naive.
  • Spring is young and full of enthusiasm and forward-looking hope and wonder.
  • Spring is full of light.

Fall too shares many of the same beauties as spring; temperatures moderate, chrysanthemums and asters bloom in profusion and crisp autumn scents fill the air from ripening fruits… but…  in those same beauties lie the seeds of a coming demise, a hibernation and creeping darkness.

Now, I wonder if we can compare the trajectory of our lives with the tenor of the seasons.

Are pubescent and teenage years our spring… our elder and retirement years our autumn? Is one superior to the other?

Is this even debate-worthy?

Beats me… but lets look further anyway…

I see teenage and elder times as the fraternal twins of our lifespan. They have their own sets of excitement and vivacity, and also their snags and nuisances.

Our spring and fall seasons.

spring and fall

  • I remember pimples and thick, dark hair… now I see smile lines and male-pattern baldness (you might see grey roots).
  • I remember worrying about the lack of puberty’s male frippery ie. armpit and groin hair growth, voice deepening… now I worry about excess hair growing on the rims of my ears.
  • I remember the boyish excitement of buying my first car at 17 and then worrying about where the hell I’d find the dollars to pay for the repairs needed on the beat-up old Rambler that got me to college… now I think of a lifetime of savings and healthy financial gains while simultaneously worrying about tanking stock markets and will there be sufficient money to maintain a lifestyle into these elder years.
  • I remember studying and working to learn the amazing wonders of human biology, hoping to pass interminable tests that would lead me forward and give me the basis for a life ahead of stability… now I live with the internal desire to learn and progress knowing that it’s out of interminable interest, curiosity, and passion.
  • I remember ridiculing (and being ridiculed by) “others” who were different (I won’t even outline who these “others” were, you make it up according to your own experiences)… now I cringe thinking back, and I understand today that understanding and compassion comes from meeting, interacting and living in the shoes of others – to feel their joys, pains and difficulties as they see them.
  • I remember the giddy elation of fresh love bounded by the heartbreak and loss of unrequited or broken-off love… now I revel in grandparent love and worry about the heartbreak and loss of loved ones that surround me.

The spring and fall of our lives… the children we love (let’s be realistic, and sometimes abhor) equally but perhaps for different reasons.

This year – this spring – has given most of us an opportunity to settle into a unique moment where we see and hear things just a little differently than we have in our past.

There is more fog when we look out the “future window” but more clarity in the present.

While I’ve always enjoyed the pleasures in the awakening of spring…

… with this season’s opening…

… I’ve unlatched my senses a tiny bit more than ever and saturated myself in the extreme charm and elegance of it all.

I’ll stay splatter free for now and contain that cute little alien inside me that wants to burst out… but only barely.

Thank you Coronavirus…

cute alien

 

 

 

Wondering Where The (Dande)Lions Are… The Migration of Birds, Wines and Music

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Sun’s up mmm hmmm looks OK … the world survives into another day … and I’m thinking about eternity … (Bruce Cockburn)

Everything’s behind normal (is there really such a thing?) in the spring season in this part of the world.

Even the dandelions are hiding away in fear of an unvaccinated chill.

But that’s all changing …

cedar waxwing.jpg

The delicate, darling cedar waxwings who swoop in from parts afar have made their first guest appearance this week – almost 3 months later than we normally spot them swarming in like honeybees to the Mountain Ash tree and its fermented orange-red berries.

The waxwings and robins stagger away in wobbly circles after feasting in a drunken haze, like Star Wars X-Wing fighters.

American Goldfinches parade across the yard, little wind-blown soprano-voiced daffodils, as Downy Woodpeckers lightly punch a quiet percussion rhythm in the tall birches overhead.

Regrettably, the flickers too now hang like feathery rock climbers on the wood siding of the house, attempting their best break and enter. Noisy thiefs.

Yes… SPRING is here… the world is twitterpated with life and sensual exhilaration.

There is sex going on all over my yard. I have to close my blinds to the rampant fornication.

Moving on …

I know I’m not snowdrift crazy (sidebar: that’s fake news) when, as the days grow longer in daylight length, the musical soundtrack inside my head shifts into a new phase, a new mode.

Don’t you feel the changeover happening inside you too?

It’s the same as how my wine preference migrates away from the dark meaty reds … the Pinot Noirs and Merlots … into more sparkly rosés and Riesling/Chardonnay land, even Gewurztraminer!

flying wine bottles

Birds migrate, wine migrates, and music migrates too.

The denser, more complicated musical arrangements of autumn and winter have been boxed up and sent to the basement of my brain until the snows of December return.

Sunshine that lasts as long as the limbs on Daddy Long-legs spiders now suffuses me with bright pop-py tunes that lilt and float and flit like hummingbirds from ear-to-ear through my heart and back out through my mouth in trumpeted sounds of joy.

And… the migration of the music is slightly changing its tune this time around the sun for me.

Over the past year or so I’ve begun collaborating in musical partnerships of different stripes.

Each week now, not unlike birds migrating into my yard, a lovely coterie of talented musicians and singers drops by the mini-music studio that is my living room – the chairs and couches happily sharing their space with the cords, microphones and amplifiers, the recording studio mixer board, the guitars and banjo and mandolin hanging from the walls.

When I strap on my guitar to play, the euphoria and enjoyment of my music soundtrack is expanding just like the universe. Stephen Hawking would be so impressed.

This is good stuff.

music soundtrack.jpg

Music is a universal experience. Every culture, every person has an internal musical dance they love.

I’m listening to and playing my “normal” folk and country-style tunes -yes,  the James Taylors and Carole Kings and Paul Simons – while at the same time adding in sweet French love tunes, some mournful blues, the 50’s Everlys and Elvis, even a bit of jazz.

Each one of my musical guests sits and settles in – a cup of herbal tea or a glass of wine at their side, and shares their talent with me, adding a syrupy richness to my soul, tablespoons of delicious spice.

There is such a beautiful magic that happens when we share our voices, our instrumental talents, our ideas and excitements …

… the harmony of springtime and music shared is uplifting, a spiritual energy re-born as the flowers and birds rejoice along with us.

And shhhhh …. sometimes, a sip or two of delicious spring wine while playing and singing makes the song even sweeter … just ask the lusty cedar waxwings, little drunk revellers carousing out in the trees.

drinking beatles

I Think That I Shall Never See….

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renoir painting.jpg

OMG… Overwhelm…

…  there is so much beauty surrounding me when I step outside my door each morning this week… although…

… my neighbours don’t seem to agree when they catch a rogue glimpse of me in my PJ’s … Eyes on your own property!

I feel like I’m walking within a revered and historic painting.

The Sistine Chapel in my lap.

Renoir and Monet and Van Gogh have spent the night hours artistically brush-stroking a setting for my feast of the morning.

The palette of blues – some pale, some shimmering – where Okanagan Lake and the clear, cloudless sky kiss good morning is like looking into an infinite cosmos.

Spring.

Oh, it’s not only visual beauty, the almond and tulip, the honeysuckle and daphne… but also the musical sounds, the intoxicating scents, the touch of the warm air on my skin.

The white-crowns and California Quail serenade like a morning coffee percolator, the Ponderosa pines perfume the still air, the just-awakened sun gently massaging my shoulders in a genial hug.

It’s a horn-of-plenty and it’s a vernal geyser.

Okanagan Spring.jpg

Beauty of all kinds is deliciously special to us because of its rarity, like isolated gemstones buried fathoms beneath the earth’s surface.

When we cast our eyes or ears on the spring splendour, it’s all the sweeter because we’ve waited and lived by the gate of delayed gratification, like the virginity stop sign that holds back our ardour well past that other gate, the gate of fleshly desire.

Winter’s chill days have migrated north and a new flock of days… longer, milder days… have wandered into this area to feed and grow fat in our valleys and hills before pulling up stakes once more in daylight-dwindling October to depart with the Snowbirds.

Springtime is the sweetest, juiciest bite of the seasons.

Antonio Vivaldi knew this when he captured it in his violin concerto of Spring.

In the spring, at the end of the day,
you should smell like dirt.

Margaret Atwood

But the real reason I love and crave spring so much isn’t merely about the artistic, it’s also about physics and energy.

We all pretty much know that energy is neither created nor destroyed (my Grade 11 Physics class taught me something, right) ? It exists everywhere, sometimes sitting in silent repose, patiently waiting to reveal its vitality.

Spring, for me, is when that cooped up, dusty old energy hibernating inside me like a spore, a spore that for months or years awaits the perfect moment to return to growth, comes bustling to the surface, crying out for its orgasm.

Yes, orgasm, it’s that powerful.

California Quail.jpg

The energy unleashed on a mild spring day feels exhilarating, boundless and inspiring.

Everything and everyone bustles in the outdoors, it’s as if an Orange Is The New Black prison break has occurred and everyone jumps into the enticing pond just beyond the fences.

The outdoor markets of cities and towns sprout tables of green onions and lettuce where children rush and gambol between them like frisky young lambs.

Even the sounds of lawnmowers and leaf blowers and hedge trimmers aren’t so annoying when the backdrop is fresh, new growth from lush plantings.

The unforgivable becomes happily tolerable when the air is alive with hummingbirds and robins and peach blossoms.

Today… this week… I must sip and savour all of this wonder, this perennial miracle of spring.

I have no excuse to let it slip unnoticed, unappreciated, unloved.

As I wander the pathways of my garden, surrounded by Lily-of-the-Valley sprouts and the soft cooing of the chickens, I inhale deeply into my pores.

When I am gone from this earth, I’ll not need worry about the existence of a heaven.

Each year for many decades now, I’ve been given a front row seat to this heaven that exists in my mortal world.

It doesn’t ask anything from me other than to pay attention and maybe not ruin it all by insisting on wearing my pyjamas outside.

Pyjamas outside.jpg

Ah… Yeahhhhhh!

 

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.

hummingbird.jpg

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.

Okanagan sailboat.jpg

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

Starting Near Zero

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bmo-marathon-finish.jpg

WOOHOO… Way to go!!

The crowds lined up behind the fenced barriers are cheering, clapping loudly, happily for the ragtag mixture of runners:

  • the hangdog ones scraping their exhausted feet over the pavement
  • the energetic gazelles with beaming smiles
  • the coolly oblivious with their iPod buds firmly affixed in their ears
  • the proud Moms or Dads pushing their sleeping wee ones in jogging strollers

The FINISH line banner arcs across Vancouver’s West Pender Street like a welcoming Pot O’ Gold rainbow.

Hallelujah!

This is my favourite time of the year.

Spring.

IMG_7744.JPG

Candy-scented pink and white fruit blossoms unfurling like little cocoons releasing their multi-coloured butterflies everywhere.

Leaves laying a carpet of emerald green across the sky overhead.

Furry tan-toned marmots along the side of the road tilting their heads upwards to their gods seeking the warm sunshine after their winter nap.

Even the backyard chickens look like they have bigger Disney smiles on their beaks at this time of year.

It’s also the time of year where I start out once again from near zero.

I’m talking about my drive to exercise – to sweat intensely.

sweat2

 

In mid-winter I’ll sweat in the gym most days, but my levels of enthusiasm and drive drag and slow, as if the plow blade is digging into rocky soil making the workload heavy and cumbersome.

I manage to continue because it’s become a well-ingrained habit and part of what makes me, well… me.

But the fitness peaks I attain each spring and summer begin dwindling bit by bit over the autumn and winter. The daylight length shrinks in concert with my muscle strength and stamina.

And even though I rarely think about it, the inner knowledge of my parents’ relatively early deaths (ages 61 and 73) from heart disease spur that internal drive; the drive to do the things I can and am able to do to stave off the Grim Reaper for one more day, one more year play quietly but insistently in the back of my mind.

In early spring, my physical activity motor revs and builds more and more until it crescendos like an orchestra reaching the climax of the symphony. My energy levels and desire to push myself grow Viagra-like day-by-day in concert with the lengthening of the daylight hours. I love it.

Every year for a long time, I’ve entered running or triathlon races of varying distances… the shortest would be 5 kilometres but I’ve run lots of distances … 5 k, 10 k, 15 k, half marathon, full marathon.

Running has taught me lessons about life. There are lessons to be found everywhere we look, in everything we do for pleasure or for work.

Akin to looking out over the flat prairies and thinking that there’s nothing to be seen, some things are just more subtle and require a closer examination. The prairies are teeming with activity and life and visual excitement when observed more intensely, and so are the days of our lives.

And one of those lessons is that every race is just as tough as the next, no matter the distance.

Every running race – like all of life’s real challenges – is difficult and demanding.

graveyard runner

People say to me, “oh, it’s only a 5k, that should be easy”. Yeah… sorta. On the surface that would seem to be the case.

Shorter distance, easy. Longer distance, hard.

Makes sense, right? Not really…

It’s all about pacing.

A long race (eg. half marathon, marathon) means a slow steady pace, carefully doling out energy in small measured dollops so our legs can carry us the full distance. It takes conscious thought and self-knowledge to make it to the finish.

Too many flame out and “hit the wall” (I should be embarrassed by the number of times I’ve “hit the wall”) from over-confidence and endorphin highs that trick us into believing our superhero capes will magically carry us through.

Shorter races (eg. 5 k, 10 k) call for a different strategy where speed-work and mental toughness play major roles. Running at a near breathless pace for just 20 minutes to 1 hour  demands a huge mental effort and inner strength. It’s like running on a tightrope where a tiny excess of running speed will knock you down hurricane-like, wind rampaging through a forest. It calls for fine-tuning and finesse and a willingness to tolerate a taste of blood and vomit mixing in your mouth.

All of life’s “races” demand inner strength and stamina and self-knowledge.

Sometimes we succeed in measuring out the perfect amount of energy required. Heavenly exhaustion.

Sometimes, we push too hard and burn and crash, learning harsh lessons about ourselves and what we might do differently next time out. Devilish curse.

Sometimes, I might even add often, we grow cautious and move too slowly and underestimate our ability and strength and never accomplish the higher possibilities that lie inside us. Zootopia Slothdom.

Two Sundays from now, I’ll be lining up in Queen Elizabeth Park alongside 15,000 other nervously hopeful half-marathon and marathon runners.

The light embracing scent of a hundred well-used Porta-Potties will waft delicately in the early morning air. We’ll all sing O Canada together and anxiously listen for the sharp bang of the starter’s pistol.

And two hours later when I see that beautiful encouraging FINISH banner, then feel the weight of the Finisher’s Medallion around my neck, I and 15,000 others will have learned a whole new lesson – whether starting from Zero or Superhero – about ourselves.

Life's race

 

 

 

 

 

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