Fill my soul with colour

I posted an article with pictures of Playfair Park. It is a one acre park close by my home.One acre is not very large but part of the charm of pocket parks is their smallness, their intimacy, their sense of enclosing everyone in the park and, because they are small, the sense of neighbourliness. These are not parks intended to attract vast crowds. Few people drive to such a park. Nearly everyone walks. There is the sense of this being our park.

I am so enamored of this park and, remember how small it is, that I want to share some more pictures.

In the last couple of days, I was overawed by the mountains of BC, of the rivers the colour of pale jade, of vast forests but here, in the park, I am enclosed not by majesty but intimacy.

The rolling foothills of Alberta, the big sky, the mesas and arryos make a world so large it seems impossible to encompass it. And Saskatchewan with its horizons at the edge of the world, its vast fields and, up close, its copses of trees and pools of dark water. Everything is big, makes me feel like I should be able to fly, to soar over it. But Playfair Park nestles me, fills up my soul with colour.

These are the early colours but soon they will fade and be replaced by the poppies, white, red, purple, yellow. The flowers of summer will bloom many shades of yellow. The lillies will compete for everyone’s attention.

I have seen some of it, I’ll miss some of it, but there’ll still be flowers in Playfair Park when I return and I will walk there again and fill up my soul with colour to last me the coming winter.


When I’m walking from Cattle Point to Willows Park in Victoria, I see the Sunday joggers. Pale legs, shorts, T-shirt, their faces pulled tight with pain. I’m encased in GoreTex and a sweater and shirt, wool pants. They slog by, whump, whump, whump, their Nike Air Max running shoes beating against the concrete. No knees in three years if they keep this up, I think. When I folk danced, the instructor wouldn’t let us dance without shock absorbent soles in our shoes, wouldn’t let us dance on concrete, wouldn’t let us stamp. If the runners passing me keep this up they’ll end their days walking like they’ve got legs carved from wood.

These are the weekend warriors. The Tarzans, the Roman centurions, the tribesmen hunting gazelles with nothing but their speed and a spear. Five days a week they sit glued to a chair, staring at a computer or answering a phone, drinking coffee and eating Tim Bits, their flesh loosening itself from their bones, then someone at the computer screen beside them goes toes up and that day they leave work early and buy sweat pants and shirt, shorts, running shoes. A day later they jog past me driven by fear.

I’m strolling along the sidewalk enjoying the view over the rose bushes that have been shaved by years of wind into an angle away from the cliffs. Two joggers stagger by. One of them has eaten 1376 donuts in the past year. That’s the only thing that will explain the loose rolls jiggling under his sweat shirt. His breathing sounds like someone dragging a metal file over granite. Behind them comes Harry. Harry worked down the hall from me. He had a passion for Danish, cream pies, chocolate croissants, butter. He’s twelve years younger than me but recently, his doctor told him that if he didn’t lose weight and get into shape he wasn’t going to be around much longer.

Men used to spend all day cutting down trees, digging holes in the ground, breaking concrete, picking rocks. My great grandfather and great uncles used to walk thirty miles from our home town of Gimli to Selkirk, buy a sack of flour, put it on a trump line or over one shoulder and walk back with it. There was no market for walking machines, no Nordic Track, no health clubs. There was just daily life. My father was amazed when he heard about rowing machines. Spending all that time going nowhere. He used to row his boat out to his nets, lift his nets, then row back to shore. He did it every day, sometimes twice a day, in the morning and evening after he’d spent eight hours cutting hair in his barbershop. He had a stomach of steel and could eat butter on everything including his oatmeal cookies.

On our block there’s a civil servant who power walks. He thrashes his way down the street like he’s a non-swimmer and someone threw him off the dock. He walks on his heels and swings his arms. If I swung my arms like that, I’d be afraid they might fly off. When he drives to the health club, he circles the block three times until he finds a parking spot close by rather than park three blocks away, then runs on a conveyer belt until sweat pours down from his crotch to his ankles.

I hate jogging. There seems to be a taboo against saying that. But it’s true. It has to be the most boring thing anyone can do. I know about endorphins and runner’s high. It isn’t worth it. Instead, I hike Mt. Finlayson. Mt. Finlayson isn’t a big mountain. Old people and kids can hike it but there are places where it’s steep. When I was hiking it once a week, I got so I could reach the top in an hour and come down in half that time.

Hiking uphill is more interesting than jogging. For one thing, you’ve got time to look around. There are banana slugs. Eagles. Hawks. The occasional deer. Waterfalls of ferns. Arbutus whose bark turns from pale green in spring to deep purple in winter. Cedar and broadleaf maples. The maples have licorice fern hanging from the crooks of branches. Old man’s beard and lungwort. I got runner’s high about one third of the way up. I also got my second wind there.

It’s amazing the things we can be vain about. I was quite proud of my hiking. I couldn’t run up Finlayson but I could go at a pretty steady pace. Feelings of superiority snuck in. I sneered quietly at the joggers straining by on the Esplanade. Then one day as I was descending Mt. Finlayson, I met a man coming up. Older than me. He stopped to say hi.

“What’ve you got in your knapsack?” I asked him.

“Magazines.” This was a large knapsack and it obviously was full. “I’m getting in shape for hiking in the Himalayas.”

I even met the occasional jogger on the trail. They’d come chugging by. These were the kind of joggers who run in marathons. Iron-men to be. The kind who’s bodies are encased in bone, not fat. They’d appear behind me, pass by me, and disappear on the trail ahead. Me-nearly-Tarzan kind of people. Maybe even Tarzan’s younger brothers. But they didn’t look like they were having any better a time than the Tim Horten’s men who jog the Esplanade.

Harry saw me and stopped to chat. “It’ll all be worth it,” Harry of the white legs, pot belly and red head-band declared, “when the endorphins flood in.” When he finishes wheezing, he gets me to admire his two hundred and ninety five dollar runners, his Gamin Foreunner 305 wrist watch and his Runlite 4 Hydration Belt. This is the third week he’s been jogging. He likes to be well equipped. He also thinks the equipment will be chick bait. Harry is sixty and given to strange fantasies.

“It seems a tough way to get some babes,” I replied.

Dry Rot

This is an old house. By Canadian standards, that is. Not old like in Sweden or Italy. Old enough to have a certain lean to it. It’s built of wood as is appropriate for the West Coast. There are some stone houses around but they’re oddities, sort of like the places with sod roofs.
There are advantageous to a wood house. In an earthquake they’ll most likely shimmy and shake and except for some cracked plaster survive just fine. The problem is that this is the West Coast. It rains most of the winter. Things grow. If you leave something out for a few days, you come back to find it covered in periwinkle or blackberry vines or deadly nightshade. You have the feeling if you fall asleep in a hammock, when you wake you’ll need to call for help. A neighbor will have to come with shears to cut you free.
Visitors from the prairies rave about our gardens. These are the people who in late August put away their lawn mower and their shovel and hoe and rototiller for ten months. The snow buries everything so they can watch soap operas all winter or go curling.  Here, there’s no escape from gardening. If we get snow, it lasts two weeks, then disappears and leaves me with the job of chopping the broken branches off the rhodos. It’s nice that the Japanese quince blooms in late  January but that means gardening has begun again. The snowdrops soon appear and unless I resort to spreading Weed and Feed at night, there’ll soon be hyacinth and daffodils. I’ve barely had time to wash the stains out of the knees of  my jeans before I’m digging and fertilizing and weeding again.
With the rain comes mold. Not a little mold. Blue mold, black mold, white mold. Mold that covers everything. With the mold comes dry rot. Dry rot is a peculiar thing. Everything looks perfectly fine but when I step on the stairs one day, they collapse. When I look to see why, I discover the supporting beam has turned to dust. I can break apart the wood with my hands, push my fingers through it. Dry rot is a bit like marriages that disintegrate. They look great on the surface but in private they’re turning to dust. It’s like those people who appear on the news for having murdered their family or neighbours. Everyone says about them, they seemed quite normal, a little withdrawn perhaps, not hail fellow well met, but polite, considerate and then one day they butcher their family or friends. Rotten to the core under a veneer of politeness and paint.
That’s how  the steps to my back sun deck went. Perfectly sound it seemed and then dropping with a stomach clenching thunk. My father found a scrap of lumber and made a rough joint to hold everything in place but I knew I had to call  in a carpenter. He took the steps apart like a jigsaw puzzle, setting aside the good bits and throwing out those that had begun to dissolve. He hammered and sawed and banged and then the stairs were up again, sturdy as ever. He put a sheet of tar paper where the bottom step touched the ground.
“Earth and wood don’t mix,” he said. “The ground will rot out the wood in no time. Keep them separate as much as you can.”
I scouted around the property and discovered that when the lot next door was raised the contractor simply dumped fill up against the back of my carriage house. I got out my hoe and squeezed in between the embankment and the back wall and began to pull the soil away from the foundation.. The shingles were soft and punky.  There was no flat place to stand, no room to use a shovel. I had to hoe the debris back toward the lane, wrenching my hands each time I hit a rock. I’d dig that out and start again only to find another rock. I kept at it, though, because another winter and the shingles would be as soft as blotting paper, the uprights falling to pieces.
Now, I’m going around my yard, other people’s yards when I’m visiting, knocking on wood, checking the foundations, checking the beams that hold up our lives. I’ve got myself a small pocket knife, when no one’s looking, I press the point into wood just to make sure everything’s okay.