Last year we were in Ottawa for Canada Day. Oldest son worked at the Canadian Museum of History and we went to see the exhibits he’d developed in his 4 years there. It was wonderful week, with a few days in the Eastern Townships exploring on our own, and spending time with Forrest, Manon, and Arthur in Ottawa. On July 1st, we went over to the Museum to watch the huge screens showing what was going on across the river. It rained. We got soaked. But the crowds—huge and peaceful—made the whole evening so festive and lively. The fireworks were extraordinary. Manon took this photograph of starbursts and light above the Alexandra Bridge. We had to cross the bridge later on our walk back, though I confess we stopped at one point and called for an Uber ride for the last few kilometers home. (It was long after midnight and we’d had to walk miles already that day, as the buses in Ottawa couldn’t negotiate the huge crowds in front of the Parliament buildings.)
This year, we’re home. Just us. And it was a day of chores. John made the most ingenious door in a window of our utility room so that the cat Winter can let himself in and out because we are weary of his nocturnal habits. He goes outside after his dinner but then he wants in around, oh, 3 or 4 a.m. He comes to the window right above my pillows and either cries in the most piteous way or else he pummels the French door leading from the sun-room off our bedroom to the deck. You are dreaming, dreaming of something wonderful, and then you wake to the strangest sound that you realize is cat feet on glass. Thus the door in the window, the place where the small screen was. There’s a pine shelf he can easily jump up to and then a chair in the utility room so that he can hop down. After the door was finished, John returned to the current project, which is deconstructing the little deck off our printshop, so that he can salvage any usable lumber and rebuild to ensure another 25 years of safe entry and exit into the place where we print our High Ground Press broadsheets.
I took manure around various areas—cabbage patch, salad boxes, potted tomatoes and tomatillos, the beans that are climbing up their arrangements of poles to the sky. Because it’s been so wet, I was thinking that everything needed a good feed and the compost box is pretty much empty.
Last year we were in Ottawa and this year, home. But home, in a way, is the whole country. I’ve lived on both coasts and have been in the north, though not yet to Nunavut. The landscapes change, the accents (and even the languages) change, but somehow it does feel like it’s all home. We have our difficult history to come to terms with but we also value things that sound so small when you use words for them. Civility. Reasonable manners. Care and kindness for the most part. An extraordinary diversity.
This morning I was lying in my bed, drinking my coffee, and I could hear the radio downstairs. I wasn’t really listening, but then I was. Because it was Joni Mitchell, singing one of my favourite songs, the one I used to hear when I lived on Crete and the tavernas played Blue over and over again. I loved it then and I love it still.
On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
oh I would still be on my feet
In those years, I thought I might live elsewhere, I couldn’t imagine a future in which I lived on a piece of land for nearly 40 years, but I live here, with great joy. Is it the country that’s in my blood like holy wine? In a way it is. There’s lots of hand-wringing about our place in the world, our history with its difficult chapters. Last year I wrote this after our Canada Day in Ottawa and it still rings true for me:
From where we were, we couldn’t see the tipis by the main stage in front of Parliament. There’s a lot wrong with our country and it’s a good time to remember those things. It’s too late in our history for the injustices to go unchecked and unacknowledged. Economic and educational disparity, poor water: all of it, any of it, is unacceptable. But we also have a country in which great things are possible and we need to insist on fairness and equality. Looking at all the faces around me, listening to them sing, watching the fathers hold their children up to see the beautiful lights in the sky, and the mothers consoling babies for whom the noise was too much, the teenagers waving wands decorated with maple leaves and carrying little flags, I felt I was part of something big and beautiful. Not perfect. But it’s up to us to try harder, to insist that those we elect work towards a better system that serves us all well, not just some of us. Or maybe even most of us.