Thursday, January 31, 2008

testament on the hill

Although every Thursday means a long 7:20 am walk along the marina to the Hoito Restaurant with my neighbour, last night we decided to skip it. Yesterday's -40 windchill was tolerable in the sun of the afternoon--I decided to walk Musti and Tassu along the back lanes behind Court, Algoma, and Ruttan streets to find shelter from the winds--but we've been battling too many biting cold -40 windchill days and nights. I did go out for a walk later in mid-afternoon. It was clear and cold.

I stopped to snap a photo from the top of the Ambrose St. stairs, looking south, on my way to Bay St. The stairs, like all steps and sidewalks in the city, are covered in ice. Thankfully, sanded. Still, you bless low tech like handrails when global climate change wreaks massive fluctuations in your city, like rain on Monday night and a rapid drop to -28 c late Tuesday and winds that wake you up at night.

Another flight of stairs run off the Ambrose St. steps, but they lead nowhere and are unused. The photo is not atilt. That's how the land slopes. At one time these stairs led to the far house whose property runs along the west border of the Waverley Towers, but that house is now abandoned and boarded up. So, the letter carrier need not trudge up these snow covered stairs. From the windows of that house, you would have a prime view of Thunder Bay harbour. The house sits on prime real estate. But, simply neglected. No one home.

From the top of Lark St. you can see the spire of the Finnish Labour Temple. That's the building that houses the Hoito Restaurant. In 2010 it will celebrate its 100th birthday. Renovations are in the works, celebrations, too. On my way back, walking along Banning St to the Waverley St. hill, I came across this ...what remains of a tree. (click on the photo to enlarge) My neighbour and I passed it one morning in the fall after a crew had come by to trim it and the tree behind it. Why the trees weren't cut down completely is a mystery. Why leave them as some sort of bare urban totem pole? Odd phallic landscaping.

The word 'testament' is etymologically linked to the word 'testicles'. From the Latin root 'testis', which refers to 'to witness' and also the male body part: 'testicle'. One and the same. In the past, only men qualified for testifying, for giving evidence. Like the Old Testament. The testimony of 70 Levite priests.

The wounds of the tree scream out when you walk by. I testify to that.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

who would walk dogs in parking lots, anyway?

The more I think about that parking lot the city is putting in at the corner of Cumberland and Camelot streets, the angrier I get. Is this the solution to help beautify downtown cores that are struggling to stay alive in places like my town where box store mentality has clouded quite a few heads?

Is this the solution our city council comes up with? Add more asphalt? Add more surface parking for cars? Enable car culture? Add more gray (dead) space? Lifeless of any green, no trees, just easy-to-snow-plow empty spaces of urban ugliness? Add to existing mistakes? Continue old ways of "development"?

Besides the near empty Shoreline Hotel parking lot, close by, on the next corner, is another near empty parking lot across from the Whalen Building. I can't imagine in my wildest dreams that there is somehow going to be a rush of cars vying to park in this new parking lot. And shouldn't we be encouraging public transit instead? Thinking of ways to make public transit and walking desirable means of getting from place to place?

What about 3 trees on that small corner lot instead? A small unexpected oasis of green? A green sweep to clean skies? to soothe eyes that are already accosted with rundown? Trees to commune with like the cedars by McVicar's Creek (photo on the left)? Or perhaps city councilors are afraid "the wrong elements" will hang out in the park if they put a bench there? Or maybe trees need to be pruned. By city workers that need to be hired. Maybe the park will need maintenance -- unlike asphalt, which just needs re-surfacing again and again. And again. This is NWO, afterall.

With asphalt you can just forget that that lot even exists because--you can bet--that none of the city councilors live downtown P.A. or even WALK through it regularly.

This morning while I was making my pot of oatmeal*, I listened to Sounds Like Canada on CBC radio (scroll down to Wed Jan 30 to hear the podcast: "the relationship between commuting and urban sprawl"). The program was about re-designing cities to get away from wasteful sprawl and wisely create dense downtown living spaces. The guests spoke about creating pedestrian conducive environments, becoming more environmentally and economically sustainable, and using space in new ways that harken back to becoming communities of citizens rather than simply passersby in cars.

Surface parking, stated one of the guests, is a wasteful, expensive way of using urban land. Visionary cities are thinking of ways to get away from this old way of blighting the landscape, that moves cities away from being networks of pedestrians. Interesting, I thought, some cities see surface parking as expensive and problematic on many different levels, while other towns see parking lots as the answer!!!!

* listening to CBC's "The Current" one morning, I became aware of the proper way to make oatmeal porridge. According to a caller's grandmother's Scottish tradition, one must only stir the oatmeal clockwise as it cooks. So, I tried it and, like putting the milk in your mug before pouring in the tea, it works.

Monday, January 28, 2008

pigeons again

I know that pigeons can get to be a problem. I had a pair once that had made a home of our third floor back balcony. The autumn after we moved in, I even found a nest on the floor of the balcony with two tiny bald babies in it. Unexpectedly, the temperature dipped to freezing as a cold front blew in to town. I felt sad scooping that nest and the dead baby pigeons onto a dustpan the next day. Tsk. Tsk. Shouldn't pigeons be having babies in spring? That setback did not deter the two pigeons, however. Neither did the dive-bombing of the king crow, who regularly makes a round of the skies and trees in my backyard, casting his shadow onto all lesser beings to remind them of his lordship's rule. The crow family took turns harassing the pigeons, swooping down on them as they sat peering over the edge of the roof. I'd sometimes see the black flash of the tails of crows from my 2nd floor window, dangling from the balcony (the crows, not me!), clutching onto the rim, poking their beaks through the railings, trying to get at the eggs. I eventually gave up cursing the pigeons and the mess they made. Seems we were stuck with them, so I decided on a friendship of sorts and gave them names: Hilary and Howard. Hilary and Howard, however, decided that they quite liked our back balcony and they must've told some friends because before we knew it there were more pigeons pooping onto the sundeck. My husband said, maybe we should build them a house in the maple tree and they'll move in and we'll finish with the problem. Or maybe, said I, a new pair will move in and we'll have even more pigeons around. We thought about it. For some time. We settled on plastic netting. I told my son, who set up the ladder on a freezing cold day last fall, shouldn't you have done that in the summer so the pigeons would have plenty of days to find a new home and not freeze doing that? Well, it turns out the pigeons didn't move too far. They are now cooing and huddling in the front of our house, on the slopped shelf below my daughter's third floor window. These photos are of Matilda, Oliver, and Roscoe. They can be found behind the Water St. bus depot. Last November, I wrote a blog called Patchwork Pigeon Paradise. These photos are the update. Seems the city decided to tear down that ramshackle building. All the pigeons cuddling in its broken down bricks and derelict holes had to vacate suddenly last month. The city decided to turn it into a parking lot. So, the pigeons have re-grouped, found new cubbies in the adjoining wall of the business next door. Some are living in the niches of the Bar and Grill across the street. I guess the sheer face of old brick walls remind them of the cliffs they once dwelt in. Now, that is odd, I thought, as I walked past the newly leveled earth. A parking lot? for cars? For which cars, I wonder? Kitty-corner to the new parking-lot-to-be is the Shoreline Motor Hotel parking lot. You can see from the dilapitated sign that it appears that this lot is not in high demand these days (the photo is from early winter, hence little snow). Rather neglected these days. You can see the 'golden arches' beyond. Steepers Tea Shop's next door. Across the street, Stan's Pizzeria (there's a CLOSED sign in the window). Seems all the cars are to be found in the asphalt fields surrounding Intercity Mall...oops! I mean Intercity Shopping Centre and "the new" Thunder Centre. Home of box stores. Convenience and choice. Mind you, even their parking lots suffered recently when the shopaholics bee-lined to Duluth when the Canadian dollar soared.

I read once that Pigeon River is so named from its Anishnawbe name. That once streams of pigeons, like a river of birds in the sky, darkened the sky as they flew the path of that winding river that separates the boreal forest of Canada and the US.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A bird in hand

Yes, it sure has been cold. They say the cold snap is going to end soon; I know that Virginia will be happy because the furnace has been kicking on every 5 minutes or so trying to keep the chill at bay. Because our house has a few original windows left that means the frost can paint fantasies on the panes. This is an icy forest of ferns that formed on the window on the stairwell to the third floor. This window is not a thermapane, so the heat and the cold meet and make this dancing vision.
A faint red ridge of light silhouetted Nanabijou this morning at 7:30 a.m. I know, I know. I was crazy to go out for an early morning walk when last night's weather prediction was -31 c overnight with -38 windchill. I even muttered that to myself as I pulled my hood over the balaclava I had wrestled on over my hat. Three layers of head gear. I didn't dare look at the thermometer on the wall outside the dining room window.

I just made sure I chose my purple parka today and donned a pair of Nipigon nylons* over my socks. Today is Thursday, and Thursday means a long walk along the harbour with my neighbour, and then we swing up to the Hoito coffee bar for pancakes, scrambled eggs and coffee, served by Raakeli, who just happens to be from Kauhajoki, too. Chat with the old Finnish fellows who have come by for their morning get-together, and with Alex, too (who came to Canada from Russia). But he speaks some Finnish, too. All that hanging around with us Finns.

7:20 a.m. every Thursday my neighbour and I leave (in the summer 7 a.m.). Winter...well, the dark and the cold...7 a.m. is even darker. And colder. So, yeah. 7:20. Let's leave at 7:20.
Then, when I get back I start my chores. Like laundry. Washing dishes. Sweeping the floor. By then I usually hear Sydney calling from her upstairs 3rd floor sleeping cage. "I'm coming!" I call out as I wind up the stairs. That's when I noticed the dancing ferns.
* Nipigon nylons: NWO slang for old fashioned gray wool work socks with red trim. Nothing fancy about them. Not very expensive. Not stylish, but warm as heck!!!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Above: I passed this notice scotch-taped onto a hydro pole on Court St. yesterday. Someone has lost a cat named Angel. If you find a white cat with black ears and a tail tipped with black, it may be Angel. Please return her to the address above. Someone is grieving, searching for an Angel. Below: I wonder if the fellow lost this past June was found? I passed this notice masking-taped onto the exterior wall of the Church of Our Lady of Remedies that sits atop the Great Pyramid of Cholula that is dedicated to Quetzalcoatl. Someone was searching for a lost family member.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The one that got away

Today, I missed the best photo opportunity. I did not go for my morning walk. I did not have my camera with me. I was driving down High Street, past Hillcrest Park, about 8:45 am on my way to the Complex, a public fitness facility here in town. It was -21 c.

~ this is a photo of the Algoma St. bridge over McVicar's Creek. The southside of the bridge. The bridge is old, its patina matches the worn elegance of Maudsley Court, the old brick apartment building that sits southeast of the bridge. You can see the frozen creek below, and a glimpse of yesterday morning's gentle snowstorm.

Today, we had a sudden drop in temperature with increased humidity, so when I went out this morning the car door wouldn't unlock. The key wouldn't go in. I was already late, had no idea where the lock de-icer was, so with a great deal of clumsiness and sharp exhalations of breath due to warm winter clothing, I managed to climb into the driver's seat from the passenger's side, cursing the center console of the car. My car lurched up the hill.
~ This is a photo of Musti, the mother part of a mother-daughter dog duo belonging to a friend of mine. He had to go in for hip replacement surgery on Friday, and I am helping out some days by walking the dogs while he is recuperating. Musti's daughter's name is Tassu. They are both wonderful dogs. They look large and vicious but they are anything but. Looks are deceiving. Musti can walk a good clip. Tassu, however, who is much larger than her mom, clings closely to your left side.

Driving past Hillcrest, which once was the shore of the ancient lake that existed before Superior, the harbour was an eerie sight. A ghost lake. Far out, as the water has not yet frozen, yet the temperature has dipped so low, the heat from the lake was rushing out to warm the air, creating a wall of dancing mist. Shimmering spires. Clouds encased the sky, a heavy deep gray blanket, but suddenly, an orange glow began to pulse, to herald an opening. The sun came out just for a minute, shining from underneath the clouds. It was a burnished orange orb, unlike anything I've seen, and it sent out a warm, burnished bronze circle of light, spotlighting a stage on the lake. A ship just happened to be sitting way out in the harbour in the exact spot where the sun glowed and cast a golden circle. A ghost ship, visible against the swirling vapours.

And that is the story of the photo I didn't get.

~ Tassu

Sunday, January 13, 2008

back door

"I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired."
~ Martha Graham

Walking through the flower stalls in the market in Atlixco, a small, perfect village a short distance from Puebla, Mexico, I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a door open to the back. A woman flower seller got up off the chair to tend to the flowers out front. That's when I snapped this vision, literally in a blink of an eye. You can imagine the beauty of the flowers that were for sale out front by this glance out the back door.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Letter to the Universe

Dear Universe,

Your blessings come in many guises. At times I see your letter blowing in the wind, skittering among leaves and stones, catching in spider webs. Other times I feel the rain of your tears pouring like anguish against my windowpane, splatting large sorrowful songs against the glass. Sometimes your blessings dress up as old Finnish men wearing 70s sweaters and trackpants past their prime -- definitely not Nike because they were sewn before branding, before offshore manufacturing, before maquilladoras, before tax-free zones.

Sometimes your blessings arrive in the scent wafting from my morning coffee cup, a rich warmness that fills my wakening soul with a gentle nudge and a welcome.

Dear Universe, I know that we have made a mess of Earth. Earth -- only a small crumb in the cupboard of your mansion. We have sent tons of garbage orbiting around our atmosphere, garbage circling, circling in a cosmos stream in space. We have dumped tons and tons of waste into the waters of Earth and we daily add to this toxic mess. We fill our bodies with chemicals hidden in many different guises, some quite pleasant, some soul-satisfying and intoxicating. We shop for chemicals and eagerly bring them home to put in our kitchen cupboards, our fridges, our mouths, under the sink, in our cosmetics, on the skin of our children.

But, dear Universe, we cannot start again, nor have a second chance. So, how, dear Mother of blackness and stars and unfathomableness can we change our ways?

Our future has been written on the leaves of trees, but our trees we uproot daily in clearcuts by bulldozers and other forest machinations disrespected.

How can we read the leaves to see our future if we've torn down the trunks and shredded the body into pulp to blow our noses? Where, dear Mother do we find the clues?

love, your daughter

Thursday, January 3, 2008


"Open the window in the center of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out."
~ Rumi

All morning long a black squirrel has been chasing a gray squirrel along the branches and up and down and round and round the trunks of the two maple trees outside my window. Another gray squirrel sits in the crook of a tree, munching peanuts, keeping an eye on the storm.

The sun has not come out from behind the clouds today. At 1 am last night it was -24 c but by 10 am the temperature had climbed to -4 c. Somehow, 20 degrees decided to come to town suddenly.

Mild winter weather is not good for ice lantern making. Two nights before New Year's Eve I started making the ice lantern. I envisioned it sitting on a bed of fir boughs on top of the snowbank by our front door, greeting passersby in the night. But the weather wouldn't cooperate. It wasn't freezing cold enough as I use a 4 gallon pail which needs days of sub zero weather to make a solid ice lantern. Meanwhile, I made the pillar candle that goes inside the ice lantern. I made it from scraps of old burgundy, blue and purple candles.

So, I've decided to change the due date: I'll have it ready for the heart of winter, anywhere from the 13th to the 19th of Tammikuu (January) in the old Finnish calendar.

"How can anyone say what happens, even if each of us
dips a pen a hundred million times into ink?"
~ Rumi