Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mummo's best Kropsu recipe

I was vacuuming today and knocked over the spider plant sitting by the engagement photo of Fanny [Fun-nih] and Sylvesteri, my maternal Mummo [grandmother] and Paappa [grandfather]. Physically, I do not look like my Mummo; however, I do have her sharp eyes and, yes, I have to admit, her even sharper tongue. Nothing went past the eyes of my mummo; she would be sure to comment curtly ....or should I say, critically?..on what she saw. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time among older female meikalaisia [everyday folk] -- more so than my own age group -- and have learned their ways well...

Mummo was a no-nonsense woman. On the other hand, Paappa, who, like my cousin Ari says, was Paappa to us, Vesti to everyone else, but Mies [man] to Mummo, was a much beloved and sought out storyteller. He loved to laugh. His eyes were soft; so, too, his heart. The original painted photo of this engagement portrait hangs on the wall of my aunt Elsa's home in Upplands-Vasby. If not for my dad's idea to convince my mom to come to Canada instead of joining the others going to Sweden, I would be "pratar'ing" Svenska now.

Fanny and Sylvester at the wedding of their daughter, Toini, with 13 of the 17 children my mummo birthed, standing behind them. My mom is 3rd from the left; Elsa tati is on the far left. This photo was taken 50+ years ago. It is summertime. Maybe close to Midsummer.

Here is Mummo's Best Yummy Stuff recipe for Kropsu [oven pancake]. My middle son wrote this recipe down when he was 6 or so because it was one of his favorite dishes, as you can tell from the dreamy clouds drawn around the title. Now in his early 20s, he is a superb cook, baker and chef. The kropsu recipe was one of his first forays into foodmaking; after that, he tried his hand at Chinese fortune cookies, writing each of the fortunes for the cookies with his sister. Fanny's kropsu recipe is our fortune, passed down from Fanny's mother's mother and traveled across the ocean and years. Now it is enjoyed on the shores of Lake Superior, rather than the fields of Juonikyla, Hyyppa, Finland; now it is made by the hands of a man. But maybe Paappa made it, too?

When I was about 6 or so, Paappa sent this postcard to me and my sisters. We were living then in Jumbo Gardens, a semi-rural part of Port Arthur, in the basement apartment of Makela's house. Paappa wrote each of our names under a kitten, adding an 'n' to the end of our names, which then shows ownership. We never met our Paappa as he lived in Finland and we lived in Canada, so this postcard was like a magic portal to his world. When he sent us this card, we believed he was soon sending us these kittens in the mail. We waited and waited but the kittens never arrived, until one day, isa came home from work with a cat that looked an awful lot like the kitten in the middle. We called it Mickey.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

getting ready to break your heart

these deep pink shoots announce the arrival of the wild and perfect flowers that will soon be nodding honey heavy heads atop slender stalks, tipping sweet fragrance to the air...

Monday, April 28, 2008

My eyes are like a Finnish woman's; the older I get, the more I see

These are things I have to tell you about soon:

1. Midsummer Garden being made in the lot beside Kivela's Bakery. Willow women helping on this project! [WWomeny are just in the process of making their website, but if you are a gardener, check the upcoming horticulturalist workshop).

2. SuperiorFinn Midsummer/Juhannus Art Festival, which will be held Sunday June 22 at the Finnish Labour Temple aka Finlandia Club. This is an art festival and sale with many fantastic artists, including a performance. I will post our call for Painted Chairs, soon! These chairs will line the Bay and Algoma corner and jazz up this area for Midsummer! So dig out an old chair, think of a midsummer garden or Finnish ancestry or history, and set your third eye roving...

3. Women's Shebandowan Retreat. This is a weekend retreat of creativity, spirituality and honoring nature and food. It will be in Sept. We will make a big bonfire. Have a sacred sauna. Paint stones. Mervi and Satu are crafting this with me...

4. I owe you some stories: blueberry time bomb; my nephews' fishing story...

...but I don't have time for any of those, I'm sending you some colour on this snow-dusted day!

nature paints an old dock board lichen yellow. You can find this painting on the dock below:

you will have to search for it. But it's there.

Musti and Tassu sniffing. They are used to my peculiar stops; indeed, they love going for walks with me. I walk fast, even run with them, but also just hang out in some great sniffing spots, looking around. And I always let them off leash when no one else is around. Like here. Cold weather is especially good for finding less people around....

look at this old rusty chain on what's left of a dock. There are many old chains...

even giant hooks lying around here. This is big enough to nab a ship.

some rusty junk and broken glass caught on the edge of an old wooden platform. It looks like someone placed it there so artfully. But no. There is garbage everywhere...

Like, what is this? A large rusty cap almost 2 feet in diameter. What is it? Who knows? something that fell off a boat? that someone threw overboard? some old industrial who-knows-what just left where it fell many moons ago?

old logs materialize as the lake level drops

red rocks. whether from nature or pollution, I don't know, but this part of the shore is not only scattered with old logs that had floated away from log booms of the past, but is also littered with garbage and ....

oily residue. A dead carcass of some animal lay on the sand, submerged in the water close by this oily crap. A gull was sitting on the back of the carcass, pecking away at it. Strangely, it looked like the carcass of a small lamb.

Ok. Enough gruesome detail. Now, to the grackles bobbing in the wind. Have you heard these birds boisterous calls? Once, I heard a raucous sound of rusty squealing outside my back door, that sounded just like my mom's old clothesline did in the winter. In the 70s we lived in Jenny Ketonen's old turquoise painted house on Empress. The same shiny turquoise paint that is found on the shingles lying under the vinyl siding slapped onto the front porch of this old house I live in now. Jenny [pronouned Yen-newh], too, was a Kauhajokilainen. From our village county. Jenny's old house had a back porch with a pyykki luukku (a narrow wooden door to let in and out the clothes line). When my mom hauled the frozen sheets and towels inside in the winter, the clothesline made the rusty squealing sound of a group of grackles. Scientific name: QUIQUI

leaving you with some orange.

The old tin ceiling of Calico's Coffee Shop, which is right beside Hoito on Bay Street. This place used to be Lauri's Hardware Store (he has since died; as a young boy he left Canada with his family to the Soviet Union, during the '30s demonizing of Finnish Canadians as communists and sinful and immoral. About 800 Finns were deported from Canada as 'aliens'. Lauri returned to Port Arthur. One of the lucky ones. Many Finnish Canadians were killed by the Russians. Their mass graves are still there, bearing witness). Before the organic fair trade coffee shop moved in and before Lauri's Hardware this place was also Samaria Restaurant. Mun aiti used to work there. My sister, Katja, and I dropped in on my mom one day, in our "hippie days" ...or should I say, emulating hippies and anything luv generation and California dreaming? My sister had bare feet. I cant' remember if I did. She will remind me after she reads this. She always has memories that I don't, so we fill in the blanks together. Shift around the stories....

My mom died a small death over those bare toes. Most, if not all, the workers in Samaria Restaurant were Finnish Canadian women. They were sure to notice Ritva's daughters' feet. Finnish women have eyes like that. They see everything.

everything you wouldn't want them to see....

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sauna on Saturday

Like wearing red shoes or a red dress, opening a red door is auspicious. You never know what kind of strange world you might find behind a red door. Particularly if you are peculiar.

Today I was a Bohemian. A red label day. Completely chucked my chores. I should've been catching up on my long list of should's but instead, I went out wandering.

Bohemian, bo-he'mi-an, n. [Fr. Bohemien, a gypsy, because the first of that wandering race that entered France were believed to be Hussites driven from Bohemia, their native country.] A person, especially an artist or literary man, who leads a free, often somewhat dissipated life, despising conventionalities generally.

Of course, I am not a man, and I have no idea what a Hussite is/was, and my despising is contained to conventionalities of capitalisms generally. This dated definition is from edition A to RESOURCE of my red 1969 beat-up double set of Webster's Dictionary of the English Language purchased many years ago at the library discard sale for $1 each.

It's been raining steady for a few days, and it was raining this morning too when I looked out the window. A chill 3+ Celsius said the thermometer. What happened to spring? And this morning I'd promised Armi I'd drive out to Warnica Lake by 11 am for a sauna. Should I nip out to Mission Island Marsh in hopes of finding the swans? After a bit of to-and-fro'ing to myself on whether I had the time and whether the weather was worth it, I decided to make a thermos of coffee and just go. I'll get back at 10:30 in plenty of time. So I thought. Putting on my rain gear I rationalized, who knows? maybe my chances of seeing the tundra swans is better in the rain. After all, ducks like rain and birds don't mind it either. Their feathers protect them from getting wet. Oh, for feathers in the rain!

Here is a view of Nanabijou from Mission Island. The 3 islands in front of "the Giant" are the 3 sisters. I told you about those sisters before. Looking out across the lake, it wasn't long before I saw a blue heron bounding through the skies. If you've seen a blue heron flying, you know what I mean when I say 'bounding through the skies.'

I walked along the beach a bit. This is looking northeast. It wasn't long before I saw something else happening in the sky. Right over the lake at this spot, I saw a herring gull squabbling in the sky with a bald eagle. The eagle was mottled brown and white with a tremendous wing span. Yet despite that the eagle was more than double the size of the herring gull ~ which is a large bird with a wing span of 55" ~ the gull managed to harass the raptor and after a series of cut-and-chase moves, sent the eagle scavenging out into the south.

I looked down and saw this baby polar bear-shaped glimmer of ice lying on the cobble, thrown to shore by the icy surf. I was already starting to get chilly.

Next, a salamander crossed my path.

Then, the cover of a medicine chest emerged from behind by a twig of red dogwood. Dizzy from trying to decipher buffleheads from goldeneyes, and whether that small woodpecker was a downy or a hairy, I returned to my car and warmed my hands on the cup of coffee I poured from the thermos.

Returning home, I picked up my daughter and headed in the opposite direction ~ out Dog Lake Road.

You can drive just out of the city, away from the warming influence of the lake in winter, and be accosted by a sudden change in temperature and weather conditions. The surprise of an ice storm greeted us just before Surprise Lake. It was like we drove through a window into frost. Everything this side of the window was damp with rain, misty and gray, then like driving through an invisible curtain, everything that side was white as a fresh sheet. Everything, everything, covered in frost, ice, and snow. Like we drove into an ice box.

Warnica Lake from the sauna door. A moss-covered erratic left behind during the original Ice Age stands in front of some conifers and birches gracing the winter-returned landscape. The sound of snappings and sighings, slushings and slippings, can be heard coming from the trees. An immense dark brown hawk suddenly appeared overhead. It flew over the roof top and across the lake. Maybe it was an eagle? Does a hawk have such an immense wingspan?

A purple finch perches on an ice-encrusted birch branch. You can't tell from this photo, but this purple finch is actually red. It's a male; the females are non-descript brown. There were 4 finches, not quite a flock, which is known as a "charm of finches" or a "trembling of finches". However, this purple finch may have been trembling because of the ghost town that arrived unexpectedly, in the guise of snow and ice. I snapped this photo on my way down to the....

Sauna. This small red luukku [hatch] is where you put the logs in to heat the sauna. Just open the latch -- be sure to put on an oven mitt first! ...

Embers make for a hot sauna, but you do need to add logs regularly to really get the heat going. Different logs from different trees make different heat. Some burn slow; some burn fast. Some burn hot as hell. Get your buckets of water from the lake first, else how will you wash yourself? or throw a bucket of water over your head to cool down? Lay a pefletti down on the top bench before you sit down; it could simply be a small towel. Be sure to hang a large towel by the sauna fire so it is warm when you need to towel yourself off. Nothing like a hot towel on a cold day.

Here is the stack of logs and pink bucket of tinder logs to stoke the fire. It was a perfect day for a sauna by the lake. I had envisioned a sunny lounging sort of sauna-at-the-lake day, but it was not to be. The lake is still frozen over, although Armi said last year this time she had already "taken off her winter fur coat", that is, dunked in the lake for the first time since winter. Today's weather forebodes further disruptions to warming. Yet, after a sauna you won't even feel the chill in the air when you walk back to the house. The sauna chases chills. Adds a redness to cheeks, both on the face and ...that which faces the pefletti.

Surprisingly, the sun peeked through on the way home. The ice fingers on the red shrubs by this pond show clear signs of melting. This pond of mirrors is just off of Howcum Lake Road, which is the turn off to Warnica Lake. You should drive down this road slowly so not to run over the ruffed grouse (what we call partridge) or the baby moose that were crossing the road today.

The sun crossed back into the clouds, well before we returned home.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wolverine is Ahma

A horse mane of waters; the fury of the Shaman Creek rushing to the lake.

At the lakeshore this morning, I saw a small hawk hovering in the air searching for prey, snow buntings swirling low along the ground like snowflakes, a tiny wee pot of a bird that looked like a wren, and more illusive, secretive hooded mergansers. Hooded mergansers have a 3rd eyelid that acts like goggles underwater, changing the refractive properties of their eyes, enhancing their underwater vision. The third eye...lid effect.

Coming up the overpass, my neighbour and I met up with Erkki who was already heading back home (he left at 6:15 am; we left at 7am). He said a pelican had just flown in and so too a massive flock of about 100 cormorants (known as meri metso in Finnish). The cormorants landed on a patch of open water, completely covering it, like a bobbing raft of black birds.

"That must be the flock that I saw flying overhead on Saturday when I was at the Island Drive Bridge Wetlands!" I exclaimed.

A nest of young merimetsot in Finland; photo by Markku Mikkola-Roos, SYKE. This nest looks quite strong! Like a basket of branches.

When I got home, I placed my medicine bag of tobacco on the paws of my dad's old ahma (wolverine) that is now in my garden by the foxglove that has yet to grow. I thought maybe it's not deer skin, after all. How common is deer in Finland, anyway? Maybe it's reindeer skin? I'll have to do some research. It's butter soft and thin, that I know. And light tan.

In appearance, a wolverine is like a small bear. This ahma was something my isa brought home one day years ago. It's exterior coating has since chipped away bit by bit. When my dad brought it home, like so many other things he brought home, my sisters and I groaned. Not again! What is that thing? I remember him asking us where he should put it. We looked at him like... what? At that time, we did not care for those odd things he brought home that we thought were useless. Stupid. No one's going to use it, we muttered to each other under our breath. Shook our heads, and went on our way. Now, many years past teenage hood later, we value his ways. So, his ahma is howling in my takapiha, my backyard, reminding me of his ways.

Ahmat ovat erämaitten kulkureita. Wolverines are travelers of the wilds.

As a teen, I used to wish my dad was a "regular" dad, a "Canadian" dad. But no, he was isa. He was omituinen. He had his own ways. Strange. Odd. Peculiar. Curious. Weird. [that's what my sanakirja ~ dictionary ~ says]

Omituinen Urho, the 85 year old Sami Finnish man who also has his own peculiar ways, gave me this bottle of Canadian Shiraz this morning. Fished it out of his jacket in the lane beside the Hoito Restaurant on Bay Street. Weeks ago he had asked me what was my favorite wine. I said, shiraz. Is that red wine? he asked. Write that name down for me, he said, as he pushed a scrap of paper towards me. I want to buy you some of your favorite wine.

So, he had been carrying this bottle of wine to the Hoito every Thursday morning for the last 3 weeks to give to me. But I was not able to go to the Hoito Thursday mornings for the last 3 weeks. So, he carried the bottle to the Hoito, and then back home again, inside his jacket, hidden from view. He knew I'd show up one day.

And I did.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April is poetry month

It was -3c when I left this morning shortly after 7 am to go for my walk; by 4 pm, however, the temperature had climbed to +20 c. That's a 23 point difference! I wore my gloves, scarf and headband in the morning; in the afternoon I pulled laundry off the line in short sleeves.

Although I've been working myself to the bone and I really should've slept in to at least 8 am, I wanted to go and see how full the creek was after the rains. Last night I had called my sister to tell her to try and catch the repeat CBC radio program Poetry Face-off at 10:30 pm because there is one amazing poem by Clyde A Wray that left me motionless in my kitchen [the clip on the CBC site is an excerpt]. His poem is a beautiful / troubling mix of being a father in times of environmental disaster. What a visionary. What a mix of hope and fears. I'm voting for him! [mind you, some of the other poets were really great, too. Especially Magpie Ulysses]
During our conversation, my sister told me that she had taken a walk by McIntyre River and that the waters were rushing, full of the recent rains and snow melt. So I set my alarm.
I wasn't disappointed. After passing beneath the bridge at Algoma Street, I stopped to sprinkle some tobacco into the torrent. Always have your tobacco with you, Melvina said, when you go down to the river. So, from my sons' stash of narguileh tobacco from Lebanon, I placed a few leaves into a small deerskin medicine bag I bought at the Napapiiri by Yli-Tornio in Finland one midsummer.

There were 8 anglers by the creek trying their luck to catch the fish traveling up the creek. One fellow had donned his waders and had walked out into the lake by the mouth of the creek. I would imagine it was a bit chilly inside those waders by that retreating sheet of ice!

here's the same mouth of the creek last November, early morning, when the ice was arriving. It's called McVicar but it was never McVicar's.*

I saw a sweet song sparrow serenading the morning quite seriously! Later, walking up the hill on Dawson Street, I thought I saw a flash of red on the birds in the upper branches of an old birch. They looked like grackles or starlings. But, no, there was a flash of red on the wing caps. A pair of red-winged blackbirds and no marsh anywhere in sight!

A ring-billed gull stood on a stone, behind a scrub of red dogwood. Probably already has been fishing crayfish out of the strip of water that's widening each day.

The hooded mergansers, as usual, took off as soon as I inched closer. They couldn't swim away because they were paddling along waterways between sheets of ice, so they flew away. Erkki and I had been walking along Pier 1 when I spied them and tried once again to get a "better" picture. Again I was thwarted. The mergansers refuse to cooperate.

This is the reflection on the ice glazed silvery surface of the lake of the double-twined birch tree that I told you about before, except this photo is taken looking towards the old train station, not out towards the lake. Presciently, I called her a golden lady! This morning she shows her true colours once again.

ice glazed window into the lake

zigzag defraction

into the depths

* The Shaman Creek

The creek was never McVicar’s

The water snaked here before.

Silver-tongued, the water

slithered outside the lines

long before the Bible and the boats.

The water snaked here before, before

McVicar and the prospectors and the lumber barons

carved into Turtle’s back, measured

their plots of land, made their fortunes,

and built their Victorian-style brick houses

in their hoped-for Chicago of the North.

The water snaked here before, before

the land was scaped and hedges pruned and clipped

and fences built, before the middens, the Misters and the Missus'

before the Catherines and the Victorias and the Peters, before

before the English flower gardens and the dandelions they brought

and the starlings they set free in their New World.

The river spoke. Talked back.

Resisted their sifting, sorting, and surveys, the borders,

alignments and acreage allotments.

The river continued to rush throughout the years

past the asphalt pathway, the roads and bridges tracked over him

past the rusting shopping carts, plastic pop bottles, plastic

liquor bottles, plastic grocery bags, smashed beer bottles, dented

beer cans, chip bags, chocolate wrappers, paper coffee cups, cigarette butts,

past the tampon applicators and used condoms, past

the no-name mouthwash bottles left behind by his grandchildren.

The river snaked here before

Before throwaway. Before convenience.

Before the civilizing mission.

The Shaman creek was here.

He comes from the North, making his way through

the hardest rock on earth. His sound is a rushing of white horses.

Seven cedars grow from his belly, overhead

a trinity of crows guards the stained glass window

barely concealing his thunder.

Golden offerings from poplar and birch line his skin,

Blue jay drinks from his lower lip.

Pink fleshed fish swim through his veins.

Close to Kitchee Gumee,

a fierce wind bends his bones

narrowing, he surfaces

a flotilla of geese glide to greet him,

swim into his mouth.

Monday, April 21, 2008

black as coal

My sister's new zoom lens brings Saturday's mystery bird into clear view. It wasn't a Lesser Scaup, and it wasn't even a duck! It doesn't have webbed feet. The lone paddler on the Kam by the Island Drive Bridge is an American Coot. A migrant on its way somewhere else, not here. Apparently plentiful in Cajun country where it was popular as an ingredient of Creole gumbo. Now many go to the supermarkets to get their shrink wrapped fowl on foam, so chicken has replaced the coot for urbanites. In Louisianna the coot is known as 'pouldeau', from the Fr. 'water hen'.

With the ice breaking up, now is a good time to see spring migrants. The coot on the Kam hadn't landed (or should I say, 'watered') to make a nest here, however. It was simply a sojourner. While the coot's head is black as coal and overall the bird is somber in colouring ~ almost funereal ~ its chick, which looks a lot like Woodstock, has an irascibility to its look. The coot chick has a bright red head and beak with an orange ruff around its neck, like a mini ostrich feather boa.

The coot's chunky body makes taking off to fly difficult, but once in flight, its stamina is renowned; it's been tracked to have crossed the Atlantic! Hmmm... I wonder how the expression "old coot" as referring to "an eccentric or crotchety person, especially an eccentric old man" is related to this bird? A group of coots is called "a cover of coots" or "a commotion of coots" or a "codgery of coots". Isn't a codger also an irascible old man? a cantankerous curmudgeon? The bird I saw was definitely solitary; it had no cover or commotion about it.

Is it the determination to stay the course that links the idiom with the bird? a steadfastness to not adopt the new-fangled? to stay with old patterns and ways of doing things no matter the consequence? Even if deleterious to one's well-being?

The surface of the Gaa ministigweyaa, the Anishnawbe name for the river with islands, reveals the late morning sun trying to break through the clouds. Below, you can see one of the island deltas of the river we now call the Kam; it's the far bank; it's called McKellar Island now as it was claimed by Peter McKellar, one of the "founding fathers" of the town of Fort William. Before that it was Anishnawbe land -- which it still is according to the land claim of Fort William First Nations (some of their treaty land claim was recently negotiated).

You can see what we've done to this part of Mother Earth since settling on the shores of Kitchee Gumee. The island is the home of Thunder Bay Terminals, the resident coal plant, where coal storage piles sit in the open air. Last year this time a gust of wind set the coal mounds astir and sent a waft of dirty coal dust swirling over the harbour. The ugly black cloud settled on Kitchee Gumee. This isn't the first time this has happened. There was no effort to skim the pollutant off the surface of Lake Superior. So down it went. Floated like black snowflakes down to the home of the trouts. Like I have told you earlier, I live in an AOC, an Area of Concern. We have upset gwayahkooshkawin [balance] and ninoododadiwin [harmony].