And now, a poem: Contradictions of Spring in Northeastern Ontario

The rain pours steadily

along the worn-out eaves,

Drumming on the yet-barren soil,

calling forth the green.

Watery sunlight gave way

to chill dark in the night,

But the air tastes of life

and hints of warmth to come.

Along the bushes and under the trees,

snow remains

It crumbles and washes away,

joining brook and stream,

While buds grow bit by bit

on branches stretching upward

And the birds seek their daily meals

of fallen seeds and sleepy worms.

Spring is slow in April,

The Boreal clings to the cold

The world is barely awake

in the approach of May.

Frosty mornings give way

to coatless afternoons

While children ride bikes in mitts

And the hardy venture forth in sandals.

Forecasts tangle sunshine with snowfall

Rain confuses itself with flakes

Crocuses push stubbornly out of soil

Skunks raise their striped heads

shuffling around garbage cans.

Keeping up is exhausting;

Staying indoors plagues us with guilt.

The push-pull of spring migration

warring with instinct to keep warm.

A song in the key of something, inspired by Gordon Lightfoot, Stompin’ Tom and the Weather Network

The weather alert tonight, and working on my snowmobile story, has me in a folk-song kind of mood. So here’s a bit of a something that wants a tune in a Gordon Lightfootish sort-of way, or in the manner of Stompin’ Tom.

Heavy rain warning

Springtime coming fast

Feel it in the pressure

of the air moving in from the south.

The snowpack is melting

faster than before

Puddles are spreading out

right before my door.


Heavy rain warning

Flash floods may occur

Watch the road before you

Keep your eye upon the curve

Springtime melts are dangerous

when the frost remains

Nowhere for the water

Nothing to retain . . .

* (Bridge)

Winter fights until the last,

makes us feel the strain.

Sometimes you start to doubt

you’ll feel the warmth again.

Trade your boots for rubber

And remember to prepare

Heavy rains are coming

with the change of air.


Heavy rain warning

Springtime coming fast

Watch out for the wildlife —

Washed out hungry bears.

It’s damp and cold and chilly

But it’s better than the snow

The downpour is a pain

but the white shit’s gotta go.

And now, a poem! What if winter was a dragon?

For the space of many days,

We hold our collective and metaphorical breath,




As temperatures edge higher and fall again,

In this slow change of season.

Smooth undulation of the crystalline white sea

Sinking lower around islands of standing trees;

Ripples of slick ice that once reflected the sun

Made dirty and thickened by matter released in the thaw;

Translucent stalactites made heavy over months

Fall with soft thumps into rounded snowbanks

Their own bulk carved in half, and pebbled interiors exposed,

Sleeping giants seeping back into the earth.

Could winter be a dragon? One with freezing breath,

Glistening scales both tough and delicate

As the icicles that form on the eaves in the night,

After the vernal warmth has faded.

A sleek and deadly creature, whose claws dig into ice,

Whose wings whip the wind into a frenzy

And silence the birds with the snaps of a mighty tail.

Even dragons grow weary, become bored, journey away.

They eat their fill and crawl home to their burrows

or mountain caves.

Winter Dragon, creature of midnight stillness,

Who crept about under a diamond veil,

Amused at the scurryings of small warm-blooded creatures,

He curls his tail around rocky outcrops and spreading lower branches,

Tents his wings over ravines and hummocks,

Glaring his piercing blue eyes at the approaching golden warrior

whose gleaming shield sweeps away the white remnants of his breath.

He knows the territory he has claimed must be relinquished.

He huffs frosty breaths at the injustice, hooking his claws into frozen ground.

But after six months of power, he has little strength left to fight

And the golden light dims even the dragon’s lustrous glow.

We wait

And we watch

And we listen

For signs of the battle in the rising wind and buffeting storms.

We wait

And we watch

And we listen

For signs that the dragon’s spell has been broken.

We wait

And we watch

And we listen.

Spring? What spring? Sproing, maybe. Oh, those novel-edits blues . . .

Some things are just going to keep passing me by. That beautiful display of the aurora borealis? Yeah, that was too far north to see from here, by a matter of hours. The eclipse of the moon? Wrong hemisphere. First day of spring? We still have two feet of snow on the ground, it’s cold enough that any meltwater from the most recent warm day is currently sheer ice, and a thick cloud cover kept the sunshine away. This is very grumpy-making, as is month number six of having cold feet. Not even slippers are helping with the feet.

In my next house, I’m having heated floors installed.

Edits are proceeding apace. I’ve encountered some challenges — it’s been suggested that some parts could be trimmed down, and it’s always painful to kill my darlings, to use Stephen King’s term for cutting. I’m going to finish the little bits of clarification and accepting / rejecting changes through the rest of the manuscript before I tackle the trimming. Gives me time to contemplate what to keep and what to jettison. See, it’s tricky, because I see everything as important but I get that too much of a good thing can interfere with flow. On the other hand, some parts are meant to become significant later, as part of character development. If I trim the wrong thing, will a character’s momentum or revelation have less meaning or depth?

In the end, I get to make the choice. And no matter what I decide, there will be those who dislike it. I mean, a lot of people complained about the big section in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione wander about the woods for weeks, trying to suss out their next move. But it didn’t bother me, because it was true to form for the characters, and necessary to build to the next big discovery. I liked her choice in doing that. I’ve also seen it done in the Clan of the Cave Bear series, with long sections on setting or travel, and I will admit to sometimes skimming them — and then going back to reread when it became evident that important facts or descriptions were in the information dump.

Maybe — and I’m just throwing it out here — I write my environment. Like this spring, for example. In some places, the transition from winter to spring is quick and has already happened. Crocuses are pushing up through the last layers of snow. Brown stretches of grass showing baby green shoots. But here, where I’ve lived for sixteen years of my life (counting childhood), there’s a long middling period of waiting and contemplation. The excitement of winter activities has died off, worn down by day after day of bitter skies and colourless landscapes. You get used to being in a holding pattern, observing the signs and being able to say, when the warm weather does arrive and the next round of activities is rising, that we knew it was coming. Or that the long winter had us so fooled, spring really took us by surprise.

Do we write our environments? Are writers influenced by the physical world in which they’re living? In a way, it makes sense, if we’re writing what we know. I wonder if anyone’s ever made a study of literature written in different places and compared the flow and pace of each book. There are places in the world where I picture events and activity moving at a breakneck pace, with little relief — New York City, maybe, or Los Angeles, or London. And then there are places that move a little slower, where characters have the luxury of time and setting in which to mull their next move, and events coming up out of nowhere have that much more impact. Like in Salem’s Lot, for example, or Anne of Green Gables, or The Sentimentalists.

Or is there a difference between the flow and pace of Canadian and American novels? Is one (perceived as) more ________ than the other? Is there a socio-economic voice that writers come from or into that affects the style and tone of their work?

I do hope, by the way, that you’re not seeing this as me getting defensive. I’m just trying to work out what the right thing is to do for my work, and where the decision is going to come from, and the elements affecting it. Even the most slap-dash manuscripts are composed of words chosen with care and purpose. Thank heaven for the editor who is kind and wise enough to point out where something may not be working! It’s good to know these things. Better is knowing exactly what to do about them.

I’m as wishy-washy as this so-called “spring” weather. As back and forth as the temperature outside. I have chilly, pebbly slush in my metaphorical writing boots. My head is wrapped in layers of thick sleety cloud. I’m on page 152 of 260 and I have to stop for the night.

Any other writers out there feeling my pain?

And now, TWO poems for your reading pleasure!

An Ode to the Rain

Drip drip drip — do you hear the rain?

Gentle patter of raindrops on the blanket of snow;

Thin curtains of water stream from ice-covered eaves;

What were once fragile crystals turn to globules sinking low.

Drip drip drip — today, the wind changed;

Warm breezes blowing kisses from southern climes,

Scented with green growing things and the promise of life,

Shaking loose the clumps of snow from the spreading pines.

Drip drip drip — not over yet; the forecast includes flurries,

A mixed bag of precipitation that’s chill and wet;

But the rain — oh, the rain — a sign of things to come,

It’s a shift in the pattern, though real change is weeks yet.


Hidden Gifts

The snow fell feathery-light and settled into heavy mounds,

Drifting and piling on the whims of moving Arctic air.

Each day, she forged a path in a deepening canyon of white,

Though the cold pained her feet, numbed her toes, frosted everywhere.

She did her business in the snow, keeping to the clock,

Trotting back and forth as quickly as she could;

Some days were harder and the work didn’t come

Until she was so desperate she thought she’d explode.

No chain ’round her neck, for she couldn’t go far,

The wintry landscape her only real prison, and puzzle.

The world limited to a maze of dug-out paths and trails,

Icing her whiskers and freezing her muzzle.

And then . . . days of warmth return, shrinking the snow;

Her beaten path becoming a haven of solid ground,

As the field around her softens into morass and mud,

Treacherous to even the most experienced hound.

And as it melts, the fruits of her business reappear,

The labour of each day in each week of long months;

Her pieced contribution to the cycle of life that starts with the bugs,

She checks each deposit to see what changes have come.

The work of a winter unveiled in the spring,

No seeds are these from which flowers will grow . . .

Neither great brown beans nor wooden logs has she made,

Thawing and gelling in the slushy snow.

She watches where she steps, sees with dispassion

As the humans curse and check their boots,

In the springtime air, they ought to know as they venture

To avoid stepping into the piles of her poop.

March Madness

Starting to feel more like myself again, this evening. I ended up dragging myself into work today, and while it wasn’t great, my colleagues were solicitous and my students were pretty good. I feel like I had deflated and now some air is coming back into my form. It’s a weird kind of comparison, but there it is.

During the two days I was in bed, we had fresh snowfall that was thick enough to cause some of my friends to wonder whether there would be another bus cancellation this week. Ha-ha! Says Mom Nature — not so fast! We’re in March, now, bitches! March is a tricksy month. I noticed a change in the breeze on Monday, just a measure of difference between frigid and merely cool. And the warmth of the sun is definitely there.

I tend to get frustrated during this month of the year, because a lot of advertising on TV and in magazines and whatnot is focused on getting ready for spring. Lots of pics of lawn mowers and tulips and green grass and butterflies. We’ll get those in another month or so. Just have to be patient. And really, it’s best to remember the patience, because if the snow melts too soon or too quickly, our region finds itself at higher risk for forest fires. We get the piles of white stuff that we do for a reason. And as much as I am getting tired of the same bright blank landscape day after day, I’m not overly anxious to start picking up the poopsicles dotting the backyard. They’re like gross mockeries of chocolate chips in vanilla ice-cream. I’d much rather be skiing.

I’m so glad we invested in the ski memberships this year. It was tight on the budget (more than tight, to be perfectly honest) but it was (and continues to be) really, really good for myself and the kids to get out on the weekends and enjoy the snow instead of staring at it and wishing it would go away. It’s too bad that Hubby isn’t able to enjoy it, too, but he doesn’t mind being our Chalet Bunny, especially since he can only come out once in a while, when he isn’t working. I do wish he’d get his knee surgery looked after, but all in good time, I suppose. I don’t think he’s ever really been one for skiing, actually, and that’s fine, too.

Anyway . . . in another week we’ll be into our Spring Break. Hordes of teenagers will be travelling south on their “S” Trip to parent-and-guardian-free paradise, while others will be staying here and I’ll probably see them on the slopes. I’m hoping, that week, to get a handle on this cluttered horror zone of a house. Plus do some creative writing. Bunch of stuff.

Confession: This might seem a bit weird (but since when is anything I write NOT weird?) but as much as I want to play guitar, I don’t like the idea of getting the calluses on my fingers. I have a hard enough time not picking at my cuticles and nails — can you imagine the mess I would or could be getting myself into with blisters and lumps to pick at, too? And what about knitting? Wouldn’t calluses pull at the yarn? No more soft touch! I will admit, the idea of the calluses is holding me back a lot from learning more chords. Well, that and being lazy and tired when I get home from work.

The forecast tomorrow is calling for a bit of snowfall again, but it should be warmer than it has been. According to Environment Canada, we have just experienced the coldest February in 115 years of record-keeping. Makes sense. The question is: how quickly will it warm up through the next few weeks? It was warm enough the other day for one of my friends and colleagues (frieneague? collend?) to actually hang out her laundry! It’s going to be so nice to be able to open up the windows for a few hours, air out the house from all its winter staleness, especially in that short period between above-zero C and mosquito breeding season, when we don’t have to worry about certain windows lacking mesh screens . . . really need to get on that this year, too.

Story Time! Beware the crocuses of spring . . .

Everyone knew to stay away from the alley that ran down past Widow Greenbow’s big old house. Although two wheel ruts clearly marked the path cutting through the middle of the block, it seldom saw vehicle traffic of any kind. Foot traffic was rarer still — neighbourhood kids followed tradition and avoided the trail even though it might shave five or even ten minutes off a walk home from school.

So throughout the winter, the wheel ruts became smooth, elongated dents in clean snow. Not even animal tracks marred the perfect slopes of white that had drifted and piled over the shed leaves from the double-row of overhanging poplars and pine trees. In the summer it looked like a hollow from a storybook, all shady and green and leafy, soft grass lining the floor from street to street, beckoning curious passersby to enjoy its peace in spite of their hesitations. Even now, as the season finished turning and the slushy snow churned up muddy on the sides of the roads, the alley path looked clean and relatively dry. Patches of green grass showed themselves between tree roots and down the centre of the wheel ruts. It was what an older person might call “picturesque”, idyllic and serene. Inviting and untouchable. There was just a feeling about that part of the block, a quiet that didn’t want to be disturbed. Or shouldn’t be.

Lester had to pee, though. He desperately needed to go, had had to pee since second recess, but the supply teacher hadn’t let him leave the class for some stupid reason and then after school, the toilets in the boys’ washroom had overflowed because some nimrod had decided to try flushing a dirty magazine page. There was no way that Lester was going to dash into the girls’, and he didn’t dare to ask a teacher. None of his friends lived near the school. There was nothing for it but to run home as fast as he could.

The trouble was that he could barely walk anymore.

The pain in his groin was making his eyes water, and he had to hold himself as he stumbled forward through the melting slush. He wasn’t going to make it without wetting himself like some kindergartener, and if he did, what if someone saw the proof on his jeans? Which humiliation would be worse — getting spotted taking a piss in a back alley, or walking the rest of the way home with a big wet streak down the leg of his pants?

The alley was right there. And there was a stand of poplar trees about halfway down, sheltering a patch of freshly turned earth. He could see some little green points sticking up there, like the ones in his mom’s garden. He vaguely recalled that she’d said something about buying fertilizer. In school, they’d learned where fertilizer came from. Lester hopped from one foot to the other, pressing his knees together. Would it really be so bad? He wasn’t going to do number two, just . . . water them, a bit. He usually had good aim, too. As long as nobody saw . . .

Lester shuffled forward without another thought. His urge to pee was so great, he let the strap of his backpack slip down off his arm to the wrist, and when it banged against his thighs, he released his crotch long enough to let it fall so he wouldn’t end up accidentally peeing on it. Then he was at the tree, standing in the fresh earth, fumbling with his fly. The air was cold and fresh on his skin, helping what came naturally to come along.

“Aaaahhh,” he sighed, leaning against one of the slim tree trunks. “Oh, yeah . . .”

Finishing up with a quick shake, he tucked himself back in and looked around for a clean bit of snow to wipe his hands. There were a few piles outside of the circle around the tree. He’d taken care to avoid peeing on the little green shoots, but he felt badly just the same that he’d nearly trampled them in his haste. He squatted to peer at them in an apologetic sort of way. What had his mother called these early spring flowers? They weren’t cactuses; those grew in the desert. These ones had colourful tips, white and purple and pink, almost like when his sister had painted her nails that time. They poked up sharply, not soft like he thought flowers should be. The thought made him uncomfortable. Lester suddenly felt stupid about his urge to say sorry to some dumb plants, and put his hand on the ground to push himself up.

The green shoots thrust themselves at his arm and pierced his skin like thick green fish hooks.

Lester yelled, pulling back. Something green shot out of the ground and into his mouth, choking him. The soil stirred and churned, falling away as a hulking green limb the same colour as the flower stems emerged from beneath the dirt. He scrambled back, kicking and struggling, until his back hit the tree trunk and he could go no further.

Crocuses. The thought popped randomly into his panicked mind. They’re just crocuses.

Something round bulged up in the soil, barely higher than the level of the ground. A ridge moved and opened to a smooth white orb, a pulsing marble lined with black veins and green ooze. Lester tried to scream again. Below the white thing, a cavity yawned, black and deep. He gagged on the stench of rot and dog dirt that suddenly rose around him.

The green shoots in his wrist and elbow dug in and dragged him forward.

The thing was strong, stronger than Lester anyway, and he couldn’t find anything to grip to stop it. Desperately, he flailed for a stick, or a rock, or even a snowball, but there was nothing but dirt. With his free arm, he bashed the monster about its gaping jaw, weeping. The monster changed its pull on him, flinging him from side to side to make Lester stop struggling.

In the middle of his panic and fear, Lester heard the jingle of his house keys falling from his jacket pocket. Slamming his palm in the direction of the sound, he found them on the third or fourth try, just his fingertips catching the point of the backdoor key. He strained against the thing, his groans muffled by the vine in his mouth, vision blurring with tears from the effort to stretch himself far enough to grab his pitiful weapon.

Then he raised the key in his fist and stabbed it downward onto the thing’s bulbous white eye.

It rumbled horribly, gurgling in pain. The green shoots withdrew as quickly as they’d attacked, and suddenly his mouth was free of the choking vine. Lester lost his balance and fell forward toward the gaping maw, screaming hoarsely, but after a moment, he realized that his arms were pinwheeling against nothing but earth.

The creature had gone, if it had ever been there. Lester scrambled back, staring at his bleeding arm and the place where the green shoots had been. His pants were covered in wet mud, stained down to the knees. He crawled away, into the slush, snatched up his backpack, and dashed back the way he’d come. He didn’t stop running until he’d made it home, safely slamming the door behind him.

In the kitchen, his sister looked up from her nail polishing.

“Hey, loser, did you piss yourself on the way home from school?”


Photo credit: My aunty Deb in BC