Tag Archives: Arlene Somerton Smith

Power, prickly pears and puffballs

A doozy of a storm blew through Ontario, Canada on Saturday, May 21. In Ottawa, the storm caused more damage than either our legendary ice storm of 1998 or our more recent tornado. The tornado destroyed 80 hydro poles; this storm toppled 300.

We lost power for 7 days.

At that, we were lucky. Most houses in our neighbourhood are still without. As I write this, I hear generators in the distance. And chainsaws. And sirens.

Living without power for that long is disorienting for people of the 21st Century. We couldn’t focus. Routines fell apart. Sleep patterns were disrupted. We ate differently, and our digestive tracts protested. We moved from one room to another with a flashlight in one hand while flicking a (useless) light switch with the other.

Unable to work, or do pretty much anything, people moved around neighbourhoods like zombies. We mourned the loss of beloved trees. So many trees toppled or torn in two.

The event reminded us of the cruel indifference of nature. Sometimes a perfectly healthy tree had snapped while older, sicker ones nearby stayed standing.

The storm was not “fair” or “unfair.” It was its wild self.

Through it all, when we met neighbours on our walks, we counted our blessings:

  • We didn’t have bombs falling on our heads.
  • Gunmen were not shooting up our schools.
  • We had access to generators.
  • We had to worry about losing food, so that meant we had food to lose.
  • We had no internet, but we had data plans!

I found another blessing while burning up data on my phone powered by a generator, I read a post on one of my favourite Facebook pages: The View From Connaught Pond, Grant Dobson | Facebook. I learned that the prickly pear cactus can thrive in Canada. I never would have thought it! That simple knowledge gave me joy in our time of frustration.

Another spot of joy came when I dug around in my garden and came upon some puffballs. I hadn’t seen them since I was a kid tromping around our farm woodlot. It was a simple, silly thing, but it brought light to my day when electricity couldn’t.

Watch the puffball, and tell me, what brought you gratitude and joy today?

My husband demonstrates proper puffball technique.

Total amazement

In the movie Joe Versus the Volcano, a man (played by Tom Hanks) believes he is dying of an incurable disease. He agrees to travel to a South Pacific island to throw himself into a volcano to satisfy the beliefs of the superstitious island residents.

But as he travels there, he . . . wakes up.

“Almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to . . . only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” 

—from Joe Versus the Volcano by John Patrick Shanley

Total amazement happens often enough. But, constant total amazement? Much more challenging.

Usually, we need jarring events to awaken us. Power outages jolt us into amazement electric lights—the ones we flick on without a thought.

A broken leg—or even a cut on a finger—painfully reminds us of the wonder of a healthy body.

How about the device you’re reading this on? Isn’t the technology totally amazing?

We need to fall asleep to the amazement sometimes, just so we can function. After all, somebody has to do the dishes. If we lived in constant total amazement, we might get no farther than our bedroom doors every morning, or the park bench on a sunny afternoon. Because constant total amazement stops us in our tracks.

Perhaps John Patrick Shanley was right when he wrote those words for Joe Versus the Volcano. Maybe almost the whole world is asleep, just so we can get the dishes done and the lawn mowed.

But maybe, if we think about that, it will prompt us to wake up at least some of the time, maybe a little more often than we usually do. It’s a start.

What is totally amazing around you right now?

In the photo below you can see that my son is doing is best to live in constant total amazement.

Man sitting on a cliff edge in the south of France.
Yeah, mothers don’t worry at all when they see photos like this.

Living the first draft

I posted this on a previous blog. It’s come to my mind again in recent weeks.


Sometimes I wonder . . . Did someone ever say to Mozart, “Ya know what, Wolfgang? I think that should be two quarter notes instead of one half note.”

  • Have you ever been lost for words in an emotional moment only to think later, “I should have said this . . .”?
  • Or perhaps you said the absolutely worst thing possible only to think later, “If only I hadn’t said that!”?
  • Or maybe you have thought, “If I could do that over again, I’d do it differently.”?

We don’t get to edit our lives before publication. Everything we do is first draft.

Anne Lamott encourages writers to “Write shitty first drafts.” She knows that getting something—anything—down on the page is key. Writers can’t believe that words are supposed to sprinkle gracefully onto the page in perfect pearly rows. We’d never get anything done, we’d be so frozen with apprehension.

A mediocre mess of an idea out there is better than a perfect pearly idea hidden.

Every day we meet people and choose words to speak to them. Sometimes we choose appropriate, helpful words. But sometimes we choose hurtful ones.

Every day we choose clothes and do our hair. Sometimes our wardrobe and hair could be on the cover of Vogue. But sometimes we manage only sweatpants and a washed face.

Occasionally  life kneecaps us with unexpected blows. Sometimes we rise above it with wise, rational choices. But sometimes we solve problems with beer and a whiskey chaser.

We can’t edit our lives before publication, and that means our words and actions won’t sprinkle gracefully in perfect pearly rows. We have to live our delightfully shitty first draft and forgive ourselves for it.

Because one mediocre mess of a life out there is better than a perfect pearly one hidden. 

Rose petals scattered across an light pine hardwood floor.
Scattered rose petals. A beautiful mess.

Ravenous and peckish: Eating like a bird?

This sign stood propped outside the doors of the Lake Louise ski resort.

I contemplated the raven and asked myself, “Is that where the word ravenous comes from?” As in, so hungry you’ll tear something to bits in search of food.

Apparently not. According to etymonline.com, the word comes from an old French verb raviner meaning “to prey, to plunder, devour greedily.” The word is not etymologically related at all to raven.

In light of that sign, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

A few days ago, my husband said that he was feeling peckish. The word is not commonly used, but it was a favourite one of his parents. He adopted its use for when he has that, “I could eat” feeling. I asked myself, “Is that word related to birds, as in how they peck at their food?”

I prepared myself for disappointment, after the ravenous let-down. But this time my good friend etymonline.com brought me joy. The word originates from Middle Low German pekken “to peck with the beak.”

At the moment, I am not ravenous, but I expect shortly I will feel peckish. When the time comes, I will eat like a bird.

Soft and supple: Thoughts for new life

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life. 
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
- Lao Tzu, as found in Atomic Habits by James Clear

In this season of Easter | Passover |Ramadan—all times of self-reflection—we contemplate what it means to live fully and well.

The soft, supple, tender, pliant, and yielding are alive and growing. They stretch toward sunny new truths.

The stiff, hard, brittle, dry, and inflexible are breaking. They crumble and return to dust.

For me this is Easter Monday morning. A time of new life, in whatever way you believe it to be. A time of recognizing that good always arises out of the darkest of times.

I just need to remember that during the dark times.

Not grow dry and brittle. Stay soft and supple and ready for new life.

A field of corn in spring with rows of new sprouts about six inches high. A barn in the distance.
Soft and supple sprouts reaching for sunny new truths

The hate virus and the kindness vaccine

I haven’t written for a while. It’s been hard to think straight. I live in Ottawa, you see. The city occupied.

People who don’t live here probably find it difficult to understand how this came to be. How could we let the truckers just waltz into our nation’s capital and occupy? Well here’s why.

Pretty much every day there is a “pro-test” on Parliament Hill. [Pro-test: to testify FOR something.] In the BEFORE times when I strolled around downtown on my lunch breaks, I passed people marching and hollering about something every day. We are so accustomed to people saying to themselves, “Why, I’m mad as heck about _____. I’m stomping off to Ottawa to shout about it!” We really didn’t pay much mind to an incoming convoy.

Of course, we did expect them to leave again, politely. We are still waiting for both the leaving and the politeness.

Many, many of the comments by supporters of this movement are full of obscenities or incomprehensible ravings. Lots of ranting about MSM [Mainstream media] [That is, media where information is fact-checked and sources verified.] Or, here are other popular options:

It’s a struggle to stay positive in the midst of this. The negativity and hate spread like a virus.

Hey, wait a minute. There’s a solution to the spread of a virus. A vaccine! That’s it!

But what is the vaccine for hate? I must find it and inject myself so that when someone replies “Honk honk” to my comment I don’t reply with, “Pithy.” Or when they reply with a string of trucks, I don’t answer with, “That’s great! Maybe someday when you grow up, you’ll learn to spell.”

No those wouldn’t be kind responses. I’d be allowing myself to be infected by the hate virus. I must build immunity. I must inoculate myself with an injection of kindness.

Ah yes, I feel better already.

On the first weekend of the occupation, I skated on the Rideau Canal. A gorgeous, sunny day. Perfect ice conditions. But when I reached the end of the canal downtown, this was the sound.

Horns blare in downtown Ottawa, Sunday, January 30, 2022

That was what residents in downtown Ottawa listened to, ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT, for 10 DAYS. An injunction means the truckers can no longer sound their horns at night, but the days are still mayhem.

Supporters of this movement repeat that this is a “peaceful” protest. If you think so, please, let me know where you live.

I will bring some friends and block access to your street so that you cannot come or go. We will blare our horns outside your home 24 hours a day. When challenged, I’ll say, “But I’m being peaceful!” And because I said so, it will be true. If you don’t believe me, I’ll blame MSM for making me look bad.

Oh, there I go. I can feel the hate virus building strength again. Time for a kindness booster.

Oh, yes. Kindness. I recommend the shot for everyone.