Tag Archives: Ottawa Valley

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.

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.

Galore: A reflection on where I’m from

galore (adv.)
1670s, from Irish go leór, and equivalent Scottish Gaelic gu leóir “sufficiently, enough,” from Old Irish roar “enough,” from Proto-Celtic *ro-wero- “sufficiency.”

https://www.etymonline.com/word/galore

My father was adopted.

He was raised with love by a family with Irish roots. My entire life I associated strongly with that Irish heritage. I sang and danced during the loud and proud St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Canada’s Ottawa Valley.

Then, this past Christmas, my son gave me a DNA test as a gift. The results showed my Irish DNA at the BOTTOM of the list of the ethnicity estimate, at 2 %.

2 %. I couldn’t have been more astonished.

A second surprise lay in store. The largest percentage of my DNA indicated Scottish and Scandinavian heritage. I am three-quarters Scottish and . . . Viking, I guess?

In September, as fate would have it, my son headed off to Edinburgh, Scotland to do his Master of Physiotherapy. We won’t travel there just yet (you know . . . COVID), but we’re making plans for future trips. I began to read Love of Country: A Journey through the Hebrides by Madeline Bunting.

I read about the land of my DNA. I read of crofts (small rented farms with a right of pasturage held in common with others), and machair (fertile plains), and lochan (small inland lakes). I learned the roots of the word galore (see above) and mused about how wonderful it is that galore really means that you have everything you need for the given moment.

All of this got me to thinking about where I’m from (Scotland/Scandinavia) as opposed to where I am really from (the Ottawa Valley, Canada).

This past week, the book Where Are You From by Yamile Saied Méndez passed through my hands at the library where I work. It is the story of a child who must answer where she is from—no, where she is really from—to the point where it hurts.

When people ask someone like me where I’m really from, it means Where were you raised? What is the place that formed you?

For racialized people, the situation is reversed. For them, where are you really from means What foreign country did your people come from?

That makes it a backwards question, because for any of us, the place where we are really from is the place that has formed us.

My DNA says that the foreign countries my people came from were Scotland and the Scandinavian countries, but I’m really from a farm in the Ottawa Valley. I’m really from a place where we dug in the dirt to grow our food, where we wore hand-me-downs, and where neighbours and families helped each other out. On any given day we had everything we needed. Sufficiently, enough.

In other words, we had plenty galore. What a fine place to be from. Really.

Arlene sitting on a round hay bale in a farm field.

By canoe: A reminder to stop complaining

It’s the time of year for canoe trips.

Algonquin Provincial Park lies northwest of Ottawa, and several of my acquaintances have headed to Ontario’s oldest provincial park for pleasure jaunts to the wild solitude of its lakes and canyons.

They dip paddles in still waters. They drift slowly by moose munching shoreside water plants. They dive into the deep, cold waters of the Canadian Shield lakes.

Their trips remind me of John Shaw. I learned of him and his wife during a trip to the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. He was a miller from Inverness, Scotland, who travelled to the area in 1847 from what was then Bytown [now Ottawa]. He and his wife, Barbara Thompson, made the trip by canoe.

Today, people make the trip by car in less than two hours, but in 1847 it would have taken days and days by canoe. They would have paddled against the prevailing wind. They might have battled pouring rain while balancing cumbersome loads. They would have portaged around rapids, carrying the heavy canoe and all their worldly goods.

Renfrew Museum beside the Bonnechere River
The Renfrew Museum beside rapids along the Bonnechere River.
P199, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

What a hardship.

AND, they did it with two-year-old son in tow.

Toddlers in warm, safe homes are challenging enough. Imagine travelling by canoe for days with one. (Were there even life jackets in 1847?)

Those hardships put any of our petty little problems into perspective.

Whatever comes at me today, at least I’m not paddling a canoe in the rain with all my worldly goods and a two-year-old. 

Tip of a canoe on the glacial green waters of Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

The up and down journey through tasks

For this week’s post, I thumb my nose at a piece of writing advice. (Well, two pieces actually, since I just used a cliché.) Good writers, they say, opt for the word “said” during dialogue so as to avoid scenes like:

"Let's go to the movies," he posited. 
"I disagree," she demurred.

Herewith, consider my nose thumbed.

Task

“I want to climb that mountain,” she says.
   The foothill lures her spirit,
   Beckoning wide paths seduce her.
      Flooded with energy, she skips.  

“The path gets narrower,” she notices. 
   A switchback challenges her footsteps, 
   Scribbling tree roots trip her.
      Worried but still powerful, she continues. 

“Should I carry on?” she puffs.
   The incline steals her breath,
   Aching muscles betray her.
      Depleted of oxygen, she schlepps.

“I can’t do this,” she whines. 
   An obstacle blocks her progress, 
   Darkening skies shadow her. 
      Deprived of hope, she sleeps. 

“But . . . my goal is just there,” she awakens.
   The dawn illuminates her next steps,
   Daunting barriers dissolve before her. 
      Reinvigorated by inspiration, she climbs.

“What a view!” she cries.
   A summit reveals her success, 
   Haunting memories flee from her.   
      Satiated with completeness, she savours. 

“Now what?” she wonders.
   The downward path answers,
   Waning desire to remain prompts her.    
      Evolved for a new task, she descends.       

“If I go down, I can climb a higher mountain,” she says.