Sunday, November 29, 2009

Time, sleep and solitude

I've been thinking today about time, and sleep, and solitude, and friends. We had a busy weekend, starting with the Cowichan Consort concert on Friday night - this is the local choir and orchestra that Kim and I are part of, directed by a school colleague of ours named Duncan. We think Duncan is wonderful, and it has been fun for us to be part of a musical group together. The orchestra performed Mendelssohn's Hebrides overture and Ravel's Bolero (complete with trombone solo by Kim!) and then the choir joined them for Vaughan Williams's Dona Nobis Pacem, a dark and beautiful anti-war piece that was commissioned in the days leading up to World War II. Friends came from Victoria, Sooke and Duncan, which made us feel really special. We went for coffee and dessert afterwards, and it occurred to me halfway through my chocolate hazelnut torte that I couldn't remember the last time I went out with friends after something. In the past, by the time a concert or movie was finished it was already past my bedtime, which meant a rush home to cram in enough hours of sleep to keep me going the next day.

Life is different now, and so is my relationship to sleep. I didn't realize until a few months into our new life how nice going to bed is now, and, in contrast, how anxious I used to be about getting enough sleep. Before, a late night would mean a couple of bad days until I could recoup the lost hours, but now it just means the joy of an evening with good friends and the extra pleasure of a nap the next afternoon. I don't have to be afraid of being tired anymore.

The next day was our friend Linda's birthday, and we went into Victoria for a surprise party. Another wonderful event (and another late night!). This time, halfway through my piece of chocolate mousse cake, as I basked in the warmth of the evening with friends and listened to Kim talk and laugh as only she can, my realization was about how much time Kim and I are spending just the two of us, alone and together, and how different that is from the hectic rush and press of kids and colleagues and meetings of our previous life. Our work environment was noisy and busy and joyful and stressful, and moments of quiet or solitude didn't happen very often. Now they happen all the time, and even though it was really, really wonderful to have the time with friends we did this weekend, it was also nice to return to the peace of Mucky Boots.

When we quit our jobs, I worried a bit about Kim and I having too much time together, but it's interesting how things have worked themselves out. I get up an hour or so before Kim in the morning, and that hour is nice quiet time for me and a book (and Petunia who has memorized my routine and knows exactly when a lap is likely to be available). Throughout the day our activities bring us together and take us apart in a nice kind of flow. Sometimes Kim comes looking for me because she needs an extra pair of hands in the workshop, or we make time for a walk together. We always come together for supper, and usually spend at least part of the evening in each other's company. Somehow we seem to have found a pretty good balance - or it has found us.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


This is the bridge over the Cowichan River we have to cross to get to Duncan. Two weeks ago the water was turbulent and white-capped, but in the last week it has become something else: deep and fast and dangerous. Traffic over it is quite slow, as drivers stop to have a look at the flooding (and maybe have second thoughts about crossing).

It has been raining quite heavily today, and more flood warnings have been posted. But, according to the forecast, we might actually see the sun tomorrow afternoon. The ground is so saturated it's amazing that it can absorb any more water. We have paths on our property that are a few inches deep in water, but it's not flooding - it's just the earth saying "Enough already!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


When we moved to Duncan, one of the first places we got to know was the Island Savings Centre, named after the Vancouver Island credit union. The centre is a complex of buildings including a swimming pool, a hockey arena, fitness facilities, the public library, a 700 seat theatre, a cafe and lots of meeting space. It's where the local hockey team practices and has Saturday night games that draw crowds in the hundreds. The students from the high school across the street come for swimming classes during the school day, and when school is done they come back to hang out in the library or on the benches in the foyer. People of all ages come for skating or swimming lessons, fitness or dance classes, and inexpensive classes on topics from drawing and languages to gardening and travel. It's the place where families evacuated during the recent flood were housed, and where people volunteered to help. It's where our public health nurses maintained organization and good cheer during day after day of line-ups for flu shots. It's even the site of the world's largest hockey stick (205 feet long, 61,000 pounds).

I knew it was a special place when I went to my first drawing class and was directed to what could have been called just the second floor, but was instead named the "Human Potential Floor." I'm there two or three times a week, to tutor Math students or to pick up a new batch of library books. And every time I walk into the foyer I'm struck by the number of people hanging out, or stopping to chat, or buying tickets to a show at the theatre, or registering for a class, or directing people through a flu shot line-up, or setting up a Christmas craft fair. It makes me feel like I'm part of a community, which I guess is what a community centre is supposed to do.

[Thanks to the World Records Academy for the photo, which I shamelessly copied.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Update from the Ark

It's still raining. It has been raining without a significant break for days and days and days, and we're getting tired of it. We keep looking out the window and then wondering whether it usually rains this much and we've just forgotten, or if this is actually an unusual event. The latter, according to the weather office. So far this month we have had 266 mm of rain, which is more than twice the normal amount.

It's getting to be a problem. The Cowichan River, which is near enough to hear from the verandah, is starting to sound like Niagara Falls, and lately when we drive over it on our way into Duncan it is a white-capped, seething mass of dirty water. Yesterday we saw that the Koksilah River had overcome its banks and flooded a farmer's fields about a 10 minute drive from where we live. Last night on the way to a tutoring session I had to drive through about 6 inches of water on a flooded street. And then today we heard that a state of emergency has been declared in Duncan, 400 homes evacuated with some streets a metre under water, and sand-bagging begun.

We're fine where we are - even though the Cowichan River is just a couple of properties away, there is a big enough elevation difference that we're not in any danger. Our pond is at its maximum volume, but the culvert is still handling the overflow just fine. We have had some problems with leaking skylights over the verandah, but clearing out some of the moss and debris on the roof above them seems to have done the trick. Once again, we're lucky, lucky people with much to be grateful for.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

First Frost

We had our first hard frost last night. I could tell it was a cold night - I went to Victoria and when I came home about 11, the gate was coated in rime that melted in my hand. This morning everything is crispy and cold, and shrubs like the rhodos and butterfly bushes look like they're in shock. It will be interesting to see how the vegetables still in the garden will fare once they start to warm up.

With fall come bonfires, including one that caused a little excitement last night. We spent the afternoon cleaning the gutters. It was very cold and wet work, and when we were done we were glad to spend some time by the fire warming up. It was dusk, and I was getting ready to head into town when we heard (and felt) an enormous whump and and saw a bloom of light in the window. Please don't laugh (it's going to be hard) but my first thought was that the house had been struck by a meteorite. (Where did that come from? I thought I had a handle on all my disaster-related anxieties...) We rushed upstairs to look outside, and discovered that it was, in fact, our neighbours two lots over who had apparently used an explosively huge quantity of gasoline to start an enormous bonfire of the debris they had been clearing from their lot. When our pulses slowed and we were able to think more clearly, there was still cause for concern - it was a huge fire, and the ones in charge of it seemed to be a large group of partying young people. So we called the fire department who came out and got things under control.

The siding phase of our workshop project sputtered to an end this week. That was a hard job - the panels were awkward to position because they were so heavy and not very stiff, and it rained every single day. Oh, and the rented nailer stopped working when we had three panels to go. But it got fixed, and we got the final panels up, although neither of us is really happy with the last side we did. The next job is to attach fascia and gutters, but we have a few days' wait until the gutter order arrives, which gives us some time to catch up on the fall garden cleanup. Then we'll need to put cedar shakes on the gable ends and trim around the doors and windows, and in the spring we'll paint. What a job. But even though it's been a bit nasty, we saved a lot of money doing it ourselves, and there's a nice feeling of satisfaction that comes from persevering through the hard parts.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beech tree

How gorgeous is this tree? Especially on what would otherwise be just another gloomy, rainy day...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Workshop project

This may not look like much, but for us it is a good day's work. For the last few days we have been siding our 24 by 24 workshop: first wrapping the whole building in sheathing paper, then nailing on flashing above doors and windows, and finally installing 4 by 8 sheets of a manufactured, fungicided, primed wood panelling made to look like board and batten. [Thanks, Jean and Jim, for the inspiration and advice!]

We started on the back, because it only had two windows to cut around and if we really screwed up, nobody would really see it. There was a somewhat grumpy learning curve, mostly to do with how to manoeuvre the heavy panels into position and keep them there while Kim nailed them in with the extra powerful construction-grade pneumatic nailer.

Today we got the next side done, the one in the picture. What I want you to notice is the door and, more impressively, the circular cutout for the light fixture above it, and the rectangular cutout for the electrical conduit coming out of the ground. We got the circular cutout in exactly the right position ON THE FIRST GO. Yay team! The very next panel along was the one that had to fit around the pipe, which unfortunately was not strictly vertical. That took some tricky measuring, the creation of a cardboard template and three tries at the shaping of the cutout. All in the pouring rain, with water dripping off the edge of the roof right down our necks. But we did it! Although it used up all our supply of patience with ourselves, each other and the weather, and so we had to retreat to the fireside with tea for the rest of the afternoon.

Kim and I make a good team for projects like this. She is best at jobs that require serious power tools (like the table saw and the nailer we're using for this project), gumption and heights. My speciality is fiddly tasks requiring lots of patience and (as our friend Jim calls it) "friggin' and jiggin'. I am also excellent with the jigsaw and good at reading instructions when things go wrong. My honey brings laughter and play to our work, and an infallible sense of when we really need to take a break, and I bring a good head for planning and thinking a few steps ahead.

It's hard work, but so satisfying. Sometimes when we stop for a cup of tea from the thermos, we look at each other, brush the sawdust from our clothes, shake the rain from our hats and are amazed at how lucky we are.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall lessons

Between the cooler weather and the regular rain, the garden is looking very different than it did a couple of months ago. I have been stressing about the amount of cleanup that needs to happen this time of year - when 90% of the plants in the garden are perennials, there's an awful lot of chopping down to do. And the regular rain has caused the weeds that were dormant through the hot, dry summer to spring to life again. So everything feels disordered and messy.

I knew this adventure would have lessons to teach me about living with imperfection, but I feel like I'm in the middle of a remedial intensive. I keep remembering sister Kim's words this summer about enjoying all the life cycles of the plants in the garden, without rushing to clean things up at the first sign of decay, and as a result I've set myself some homework: to look hard for the beauty in what feels to me like an increasingly barren, weedy mess. And here is what I've found.

The loss of so many leaves has opened up views and vistas that are more cluttered in the spring and summer. We can see all the way up the steep rise to the back of our property now, which gives me a sense of being snuggled into the back of a hill I didn't have before. And what used to be a solid wall of vegetation on the far side of the pond now gives us peekaboo glimpses of the farm from the verandah. There's something about a long view that draws you in.

The other thing that opens up with the fall of the leaves is the architectural underpinning of the garden. We don't have much of that, given that so many of the plants are perennials. But that means the few garden anchors have even more of a dramatic impact. A few months ago the ornamental cherry that overlooks the pond simply merged with the surrounding vegetation, but now it's impossible not to look at it, it's so beautiful.

And even in the midst of many things dying, there is an occasional surprise. A blowzy, orange oriental poppy has decided, improbably, to bloom. And my favourite hydrangea, even as its leaves start to turn colour, has put forth a last few small, unexpected blossoms.

Am I ready to graduate from this make-up course on seeing the beauty in imperfection? Oh, I expect I've still got some work to do. But I'm feeling more content with the season, and the garden, and the lessons still to be learned.
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