August 31, 2011

248: Backyard 2.0

If I'm at loose ends, I no longer want to be sitting around the house. I want to be in our backyard with my camera, taking pictures of the beautiful things that weren't there before.

As much as we fell in love with our perfect house, it came with baggage: a not-so-secret shame, in a weed-patch backyard fit for the dogs – which our neighbour reported, was previously the case – surrounded by rotting scraps of mismatched fences. Four summers we tolerated it, an uneasy truce with the green menace out the window (sometimes, you know, it looked kinda OK after a mow, with dandelions evened out nicely with the patches of sharp grass).

Nightcrawlers bored canyons, neighbourhood cats pooped, ants erected sandy temples. A tentacled mystery shrub that took a hole two feet deep to uproot and ultimately halt. We eventually carved a happy patch of dirt for a few summers of happy tomatoes. We found a hotspot where they were foolproof.

first harvest
At the end of our fourth year we hid our secret shame from the outside world, erecting a fence – a wedding present from my brother. The ensuing winter, we could stand no more. Our hired landscaping crew brought in a digger-ma-jig one rainy day last June and scraped the whole damned thing clean. At work while the deed was done, I would love to have watched; I would have danced on the muck and gumbo left in its wake.

A few short weeks later the crew left, leaving behind a blank slate – a squeaky-clean mat of grass, patio and dirt beds waiting for a purpose. Already well into July, we stuffed the soil with garden-centre scraps and seeds. Things grew. The year was not a total gardening write-off.

haul, 2011
Neither was this year, not by the longest of long-shots. Raised veggie beds were stuffed – mebbe too stuffed (our bad) – with chard, lettuce, eggplants, beets, peas, beans, corn, basil, carrots, peppers, sunflowers and high, high holy mounds of atomic tomato plants. A spindly rogue of yellow Sweet 100s shot up between the beets and carrots, uninvited but wholly welcome. Yard beds were packed with raspberry canes, a start-up rhubarb, ferns, wild strawberries, lupins and a native plant community of prairie grasses, coneflowers, asters, false sunflowers and a purplish jobbie the bumblebees go ape-shit for.

And in and amidst all of this, we sit, drink wine and have dinners. Or read newspapers with beers, and look out on all of the beautiful things that weren't there before.

August 15, 2011

247: Sweet Nothing

Kerry and I were at a backyard dinner party tonight with friends, all of us in solid agreement: it's been the greatest summer in years. An unending spell of mosquito-dashing dryness, sunshine and heat has rolled into its eighth resplendent week. Glorious. This was no more evident than during a sublime week of pure vacation-based bliss the two of us spent at her sister's cabin up north near Flin Flon.

Sunday highlight: scurrying, panicky loons as Peter and I zip over smooth-as-glass Lake Athapapuskow scouring for Fishing Derby contestants – marking their good-luck spots on a map. Special highlight: epic nap.

that's a paddlin'
Monday highlight: shootin' cans with the Gamo (it's fun to shoot things!), paddlin' the canoe.

Tuesday highlight: Cranberry Lakes boat excursion, lunch in the bush and more wild blueberries to pick than you can bait a bear with.

Wednesday highlight: dusty gravel road with Duncan, biking to the creek and back with two stops – one, check out the Goose River dam and throw stuff off of it; two, poke at a dead snake with a stick.

Thursday highlight: endless bouts of Scrabble, Qwirkle, drinking, reading, side jaunt to Wekusko Falls (when you drive 1500 kilometres to get away from it all, 250 more seems a drop in the boreal bucket) and hotdog cookout.

Friday highlight: hopping in the kayak, wondering what took me so long (to hop in said kayak) – followed by neck-craning Northern Lights gawkery.

Friday night lights
Bonus highlight: this is what a loon jam looks and sounds like at sunset (below). Warning: video contains excessive doses of Canadiana.

August 12, 2011

246: Making Faces

Time spent earlier this summer with family was an opportunity for me to witness the amazing ability that kids possess to change emotions on a dime. Presenting Exhibits A (for apprehension) through E (ecstasy):

blue boy
Avery wants no part of being on camera. Too busy rooting in playground gravel. Hi Avery. Avery, lookit here. Looks up. Snap.

Cadence is grouchy; sufficient attention is not being directed her way. No one else is looking, I stick my tongue out at her. She turns away, even more sullen.

Avery wants a hot dog, plain and simple – that's all this look is about. It was forthcoming. And then instant gratification; he's a happy camper.

If Cadence is ever ready, on a moment's notice, to do anything – it's to make this face.

But of course, sometimes the ideal is when they're not paying attention at all.