Random thoughts: a wretched winter, ‘holiday’ and faith



It is crazy sometimes how there is so much beauty in such menace.


The papery sheaths of dog-strangling vine seedpods and their delicate twisting stems strike such a beautiful silhouette against the snow.

But, honestly, it is not even mid-January and the crusty, icy and treacherous trails that Skye and I walk are not fit for human or beast.


A youthful dog might prance and pounce through this awful mess of a winter, but it is slow going if you’re 11 1/2.  And a dog, that is.


It is now well past Twelfth Night and we are finally taking down the Christmas tree.  It is funny how Christmas is now a ‘dirty’ word.  When I was in retail, there was little mention of it, only the ‘holidays’.  I remember as a young girl, being sent on my way after a night of baby-sitting at a neighbour’s house.  I said politely upon leaving, “Merry Christmas”, only to hear in reply that they didn’t celebrate Christmas.   Didn’t celebrate Christmas?  How can that be?  Didn’t everyone celebrate Christmas?


Apparently not if you’re a devout Jew is what I learnt.  And I also learnt much later, as I was a well-insulated WASP child, that Christianity and Judaism aren’t the only faiths.

Out recently with an old (Jewish) friend I said, ‘Really, what makes us so different in terms of faith?’ — that is, if I were a true Christian.  She replied with a laugh, ‘Jesus’.

I have always been curious about my inherited, if not embraced, faith in a historical sense, as well as the figures that take centre stage in it.  In my case, Jesus, his followers as well as those who are said to have written the New Testament.   Did they really exist as we think they did?  How true are the ‘Jesus stories’?  What is symbol and what is historical truth?

It is interesting to me how history has unfolded largely within the rigid structure of religion — with the skills needed for learning and self-awareness not shared beyond the monastery wall.   I thought of that when we visited several plantations on our trip through the southern states two years ago.  The haves and the have-nots.

Georgia 3 030


The Christmas season is upon us and I have noticed that everyone is distracted.  People seem to be driving around town wrapped in a fog of multi-tasking, walking in and out of stores with a grim determination rather than a smile.

Excuse me while I slow down the pace a little bit.


It is such a beautiful time of year, especially with this layer of healing snow.  As gardeners, it allows us the opportunity to rest and reflect.


 If you can, take a moment to think about your year.  What were the highlights?  Here are some of mine…


First, and perhaps most importantly for me, celebrating another year with my beloved Skye-dog.  As many of you know, she was diagnosed with lymphoma when she was 8 1/2 years old back in February 2011.  After undergoing six months of chemotherapy and complementary holistic care, the first with Dr. Bravo and her team at Alta Vista Animal Hospital and the second with Dr. Eddie Beltran at Blair Animal Hospital, Skye-dog remains healthy and in remission.  We are very grateful and hope that she stays with us for another lifetime.  Surely not too much to ask.


My trip to Francis Cabot’s garden known as Les Quatres Vents with my friend Patti was a bit of a marathon, in a good way.  A long drive and much anticipation ended in several hours of horticultural wonder, not to mention post-viewing garden analysis.




Les Quatres Vents 078

If that wasn’t enough of a feast for the eyes, I saw the spectacular glass creations of Dale Chihuly at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which were just so alive and organic.




My year was also filled with smaller, but no less meaningful moments…














Slow down, take a breath.  What have your moments been?

Random (somewhat maudlin) November thoughts

The temperature and light is shifting.  Strange winds blow and the grass starts to form weird wavy patterns as it begins to recline after a long summer.


Animals slow down and think about finding a place to call home before the snow arrives.



Our walks are faster and colder.  I’m often forgetting to wear anything on my hands but I have placed a wool blanket on the back seat of the car so Skye will not be chilled.


We are stockpiling coffee logs for the fireplace.  Real wood snaps and crackles, making Skye run and hide.


Gardens are being cut down, tidied up and let sleep for the winter.  Colds and sore throats are beginning to impact our state of mind.


Melancholy is beginning to set in.


Short days, cold nights.  Bundle up.  I’ll put on my happy hat next time ;c)

Autumn: Day 1

Today was the first full day of autumn.


It was crisp and the clouds came and went.  Sometimes they threatened rain (and delivered) and other times not.


Skye-dog led the way.


There are surprises in the fields.  Sometimes they were placed there to attract bluebirds:


And sometimes they appear if you look down amongst the brush…



The afternoon sun looks warm, but its reflection on the river is only an illusion of heat at this time of year.


The sumac is showing its full colour now — isn’t it early?


Another few moments and this day of change shifts suddenly.


Soon we’ll be huddled inside in front of the fire…

Rescued dogs are worth it

Do you know how many organizations there are in the Ottawa and eastern Ontario region that rescue and find homes for abandoned, unwanted and homeless dogs?  Twenty-eight.  And each facility lists a sizeable number of dogs, making hundreds of potential best-friends waiting and hoping for a family and a permanent home.

This includes not only city-run facilities like shelters but also independently run rescues, both breed-specific and not.

Many of the dogs who wind up in non-profit, volunteer-run rescues are from far away and have been pulled from shelters where they were days or hours away from being euthanized.  Many of these dogs were picked up as strays and many of them were surrendered by owners who could no longer care for them.  They come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, all temperaments and all stages of obedience.  But they all share one thing:  through no fault of their own, they were born into this world and then they were discarded.

It shocks me how many discarded dogs are looking for homes.  And yet, when looking for a new canine member of the family, so many people still look in the classifieds, online or on bulletin boards to find that ‘perfect’ puppy.   They go to advertised breeders and have in mind a specific type of dog or a specific “look”.  They often don’t research the breed they’re about to share the next ten to fifteen years of their lives with.  They don’t meet the dog’s parents, they don’t sign a contract that promises they will return the dog to the breeder should they not be able to keep it.  They don’t imagine this puppy will end up being riddled with health issues because it was created as a “designer” dog.  They don’t consider whether or not this breeder is reputable, that is, how the breeding parents are vetted (health, temperament, genetic predispositions, etc.), how often the dogs are bred, their reasons for breeding and last, but not least, what kinds of conditions the dogs are living in.

Not all breeders are bad and not all rescues are good.  But all dogs deserve to be given a chance after they’ve been cast aside.

If you’re thinking of adding a dog to your family, please visit the website for Canada’s Guide to Dogs here.  There is a comprehensive list of organizations where rescued dogs may be adopted (the adoption fee takes into consideration the cost of running the rescue), reputable breeders, as well as breed information that will help you decide which kind of dog is for you.

"I was discarded."

“I was discarded.”

Memories of walks past

The stranglehold of winter appears to be loosening.


Pretty soon it will be a memory.


Can sunshine and warm breezes be far away?


I normally walk this trail on the bluff overlooking the river only in the winter months.  Not because it might be more picturesque during these quiet, snow-blanketed months but because of this:


These leafless stalks bearing dried creamy white berries are poison ivy.  The bane of my existence.  Thickets of it line either side of this path and taunt me as I walk through, as I hold my hands in my pockets and stand straight as a soldier as I trek by.

My skin’s reaction to this kind of plant (and all its dastardly relatives) is so acute that even a couple of weeks ago I suffered a flare-up from the latent oils, either still on my hand or a glove, or — who knows what?

I have walked this path for almost twenty years now.

It is now crowded by a new housing development, but the path still skirts the water and descends down to a small sandy beach where Skye can swim and where my first dog, Riley, would wade.

I would pass this giant white pine.


This ancient tree is shrinking from age and it’s limbs that have been weakened by the weight of successive winter snows.

The thick branch that reaches out to the right was once where a racoon lay.  My morning walk took me underneath this tree, as usual, but on this day I looked up.  A motionless racoon lay sleeping, straddling this wooden arm.  It was unaware of us as we walked below.

We returned in the afternoon to see him again.  It wasn’t until then that I realized he was not sleeping.

It was a safe place to die.  His body remained there throughout the early days of autumn, and as the winds chilled, bits of fur wafted down onto the ground below.  Safe from predators and hungry opportunists.

Every day I looked up.

I measured the seasons by how he began to disappear until one day in the spring, all traces of him were gone.

Except in my memory.

Winter in black & white

There is such stillness in the woods at this time of year.


Although the stream still flows, the edges are crystallized in ice.


And there is always evidence of creatures just having come and gone…


The depression in the snow around this tree trunk reminds us that there is energy in the form of heat emanating from its seemingly life-less form.


Is there anything more solitary than this abandoned chair?



I feel like this contorted weeping mulberry; huddled and twisted in the cold.  I’m ready for spring, thank you.



Are you into New Year’s resolutions?  I’m not.

My primary feeling is that I will try to improve from day to day, never mind a new year.  So I could always exercise more, pass up moments of compulsive eating or drinking, spend more time playing with Skye-dog and basically just saying ‘thank you’ for the good stuff and acknowledging it more than I do now.  Being more mindful of my time here and taking more care.  Taking it slow. That includes more deep breathing when I’m up against aggressive, rude and just plain bad drivers.

So I consider these not so much New Year resolutions but nudgings for the long-term.