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of notebooks and notebooks in the garden

What a lonely few days!  I took my pretty white MacBook, whose name is MacZine, to the Apple store for repair on Sunday, and didn’t get her back till Wednesday noon.  Three days without her – I was desolate.  I made the best of it, trying to relish all that email-free time, carrying a notebook and pen around for work.  But I felt as if a limb had been cut off.  How dependent we are.  It’s now 9 a.m., and I’ve already been sitting with MacZine for an hour, responding to email and editing an essay sent by a student.  

And now – the joy of blogging.  Yesterday a friend who has had a diary all his life asked if I was still keeping mine, and I replied, to my surprise, that I was not, at least, hardly not.  I’ve been keeping a diary since I was nine years old, but now, between emails to my dearest friends and blogging to the world at large, the need to make sense of life by writing about it is taken care of.  Once in a while, especially after one of my yearly calls to my former psychiatrist who now lives in Montreal, I need to write to myself alone.  But mostly I now write OUT.  Not IN.
I did, however, enjoy working with a pen and paper again in the absence of MacZine, and am going to try first drafts that way for a while.  I haven’t done this before, but I’d like to share with you a longer piece written a few nights ago, as I sat with an old-fashioned pad of paper.
Here I am in my summer room, which is painted many shades of green.  This is where I must be from now, mid-May, until at least early October – in my garden, the room that is closed off in winter and the sweetest place on earth, at least to me, in spring, summer and fall.

Right now, it’s dusk in downtown Toronto.  Ten minutes away, the intimidating skyscrapers are emptying for the night.  Fifteen minutes away, the nightclub district is getting ready for the noisy onslaught, even on Monday night.  The Don Valley Parkway nearby is still crawling with commuters heading home, and with partyers, even on Monday night, heading in. Somewhere, as usual, a siren shrieks.

In here, there is greenery, and there are birds.  They are trilling endlessly in the trees and lined up at the bird feeder.  The day before yesterday, I wore my winter coat once more, the third time I have put it away and hauled it out again.  Today, at about 2 p.m., high summer arrived. Yesterday chilly, drizzling, grey; today muggy and breathlessly hot.  That’s the way the seasons happen, in Toronto.

I sit surrounded by trees – lilac and sour cherry in my own yard and big unnamed trees in my neighbour’s.  There are ghosts here of the trees that used to be – the damaged Manitoba maple at the very back that my friend, the ex-drug-addicted B.C. logger, climbed and cut down with chainsaws dangling from his belt, piling the ground with branches and firewood.  The mulberry that my gardening neighbour Dorothy insisted I get rid of, as it cast sticky messes into her yard as well as mine, and unwanted shade as well.  And the small awkward maple I cut down myself, alone, with a handsaw, in the days when I was trying to prove something about independence and solitude and strength.

There was a time when this garden was untended, parched and desolate, causing me only guilt and despair.  But like my children, it has grown steadily into something beautiful.  I don’t know why I deserve such a reward, but here it is. 

Two sparrows are fighting in the air, chasing each other and squawking.  “You two cut that out!” I call to them.  No fighting allowed in this tranquil place.  But perhaps they’re not fighting. Yesterday, I heard a fierce buzzing and saw two bees mating in flight.  They’d separate, track each other and then join again, soaring effortlessly through the air.  Another kind of Mile High Club.  Now I know why they call it “the birds and the bees.”

And then there is Planet Ivy – a tall stone wall, almost the entire south border of my garden, thick with dense ivy that serves as an apartment building for birds and raccoons.  It climbs over my wall, spreading all over the walls of the expensive condos next door.  I have joked that they should pay me for landscaping and they have joked that they should sue me for damage.  Their ivy-covered walls look like Oxford University – august and very, very green.

On the other side of my yard, a savannah – the jungly, untamed grassland of a neighbour who never ventures into the back of her property, leaving it for the animals who creep through her towering grasses.  

I spent an hour weeding my idyll today, clearing only a small patch of invasive violets and lilies, giving the old roses room to grow.  I dug up a plastic bone that one of our dogs, Moose or Barclay, must have buried there many years ago.  Dogs, small children, teenagers – who wandered to the very back to smoke illicit cigarettes and other things, far from the stern parental nose – and now, a middle-aged woman tired from weeding – we have all made good use of this inner city oasis.  

The church bells, tolling eight.

It’s 8.45.  I couldn’t resist, I did more weeding.  Now my feet, knees and fingernails are dirty again. The birds are nearly silent – only one, calling still.  The scrawny raccoon who wakes me every night, clawing up the drainpipe by my bedroom on her way home – like a teenager skulking in far too late – has climbed down and lumbered off on her nightly hunt. No babies with her this year; I wonder why.  The solar lights are glowing in the flowerbeds. The background roar of the city is louder now that the birds are still.  Sirens, of course.  The light is grey and pink.  A breeze ruffles the tops of the trees.  That one bird must be in love.  A barbeque is being fired up, and someone is laughing.

It’s 9.  A jet heading east is slashing white across the sky.  The love-sick bird, nearly asleep, keeps rousing himself to sing once more.  The laugher is silent.  My summer room is dark now, its green canopy and decor fading in the dim light.  But I cannot bring myself to depart – not while my friend still sings.  The bells toll nine.

9.15.  Inside, behind the screen door, looking out.  

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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