Tree cut

On my way to teach I drive through Kitsilano, along Beach Avenue, and then 4th. Second day of teaching in the new year, less than a month since Dad passed away.

And I see this:

Look closely and you’ll see at least four seats with reclining backs cut into these tree trunks. When it’s not grey and pouring rain–as it was in early January–you can sit back and look up at the stars…I’m guessing. I’ll have to return on a clear night. With a friend or two or three.

My first thought, when I saw this, was that I’d have to share it with Dad. He has a thing about big trees, and enjoying them for years, and then taking them down once they get too old. But not like most would. No. He creates picnic places and magic when he does this. Here are Dad’s trees:

When I passed the tree by the beach, I didn’t stop. I continued, took the corner onto 4th Avenue, found myself looking at the clock; I’d been hoping to get to work early to allow my brain time to pull together the last threads before a lecture, and the energy I need for that.

If I were to stop, I’d have less time. Yet even as I drove on, my thoughts were stopped at that tree, and words were coming in to my head about it. These words. I realized that if I took the next right, and the one after that, I’d end up back at the tree. How long could it take, I thought, to get out of my car, walk through the rain, take the pic, and get back in? Would it really make me late?

So I turned and did just that. Took a half dozen photos from various angles, and was a bit wet when I climbed back into the warm car.

The clock said I’d spent a mere seven minutes. And I arrived in my office no later than I’d planned anyway.

I wrestle with teaching. I teach what I love to do; I teach writing. But teaching writing, and writing, are not the same things. They both bring different types of energy to me. And the energy that sustains me, and has through the past few years–in particular, beginning with the journal I kept while my spouse was ill–is the energy that comes from writing. That is the energy I need to feed myself before anything else can happen.

It’s like the yellow oxygen mask that is supposed to fall out of the compartment overhead if an airplane is going down; you’re supposed to do it for yourself first, before others.

So I took the right turn, got the pictures, and am now writing the words that began to churn through my mind. And I notice that the above words about my dad and his love of whimsical tree cuts are in present tense. So maybe there is another reason to have done this, and even to write.

Needed: one Crowbar…

No one told me that if you move to the suburbs to raise your children, there is a strong likelihood you will need a crowbar at some later point.

Shortly after my spouse passed away, I received an invite to a neighbour-friends’ party. The town I lived in was small, and I rode my bicycle to the party because my role as designated driver had come to an end, I’d decided. There was no one to designate, and I was weary of responsibility. Cabs are things you have to wait for in a small town. And I didn’t want to wait or to walk. Drink and ride, like a teenager, was a choice. And there was something about stowing a six-pack in the grocery basket over the back wheel that made me feel like Angela Lansbury cutting out. Yes, I put teenager and Lansbury in two sentences back to back.

Even the people who had invited me were surprised when I turned up. And when I spoke rather easily about my spouse, his passing, the months of care-giving…I’m not sure how people took that. It seemed to me that there was some element of relief; we could talk about it. Mostly, it seemed, people were happy to see me. I was happy to be out of my house, my house that had become hospital and hospice, locus of grief. Just as music supported me, the sounds of partying were capable of holding me up and carrying me. People, life. Silence, too, had a significant role, and I sought out hours of it. But music and human connections became vital. (Maybe this is that “music hag” blog entry I promised in my last…)

That was before my realization that, living in the burbs, I was going to soon need that (mental) crowbar to wrench people from their couches.

That party was one of few invites. After that evening, it became up to me to contact people and say, “Hey! So-and-so is playing at the pub. Do you want to meet and dance?” In the initial months, some brave folks went with me. Maybe I wore them out, going to three venues in a single evening, following the music of friends.

More and more I heard the answer: “I’m already settled in for the night…” (eh? it’s 7:34…) More and more I found myself climbing into my corolla and heading into the city. More and more often, on my own.

I began to study real estate sites, looking to see what was in the city. For what could I trade my 2600+ rambley huge house? A 600 square foot condo with a $450/month maintenance fee…that might, randomly, go up? I went and prowled around on a Saturday, looking at everything in my price range. Nothing. I didn’t want to live at 30th and Main. I wanted to be IN the city. By my definition, anything that required more than my feet to get places was a burb. I’m going home, I’ve done my time… That’s how I felt about returning to the city after two dozen years.

Then one day up popped an 1184 square foot half duplex, with wood stove, detached garage (insulated and finished, it turned out, perfect for a son with friends at music school), no maintenance fee… I knew the photos were exaggerated. The living room appeared to be able to hold three elephants. The kitchen could host the last supper. In reality, maybe an elephant foot fit. And the table could be pulled away from the wall for Christmas dinner. It was perfect. Strathcona, east side of Vancouver, walking distance to the Drive, the old Railway Club, and The Pat Pub, house of jazz, blues, and good beer.

I went to see the place one night, along with twenty other people, most of whom bid, and all I outbid. I knew it was my place. I could leave my crowbar behind.


I bought with no subjects and a lot of faith on May 30, and sold my home June 12. In little more than a week I cleared out enough to hold a weekend open house. I left no less than six bookshelves at the end of my driveway, carted off by neighbours. Several dressers went. Old tools, garden implements. Boxes of who-knows disappeared into my mom’s storeroom. One room was painted. Clutter was gone.

But after it sold began the real process of getting rid. In the end, I estimated 70% of everything I owned was distributed to the neighbourhood via the driveway—a constantly changing pile, the thriftshop (I had to begin to sneak in bags and boxes full after closing), varagesale, and the process of finding homes for things that meant something and deserved to be given: an ancient ventriloquial figure (with the correspondence course I’d taken at age fifteen) found a perfect home with home-schoolers with Children’s Hospital performing ambitions. An old flute found a similarly suitable home.

In the end, all that was left fit in one moving truck and two carloads. I had a new home where everything had its place. That had become my criterion: can I envision this in an exact place? If not, it was out.

I had no grass to mow. I had no more decorative jugs to line up. I had empty spots on my bookshelf. For every piece of furniture I kept, at least two went. Maybe four.

I was delighted to discover that the living room rug I had bought a year or so earlier, too small for my old home, was just the right size for the new one. That the one book case I did keep, made by my dad, fit perfectly on the stair landing.

What I didn’t know, at the time I moved in, was that the most significant change in my life that would come as a result…was the Gift of Time.

Not that I spent much time Taking Care of My Stuff. (Do you hear George Carlin’s voice in that phrase?? ) At least, I hadn’t thought I did. I dusted…never. But somehow less stuff equals more time. How is this? (Try it.)

At the end of the first year of living in my new home I had completed a 250+ page memoir of my time care-giving. Written a new picturebook. Completed the writing of another about to be published. And I’d—finally—completed a lengthy novel for teens that I have been working on for far too long. I can’t remember when I last wrote so much. If ever.

Emotional crowbar at play.