The card from the recipe box for my favourite meal

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garden at the farm

a garden with rich soil
seeds for carrots, lettuce, cucumber, onion, dill, peas
the last of the previous year’s potatoes for seed
tomato seedlings, purchased from a neighbour
a milk cow
a steer
a well tended raspberry patch
from the pantry: salt and pepper, barbeque sauce, vinegar, sugar
3-4 children to help with the weeding (optional)

In May, plant carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, dill and peas. Tie baler twine to stakes to guide the rows straight. Cut up the old potatoes, and plant the pieces with the eyes facing up so they will grow. Watch the sky every morning and hope for rain and sunshine in the proper proportions. Weed as necessary. Hill the potatoes and build the pea fence using the old chicken wire behind the red shed.

Butcher the steer.

Feed the milk cow. Milk her once she has calved, and dunk the calf’s nose into a pail of milk until she learns to drink. Pasture the cow on a field without weeds, or the milk will reek.

In July, prepare the meal. You will know it is time when you dig under a potato plant and find a handful of new potatoes, the size of small stones, with thin, transparent skin.

Pick and shell the peas. Pull carrots, a few onions. Pick a handful of dill leaves, enough lettuce for salad, tomatoes and cucumbers. Wash all the vegetables. Examine each lettuce leaf carefully, lest a slug crawls up the salad spoon while you are eating.

Make a salad with the lettuce, cucumber, green onions, tomatoes. Mix the salad dressing: whisk together a quarter cup of cream, a teaspoon of vinegar, salt, pepper, dill, and sugar. Cut the carrots and cucumbers into sticks.

Cook the peas and stir in a spoonful of homemade butter before serving. Boil the potatoes with a pinch of salt. Smother in sauce made from thickened cream and dill. Barbeque the steaks over charcoal briquettes.

Serve outside at the picnic table under the maple trees. Feed bits of steak to the dog, even though her manners are terrible. Relish the evening sun, the breeze that keeps the mosquitoes away, the respite from work.

For dessert, pour fresh cream over raspberries picked that day.

Savour this food and all these moments, knowing that food does not taste like this in the city, where no one remembers how the meal came to be on their plate.

Photo: Mom’s garden at the farm this year. Although it is smaller than when we were growing up, it is still large by city standards.

Sabbatical Project #5: Travel

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“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

Hawai'i
View of the black sand beach at Pololu Valley on Hawai’i in February 2014.

I have divided my sabbatical year into three parts.

For the first part of the year, beginning in April, my only intention was to take the summer off.

Now I am getting ready to move onto the second part of my adventure. This week, I am packing my suitcase and making final travel arrangements.

During the next few months, there will be at least one post per week here – things that I have planned ahead of time. I am also hoping to occasionally post new writing from the road.

Pottery Class

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Last week, as I was sorting through a box of bisque-fired pottery and deciding which pieces to glaze for the next wood firing, I broke a pot. Of course it was a bowl I was quite pleased with – I never break the failed experiments. I sat there, holding the pot and the shard I had carelessly snapped off, and I remembered some advice from my first pottery teacher during my first pottery lesson, more than ten years ago.

My thanks to editor Anne Burke who published this poem in Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature in 2008.

 

Pottery Class

the instructor says
don’t get too attached
and as weeks pass
I learn

how wet clay collapses
under unsure hands

how clay not properly prepared
cracks in the heat
of the kiln

how glaze applied
too thickly
runs
fuses to the kiln shelf

but I discover
the joy
of going home
with dirt under my fingernails
and smudges on my face

that to centre the clay
on the wheel
I must first
centre myself

weeks later
I hold the crooked bowl
from that first night
and allow myself
the satisfaction
knowing
even now
that it could fall

and I would have
to let it go

Hiking Burstall Pass and reading Paulette Dubé’s mountain poems

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Earlier this summer I discovered Shawna Lemay’s blog Calm Things and have enjoyed reading along as she weaves poetry and photography into her daily life. Today’s post takes its inspiration from her writing there, and also from Paulette Dubé’s poetry.

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Two weeks ago my sister and I hiked Burstall Pass near Kananaskis.

It was a beautiful hike on a beautiful day, one that rewarded us with a few unexpected pleasures beginning with the tiny, tart wild-strawberries that were ripe and ready to eat along the first part of the trail and culminating with this view:

Burstall Pass

Since then, I’ve been thinking about and rereading Paulette Dubé’s pair of poetry collections about the mountains around Jasper, First Mountain and Gaits (both published by Thistledown Press). I suspect it was these lines, half remembered as I walked that day, that drew me back to her work:

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the trail thins then spits me out
into an alpine meadow warm with sunlight
wind full of poplar fluff big as sparrows
I acknowledge the suffering of change here
know that this, too, will pass

(Gaits, page 18)

We had that same experience, of being “spit out” by the trail, twice that day. The first was less than an hour in, when we crossed a small creek and found ourselves on the gravel flats. It was like being at the bottom of a bowl made of mountains. The surrounding peaks made for a gorgeous pot, which we admired as we navigated the rivulets of melt-water flowing down from the glacier, with the sound of gravel crunching beneath our boots.

The second was after a steep climb, just when I (the more out-of-shape sister) needed a break and we turned a corner into an alpine meadow in full bloom.

Burstall Pass

I admire the mountains, but I’ve never understood them. Having lived most of my life on the prairie or the edge of it, I struggle to understand why people love the mountains so much. Dubé’s writing has helped open the mountains up for me. Her spare, yet layered poems reveal secrets I would not have discovered on my own:

3.

this place teaches
how to think
takes a turn unexpected crocus
pair of hairy purple heads
heart of yellow turned to the sun
astringent as dandelion
and as necessary

(Gaits, page 10)

Dymphny Dronyk and I had the privilege of including some of Dubé’s poems in an anthology of Alberta poetry, Home and Away (House of Blue Skies, 2009). In her introduction to her own work, Dubé recalls that “in five years, I logged 5,000 km out on the trails in Jasper National Park. (I know it sounds incredible, but my husband did the math and I trust him.) I would walk for one or two hours, then I would come home and write for an hour” (54).

Her intimate knowledge of the landscape she writes about makes her a sensitive and lyrical guide, and I am so pleased to have found her work.

I’d like to share one more poem of Dubé’s, from First Mountain. This poem is selected for my sister, who is a geologist.

Burstall Pass

Fifty-sixth day:

the sound of creek spanking places cool and moss dark
there
the first stone found me
stone shaped like the right foot, foretells a journey to come

a heart of stone
a guardian watches over you

two left feet
journeys made

one swirled with a red smile
life is thus

(First Mountain, page 33)

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Postscript:

If you would like to read more of Paulette Dubé’s poems, click here and here.

Thank you for reading. I love it when people stop by to say hi in the comments. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome.

Driving North on Highway 43

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Somehow it is Thursday, and I haven’t posted anything here yet this week. I am starting to wonder if my goal of two posts a week is too ambitious, but rather than give up, I am allowing myself to bend the rules a bit and offer the occasional #throwbackthursday post.

This weekend I will be driving to Grande Prairie to visit friends. When I moved to Grande Prairie in May 2001, to start my first professional job as the Children’s Librarian at Grande Prairie Public Library, I had no idea how significant highway 43 – the highway south from Grande Prairie that led to the two places I called home at that time: my parent’s farm in Barrhead and Edmonton where most of my friends lived – would become to me over the next few years.

An excerpt of this poem was published in 2007 by the Calgary Herald in their Discovering Alberta series.

 

Driving North on Highway 43

 

1. the first time, from Barrhead

I moved to Grande Prairie
and suddenly, home an
hour north of Edmonton
became south, and this highway
the umbilical cord
straining to pull me back
to the land that birthed me

 

2. and many times after that

I find myself on this road
driving south to north and north to south

to pass the time I count the creeks
that weave their way through trees
under the highway before disappearing
into the bush again and I wonder
who gave my favourite,
the tiny Chickadee, its name

eventually this highway and I
become uneasy friends
as I learn to forgive the slights of
oil patch trucks racing to work
and the sight of road-kill
decomposing on the shoulder

instead I look for beauty:
the valley at Bezanson
glorious in autumn
before the big wind
sweeps away the splendour;
a great horned owl perched on a sign
Fox Creek 46 km;
brush piles burning at dusk

mostly I drive straight through
but once I stopped at Kleskun Hills
climbed to the plateau
spent an hour lying in tall grass
watching sky change pretending
not to notice those first drops

 

3. close call

driving through Sturgeon Lake Reserve
in a blizzard blinded by whiteout

just over a rise snow shifts
reveals an oncoming semi
passing another semi
despite double solid lines
hidden under the snow

so I drive on the wide shoulder
knuckles white
the trucks roar past

as I pull back into my lane
the shape of a man appears

a dark shadow in the beam of the headlights
walking through the blizzard
just before the sign
to watch for pedestrians

 

4. seasons

driving north on highway 43
I witness the seasons
each with its own particular colour:
the new green of spring,
summer’s azure sky,
burnt umber, ice white

with each I become more
part of this northern place until home
is at both ends of the highway

Thoughts on being an Ordinary Tourist

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I love to travel.

For the past few years I have been fascinated by Chris Guillebeau’s blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Last year, he met his goal of travelling to every country in the world in just ten years. Amazing. In addition, he’s turned his journey into an entire career that now focuses on helping people create unconventional lives and businesses.

The internet if full of travel blogs about people who are leaving everything behind to travel full time, and sites that tell you the best way to travel (for example, how to travel with just one carry on bag). An entire industry has grown around “travel hacking” that will help you navigate all the points systems and frequent flyer programs to travel for free, or as close to free as possible.

It is easy to get lost in all that advice and feel that, unless you are doing something very special, being a regular tourist is not as valuable as all the cool things people on the internet are doing.

I consider myself to be an ordinary tourist. I pick a place, and I go. Sometimes I manage to squeeze everything into carry on, and sometimes I check my suitcase (and when I do I don’t stress out about it or feel like a failure). I shop around for the best deal I can find, but I’ve never spent the time to figure out how to fly someplace for free on points. I often do all of the planning and book places to stay myself, because I like that part of travelling and it is part of the fun for me, although sometimes I take a tour or get a travel agency to help.

I am curious about the world, even if I’m not going to make travel the focus of my life. I enjoy going on vacation, and I like to come home too.

I am interested in exploring this perspective more. My premise is simple: I believe – and know from experience – that being an ordinary tourist can lead to extraordinary experiences, if you travel with curiosity and a sense of openness. I think you can have life altering experiences while travelling, even if you don’t want to quit your job and travel full time (and if you do, go for it!). I plan to explore this idea more during the coming months as I think about past trips and embark on new ones.

Until then, happy travels.

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P.S.
Thank you for reading! I love it when people stop by to say hi in the comments. All kind and thoughtful comments are welcome. Have a story about an extraordinary travel experience? I’d like to hear that too.
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