Sunday, 30 October 2011

Carving the Hallowe'en pumpkin

Thought I’d get in touch with my inner pagan this morning rather than going to church, so I decided to carve the pumpkin. The canvas awaiting my skills was a huge round specimen purchased for only $4.99 at our local Sobey’s. But after a 15-year hiatus during which I did not partake of this ritual, my carving skills were somewhat rusty. 
Note to self: It is a good idea to remove all the stringy bits before carving. They are hard to remove afterwards and the dangling bits can yield a somewhat snotty jack-o-lantern.

Even four-year-olds know this. Yesterday on the phone, my grandson told me he was using a spoon to scrape the inside; I should have filed this fact away for use today. Too late for the broad strokes of a spoon,  I ended up using a Tupperware lettuce knife for rear-guard  action on the delicate areas around the eyes and nose.
Also, I saved the seeds, and I separated them into two piles: one is for growing another crop next year (as grandson optimistically observed, “We won’t ever have to buy another pumpkin.”).

The other is for toasting. I first ate toasted pumpkin seeds a year ago at Hallowe’en at my son and daughter-in-law’s. They were really good; my son has a knack for baking them, and also, I might add, for making delicious pancakes. When my children were growing up, my pancakes apparently were heavy sodden challenges to their discriminating palates – usually because I felt I had to include things like apple bits to add to their nutritional value. I hope for better results with the pumpkin seeds.

The Internet provided the procedure for toasting the seeds. I removed the gushy bits to prevent their scorching and ruining the seeds during baking (recommended is 300 degees for 45 to 55 minutes).   Then I soaked them in salty water.  Thanks again to my grandson, who during our telephone chat wondered what that paper was that his other grandmother was using, I lined a baking sheet with tin foil. This should make clean-up a breeze.
But back to carving. I tried to find ideas for the face on the Internet. I wanted large doleful eyes, but alas, the one image I had seen on a previous search was, not surprisingly, nowhere to be found today. A piece of advice: Many small strokes with a small knife are better than hacking away with the butcher knife.  I accidentally lopped off an upper tooth (on the pumpkin's  face, that is) before I learned that.  The eyes look fine even though one pupil is attached by only a hairsbreadth of pumpkin flesh. The nose has character – like a boxer’s  – and although I eschewed doing ears, I did carve a couple of fetching eyebrows.
It was fun!  Instead of the creed and the various responses found in the Anglican ritual for worship, I recited the pumpkin poem.  Did not feel nearly guilty enough though...
And there is a candle that  fits – all is ready for tomorrow night!

Five Little Pumpkins
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, “Oh my, it's getting late!”
The second one said, "There are witches in the air.”
The third one said, "But we don't care.”
The fourth one said, "Let's run and run and run!”
The fifth one said, "I’m ready for some fun!”
Then Woooooo went the wind
And OUT went all the lights.
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Dispatch from the wilds of North Middlesex: #8

 A Parkhill ode to autumn 

Autumn is a season of “mists and mellow fruitfulness” in other times and places, but here, not so much.  It’s mid-October, and I still have dozens of spring bulbs to plant.  However, today is wuthering (cold, rainy and windy, in other more prosaic words), so I am safely indoors watching leaves and small branches fly off the poplars in the back yard and hoping the 60-year-old trees themselves don’t topple.

Speaking of which, the biggest story here — aside perhaps from the provincial election, in which the incumbent was likewise tossed away on the winds of change — is arboreal.  The tree trunk carving in Coronation Park is now complete. The work was commissioned by the Parkhill and Area Horticultural Society — known here as simply the Hort.  An earlier dispatch reported that the carver said the old trunk “spoke to him.” Now we know what it said:  a fairy tale come true in oak.  For older folk, the side towards the street commemorates the recent Royal Wedding with the initials C and W rapturously entwined on a shield and surrounded by a fantasy of oak leaves and roses.

The other side depicts  Rapunzel  letting down a long braid of hair just tantalizingly out of reach of a spry youth climbing up to meet her.  This latter image is intended for the entertainment of children, with the underlying hope that none of them will later vandalize what captivated them as youngsters.  Around the top are several jaunty plump acorns carved from the truncated remains of four or five large branches. The intentional fallacy prevents me from contemplating what the artist had in mind when he included them, but to me they appear more mammiferous than memorial.

Before my imagination takes us irretrievably gutter-ward, I should report on another new feature here in town:  the crosswalk on Main St.  Coincidentally, the same pedestrian safety device had been instituted in Souris, PEI when we visited this summer.

Each appears to be confusing to both motorists and pedestrians — but for different reasons. In Souris, as in much of the Island, cars still stop for pedestrians without having to be told. In Parkhill, they don’t. It can be embarrassing either way – well, actually, here it might also be fatal.

In any event, last year in Souris I walked up and down by the post office trying to find the mailbox. Veering a bit close to the curb, I slowly realized that traffic both ways had come to a halt. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, I crossed the street. Traffic flow resumed.  Gazing back across at a wider angle than before, I spied the mailbox, stopped traffic, re-crossed the road and mailed my postcards.

This summer, crossing Main St. in Souris had become complicated. Does crosswalk protocol mean that cars need stop only there, or can they still be expected to stop anywhere along the road?  Small children on bicycles seemed to think so, as they darted across anywhere as before.

Here in Parkhill, it’s not that simple (and, incidentally, the only people crossing Main St. without looking first are ATV operators driving illegally on the hiking trail, oblivious to the fact they have suddenly intersected with the road).  Anyhow, the Highway Traffic Act makes clear no one is to move into the path of a vehicle that is “so close it is impracticable for the driver to yield the right of way.” This would describe most vehicles barrelling along Main St. In fact, local opinion holds that the OPP would be better advised to lurk beside the crosswalk and catch real speeders than by entrapping senior citizens nudging the speed limit just outside town.

In any event, cars don’t get it, nor apparently do pedestrians. The other day, I saw one poor soul standing meekly behind a parked car while a couple of pick-up trucks whizzed by. Having experience with crosswalks in bigger urban centres, I advanced with a toe into the gutter, raised my cane, waved it, fixed the motorist with my gimlet eye and began to cross the first lane.  This procedure has worked for me, at least so far, most notably with drivers I can make eye contact with. In fact, just this afternoon, I crossed twice — and both times I didn’t have to wait long before cars came along.

However, as the local paper points out, understanding how to manage a crosswalk has something of a learning curve. The editor implored readers to be careful, as she doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt using this new safety feature. 

Speaking of getting hurt, the 153rd Parkhill Fall Fair got underway several Fridays ago. The highlight of the three-day exhibition is always the demolition derby held on the Sunday afternoon.   Leading up to this competition crescendo were baby contests (including baldest, most dimples and rolls, and craziest hair), mutton busting (a sort of demolition derby involving sheep), crowning the fair royalty (not just a princess, but also a bespectacled prince and several ambassadors) and of course, judging the hundreds of fair exhibits.  The judges, perhaps wisely, come from outside the community — in fact from as far away as London for the exhibits sponsored by the Hort.

I did not attend the fair’s finale, but one of our neighbours entered a vehicle, which I saw being carted off on a flat-bed truck a couple of days later. It didn’t look like a winner. Anyhow, to start the event, the fair’s karaoke champion, sang  O Canada, and you’d think she was standing in our back yard the sound system worked so well.  Engines roared all afternoon, and traffic was lined up at least 10-deep at the stop sign at the south end of town, as the crowd dispersed — not perhaps as “gathering swallows “ twittering in the skies, but there aren’t a lot of thatch-eaves around here either.   John Keats lived in quieter times, or at least they were differently noisy.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Poem:  Your Pigeon Dream

As a totem animal –  if that is what this is –  
pigeon is not much:
why choose a dirty, dithering coward of a bird,
toddlers like to chase?

Why not an eagle for mastery,
a cardinal for showiness,
or a robin for diligent worm-hunting?

 And on a motorbike?
that symbol of daring,  irresponsibility and roaring get-away –
where is that in my life right now?

And the trainer who comes and takes away the pigeon 
why is he there?
for how do you train a pigeon?

If this were my dream,
I might think of him
as my pigeon’s guardian:

Keeping watch
over my dirty birdiness
until I park the bike
 and pause to love that despised part –
that part longing to be known –

 Then I would wonder – if this were my dream –
 in what way a such dirty, clumsy, stupid thing
might then hover,
graceful and holy.

Lorna Harris
February 17, 2011

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Story of Thomas’s Pumpkin


Here is Grandpa Greg removing sod in the pumpkin patch we have just begun to dig. Its early May.

Here I am putting on my gardening gloves. I narrowly missed some worms when I starting digging!

Whew! We are all done, and now there are four hills. We still need to shovel in the fertilizer from one of those plastic bags. Luckily the shovels are still there! But where is Grandpa Greg?

Here are the pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin Daddy carved last year. I kept them cool in the refrigerator all winter, but it is time to plant them. Its the third week of May now, and the soil is nice and warm.

The seed between my thumb and forefinger is pretty small.

There it goes into the pumpkin hill. You can see there is some black fertilizer on top to help it grow.

Its early June.  Here are the first leaves of the pumpkins.

Now its the end of June and the pumpkin plants are bigger! But where are the pumpkins?

At last a flower! The bees must have been busy pollinating because here is a pumpkin flower with a tiny green pumpkin at its base.

Several weeks later and here is a pumpkin, but it is not ready to pick just yet because it is still too green.

Here we are in September, and this pumpkin is ready to be picked.

Can you see the pumpkin patch? The pumpkins stand out because they are orange! Grandpa Greg and I are getting ready to bring them to Toronto.

Here you are holding your pumpkin! It’s all ready to carve!  Remember to save some seeds for next year.

by Granny Lorna (October 15, 2010)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Poem: Trying to understand trapdoors

My spells of grief are not as frequent now,
 for the season has changed,
 and winter has come.

October seems so long ago
It’s almost odd to think of you alive.  

Yet  there you are in my dream
In the hustle-bustle of dead souls:
Very professional – wearing your topcoat –
All business-like in a crowd – heading off somewhere.

You don’t see me standing behind the glass wall. 

Having watched you go,
 I turn and waken and think maybe my grief
has gone at last with you
 into the city of the dead.

But then, once more, without warning,
the trap door opens beneath my feet:
Just before I fall
 into the oblivion of grief,
 I recall that suddenness
of everything disappearing.

And I wonder
Is this how you died?
The heart-wrenching pain,
The hard fall – knowing this time it was not going to end well,
 As you dropped in the void.

[December 19, 2010    Lorna Harris]

Monday, 3 October 2011

Off to get some spring bulbs

With apologies to Bulwer-Lytton, it's a dark and gloomy morning. However, it is not as cold as yesterday, and the wind has died down. I have just finished re-reading Wuthering Heights so there seemed to be a bit of pathetic fallacy going on: certainly the poplar trees in the back yard were endlessly sussing.  Wuthering seems a bit too strong a word for the pastoral village I live in. And Heathcliff is definitely not a spring bulb sort of guy.  Malignant grief contorted him ...well anyway, I will try for a better grief...and perhaps plant snow drops as a memorial.
I am heading out to get my spring bulbs today and not leave it so late that  I have a poor selection and must plant in a snow shower.  No tulips because the squirrels eat them as a delicacy.  I want the very early bulbs (winter aconite, grape hyacinths, crocuses, and the snow drops I already mentioned) to fill up the bare spots under the bushes in the garden. Planting them in the fragrant humid earth and then months later, after the iron-hard winter, seeing them  actually come up are one of my life's pleasures. 
I have planted grocery-store, forced daffodils once they have finished blooming, and after a year or so they revert to their natural growing rhythm and start to multiply. I am full in agreement with Wordsworth: everyone should have a host of golden daffodils.