Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Venus, Violet & the Edible Vocabulary of Leefy Greans

Visiting other towns can sometimes be like inter-dimensional travel. From province to province and in the space between time zones, custom and tradition can shift so dramatically that an other-world experience is the only terminology that makes any sense to those who have never been before. It is from these places, in a village or county neither here nor there, that stories of passing through a wormhole in time or living though an unusually realistic dream come. It is not imagination; it is not magical or metaphysical or mystic; it is odd, and may have been Odd, but more likely another such town by a different name.

The Venus family was one of the road-tripping kinds. They had been across the continent more times than the average person had occasion to spell the word tzatziki, and every venture they made was kicked off by the purchase of a brand new, up-to-the-date-they-left-accurate, accordion style roadmap. All three of them participated in the purchasing of their traditional navigational tool. Piling out of their station wagon and into the little general store at the corner, they walked up to the counter and smiled in unison. “Good morning, Mauve,” they chimed together. Her reply was well practiced, but it was delivered with so much merriment and warmth that it could have been the first expression of the sentiment. “Oh and a great, grand rainbow of a morning to all of you! Are you here for… your map?” And with a flourish familiar to the nimble wrists of illusionists and puppeteers she produced the glossy paper guide and grinned. “I saw the circled square on your calendar last time I came for tea and made a mental note. This one is hot off the presses in Caledonia. They sent it over by courier this morning!” She sat back on her stool and basked in their awe. “Mauve!” they bubbled, “you’re amazing!”

A tall man with a curling moustache joined the girl behind the counter and took up the second stool. “Mr. Venus, Mrs. Venus, glad to see you’re up with the sun. Violet, I must say that is quite the prettiest little smile I’ve seen all morning! With one exception, of course.” He gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek and winked across to the other girl. “I’d have to say it’s a draw.”

“Your Mauve was just showing us our new map, Mr. Mercury. It does look like a fine piece of print if I do say so... but let’s open it up and see if we can’t find our own little acreage this time. We’ve never made it to the national atlas before, but who knows? Maybe this year will be different!”

The map took up the whole counter space with corners tumbling over the spill edge as though someone had tossed a blanket over the great falls of Niagara and then pinned it down with giant elbows. They looked on with wonder at the daunting tangle of roads and highways, train tracks, perforated border marks and pepper-like scattering of picnic symbols and gas station alerts. They all poked their fingers down at a point of personal recognition and traced to where their little hiccup of land ought lie… but found only blank space for one more year. Even Rosseau was on the map. Aylmer, Powassan and Wanapitei all made the cut, but their population of one-hundred-eleven persons was off the grid again. A communal sigh followed the realization and the group repositioned their postures perpendicularly. “Ahh well,” concluded Mr. Mercury with a shrug, “by your next trip they should see us. Peach and Persimmon are due in the spring, and that will balloon our numbers one, maybe two more, assuming they stick around. Next year, friends, next year.”

Each Venus chose out one bag of sweets and lay down the crisp and colourful bill they entered with. Just before Violet tugged the door closed behind her, Mauve caught her arm. “If something cool happens,” she whispered, “I expect a good story. And maybe a souvenir.” The friends shared a hug, and with much dramatic waving and open-windowed shouts of thanks, they were off to adventure again.

“Well,” said Mr. Venus as soon as they crossed from dirt onto gravel and finally the smooth pavement of highways and cities, “what should our rule be this time?” It was an annual discussion, and each had been giving it much thought. In past travels that had decided that they would only ever make left handed turns, which had once landed them surprisingly close to the Mexican border on the way to Rhode Island. Another year they vowed to cross every bridge they could see, drive down every Main Street in three states, follow orange cars for no less than twenty minutes and so on. This year they would vote on another rule to follow, and they would hold to it religiously.

Her father continued when his women said nothing. “I was thinking it might be fun to ferry as frequently as we can… but it wouldn’t promise much when we hit the desert.” Her mother spoke second and tossed in her copper. “We could flick paint at the map and connect all the dots? It would certainly send us to places we haven’t seen – but I don’t know if it’s much of a rule, per se.” They both angled their mirrors, rear view and passenger visor, so they could better see their daughter. “Vi, honey? What do you think?” Violet pressed her thumb up against the sharp point of one of her teeth and thought. She had three ideas and was struggling to prioritize. After a moment of consideration she tipped her head to one shoulder and the other, and drew out every word for flair. “I was thinking, we should spend the nights off the map.”

The eyebrows of both her parents dipped down into an uncomprehending furrow, but only for a flash. “You mean, find other towns like us,” her mother reasoned out. “Other people off the grid.” All six of their eyes twinkled with anticipation and the mischief of innocent play. “Yes,” affirmed her dad with a laugh. “We’ll do it, and it’ll be grand.”

Their first day of driving is always rather a lazy one. Everything looks novel simply because the sensation of passing it causes a particular sort of frame to wrap every scene in a special way. They spent most of their time lost to each other and staring in wonder out of different windows. Occasionally her mother, Viridian, would lean her chair back to share the view for a while, and then she would sit back up and fix her gaze out of the passenger side once more. The stopped for dinner at a little diner with a patio and ate breakfast around eight o’clock, just as the sun was setting. They asked their waiter where the closest speck of a town was, and had to whittle him down from “an hour to the Sheraton,” to “ten kilometers and you’ll find the Days Inn,” until he finally called his sister and asked if there was a room in her B&B for the night. He wrote directions on the back of their bill. “I’d tell you what roads to take,” he smiled, “but they stop naming them after a while. I’m afraid your map won’t help you much if you get lost.” Violet responded in sum. “Perfect.”

The highway splintered off a number of times as they drove west, chasing the fiery horizon. Asphalt crumbled into dirt roads that sprouted grass in the middle parts and when they reached the tiny, lamp-lit hamlet it seemed more like a ghost town than home to the living and breathing sort. They clambered up to the front porch of the first and largest building they could see and rang the hand-held school bell that hung on a fine white cord. A faded sandwich board told a brief history of the spot and displayed a sort of menu. Violet cocked her brow at the first item on the list: One mug of warm-all-the-way-down-to-the-pit-of-your-stomach-and-back-up-around-your-brain-like-a-hug, three melt-in-your-mouth-with-that-ohh-yeah-kind-of-smile-sparker, and optional crunchy-but-soft-and-fills-me-up-just-right. Served with fresh squirt-in-my-mouth-and-tickle-my-tongue-like-childhood. Four dollars. Before she could read any further the screen door swung open and a young woman ushered them in with the enthusiasm of a mother hen. “Hello! Hello, come on in! Right on over here, can I help you take – okay, that’s right – just, yes! Great to see you!” Her words danced around the room, keeping step with her spinning, welcoming form. It felt like the sun had set outside just in time to rise again inside of this girl. She beamed like the rose-buttercup light of an early morning. “I am just so pleased to have guests around this place again. Please, come in and make yourselves at home! I’m just going to run and grab keys for you. Wow, it’s just – right? This is great!” She slipped away and left the Venus family to breathe and take in their surroundings. A steep staircase climbed up to the right, and other rooms on its far side opened to the back of the old farmhouse. It smelled of wood and the smoke of a fireplace. The kitchen stood to the left and a dining room with several lustrous place settings that seemed out of balance with the apparent emptiness of the bed and breakfast. Facing them across the front hall was a large mirror, and above it hung an asparagus coloured wooden sign with two simple routed words: Leefy Greans. The Venuses were still staring at the sign when their hostess rejoined them.

“It isn’t an error. Well, it is in a way, but intentionally so. I’ve put the kettle on for some sip-you-to-sleep, if you’ll join me in the parlor as soon as you’re settled upstairs?” She handed Mr. Venus a large brass key, and gave Violet her own, just as shiny but much more delicate. “Stories are always better with something hot in hand.”

Viridian smiled up at her husband, took his free hand in hers and picked up their suitcase. He followed her up the stairs with another bag slung over his shoulder. Violet dawdled her way up the stairs, taking time to look at each picture in the path of her ascent. She paused between the fifth and sixth step, held in place by the very old photo of a young boy. “Excuse me,” she called down to the woman who was sweeping a straw broom across the floor. “Who is this?” Leaning the broom against the wall she joined the girl on the stairs. “He’s my grandfather,” she said. “James Ian Dash was his name. My brother looked a lot like him as a kid. He lives in a city now, but this was taken just outside of this house. He grew up here.”  “It’s an unusual name,” said Violet. “What colour is James like?”

Confusion fogged the air between them. “James isn’t a colour,” came the reply. She waved her hand in front of her face as though trying to physically clear up the muddle. “It’s just a name. It means something, I think, but it isn’t a pigment like yours.” Violet shook her head. “Everyone’s name is a colour somewhere on the spectrum – Jade, Emerald, Sage, Umber – that’s just how it is. You must have a colour name. What is it?” “I’m Kathleen,” said Kathleen. Violet didn’t know what to say. “Is… is that like… orange?”

Mr. and Mrs. Venus returned from dropping off their bags and soon all four of them were sitting around a small table with full teacups. “Kathleen,” said Vermillion, leaning forward just a little to focus his question, “what’s the story about that sign in the entryway?” She smiled and sipped at her cup. “Our little town – and I do mean little in a literal sense, I think there might be thirty of us living here permanently, and you’ll meet most of them in the morning – well, we used to be called Leafy Greens.” She walked to the refrigerator and took the pen and note pad to spell it out for them. “Some of the best provincial farming land is around these parts, or used to be. A couple of major highway companies bought up most of the land lot by lot before locals caught onto their project, and when we realized what they were trying to do the papers were already signed. They plowed up the farms and paved their paths, and five years later rerouted traffic and skipped our town all together. Most of the folks had to leave, to start up again somewhere else. Those who’ve stayed have done what we can to keep each other floating along and have worked out a kind of subsistence recycling of goods and labour. We don’t even really need tourists anymore, not that that we don’t love company,” she smiled. “All the kids get picked up from my place in the morning and go to school about a half hour away. A few years back there was a kid from the high school who missed the bus and decided he would walk. Foolish, maybe, but I think he made it by the last bell. Anyway, when he hit the town limits and passed the sign, he stopped for a rest and saw that one of the letters had come loose from the board. Long story short, he switched the letters as a practical joke. Nobody in town noticed for months, but one day a stack of letters came by a blustery mail courier. The post officer told us that about thirty letters had come in with the misspelled name, and therefore hadn’t been delivered properly. It was mostly fliers and trash, but someone had apparently driven by the sign, informed someone in a government office somewhere and all the records had been officially changed. If we wanted to continue life in Leafy Greens there would be a lot of paperwork in our future, and a misdemeanor fine to pay. We held a town meeting at what used to be our library and voted to keep the bumbled version to save the kid his summer money. We spent a few hours walking the streets, now mostly abandoned, drawing arrows where the letters ought to be switched. It’s all just a joke now, just a story to tell. I had that sign made up one Christmas. Other than the one on your way into town, I imagine it’s the only one you’ll find with that spelling and not just the arrows.”

Kathleen held the mug up to her nose and breathed in the warm spell. The Venus family, reflective and growing drowsy, absently mimicked her movements. “Ahhhh,” sighed Viridian, “That hits the spot.” Kathleen held up her hand in correction. “That’s hits-the-spot,” she said. Mrs. Venus looked a bit puzzled but she smiled, nodded and yawned. Bidding their hostess a good night and cheerful dreams, each Venus climbed up the stairs and snuggled into their beds, thick with comfort and down.

Morning came swiftly, and waking abrupt.

“Aaye, lass! It’s rrroll call! Seven thirrrty-thrrree and not a moment to lose!” There was a Scottish man pounding at Violet’s door. She assumed herself still swallowed in sleep until the bright twittering of a bird caught her attention outside and she remembered her setting. “I’ll give yerrr bonny face to the count of fourrr, lass, and mind you be quick to drrress!” Violet leaped out of bed and drove her hands into her tightly packed suitcase, resurfacing with a navy tee and light jeans. The whole process of un-and-re-clothing her body took less than ninety seconds. She opened the door to the sight of a rough looking man knocking sharply at the wall of her parents’ room. “Venus, Virrridian! Venus, Verrrmillion! Venus, Violet!” He read loudly from a list in his hand, with a curious sort of barking tone. “Yerrr expected to find a seat at table in a flash! The lady of this fine home has been labourrring all morrrning overrr the stove! If yerrr not quick, the I-can’t-believe-how-fantastic-this-hot-oozing-mess-feels-in-my-jaw will get cold!” And he vanished down a thin flight of stairs at the end of the hall. A moment later she could hear his holler again, slightly muffled by the floorboards between them. “Jones, Cha! Jones, Po! Yerrr expected at table!”

Mr. and Mrs. Venus stumbled out of their room with sleepiness clinging around them, rubbing their fingers against their face in the hope of massaging their eyes alert. “Did he say something about food?” Viridian asked in mid stretch. Her arms pulled taught and she made tiny, involuntary squeaking sounds and she attempted to suppress a yawn. “I didn’t quite understand, actually,” said Violet’s father. “But I know we’re intended to go down. Shall we?”

A rumbling noise grew in volume and power as they neared the dining area. Last night it had felt so quiet and empty, but upon turning the corner at the bottom of the stairs, all such adjectives fled the mind. It was like a radio playing ten stations at once – a cacophony of conversation from a room full of vastly varying characters. “Oh, my,” said Violet. Nothing more need be said for the moment; the thing to do was look on. All along the twenty-two foot table sat the strangest collection of people they had ever seen. Some were colourfully clad, but the garb of others was muted and gray. Some hair stood tall in bouffant or curl, and some lay flat and pin-straight or wrapped back in a bun, or combed over or gone altogether, skin shined. Several gentlemen wore felt hats, and around the shoulders of a particularly tall woman was a feathered boa. Correction… the draping tail feathers of a quetzal bird that hopped from behind her head to perch atop it. There was a gentleman in the formal tuxedo of another era and a set of three children sat in highchairs. But even stranger than the look of the lot was the language that flowed from their lips.

“Dear, mind your elbows; you’re about to knock over the slides-down-your-throat-and-gives-every-nerve-a-caress-as-you-swallow! Spill that and you’ll spoil something else.”

“Marta, kindly pass over the you-know-what-that’s-just-the-kick-in-the-taste-buds-I-needed? No, sorry, I meant the fizzles-at-the-top-of-your-mouth-and-ohh-it-reminds-me-of-the-east-coast-sprays. That’s it. Yes, thank you.”

“Here sweetheart, this is maybe-not-the-best-of-the-bushel-but-sweeter-than-you-might-think-for-how-healthy-it-is. Open up like a good little man.”

“Mom! Is this holy-scrape-that-out-of-my-mouth-galhhhgreeeahh again? I’m begging you: please don’t make me eat!”

Kathleen danced over and sat them down at the table. It was… well, a little anticlimactic. Each place was set with a cereal bowl, a plate with three pancakes, a small pile of orange slices and easily within reach of each seat was a toast tray and several open jars of jam. Here they were expecting some kind of strange feast, made up of absolutely inexpressible varieties of food… but it was simple. It was breakfast for breakfast and little more.

“Thank you, Kathleen,” said Mr. Venus on behalf of his family. “It looks lovely. Does your town come over for pancakes every morning?”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“Pancakes. Every morning?”

“I’m afraid that I really don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

He picked up a pancake between his fingers and pointed at it. “Pancake.” She picked up a menu from the counter behind her and pointed at it. “Melt-in-your-mouth-with-that-ohh-yeah-kind-of-smile-sparker. You get three.” His mouth fell open, flabbergasted. She continued. “Your term might be shorter, but it says nothing of essence. I’ve heard the word before, once in the city – maybe my brother mentioned it at the diner – but please understand, there is so much more that you can learn about a food than what it is. Pancake: a cake made in a pan… you know what it is, but what is it? Our word tells you that.”

He sat back and chewed the thought over with the rest of his fluffy mouthful. It was a kind of right-brained logic so unfamiliar to the rest of the world. But it made him smile, and he tried it out. “Darling,” he said lifting his shoulders in measure with the edges of a growing grin, “Will you pass me down that… quench-my-thirst-and…. some-other-delicious-adverb?” She laughed and poured him a glass of orange juice.

The meal was indeed a daily affair. Twice daily, actually: a breakfast and a “lupper” that was hosted around 4:30pm. As a community they had realized that a mass grocery bill for thirty would be much less expensive than fifteen or twenty people cooking for one or two mouths. The farmer contributed a portion of his crop for free and therefore did not contribute financially, and Kathleen as the hostess, lead organizational hand and primary chef was also exempt. Everyone else pitched in on a budget and they feasted together, most every phrase an affirmation of appreciation and delight. Between meals there was much to be done; the theatre in town opened for a matinee, the grocer set up a snack stand for those who missed a meal or decided on a treat; hair salons and liquor saloons opened up for a few hours, the doctor walked around and visited everyone and their pets, and the children, when not in school, set up forts and played in the square. Leefy Greans was a beautiful little spot, for all of its quirks and strange names. In many ways it was akin to the small town they had driven away from, but somehow extraordinarily different.

Their second night was just as pleasant as their first, but this time when Kathleen invited them for a soothing-crack-your-neck-kind-of-tension-release and one or two ohh-so-good-chocolatey-fresh-out-of-the-oven-hunk-a-hunk-of-almost-burn-your-mouth-love, they knew what she meant.

They drove away the next morning after a very complicated set of breakfast foods that boiled down to eggs, hashbrowns, bacon and a couple of beverages, both hot and cold. “If you ever find yourself around these parts again,” smiled Kathleen as she helped carry a box of lupper out to their car, “there will be a couple of brass keys waiting and a mug of… is it tea?” The Venus family smiled. “Something sweet and hot to sip, call it what you will,” said Viridian.

Their trip lasted five weeks and one day. When they returned, Mauve ran over and knocked at the door. “She’s upstairs,” called Violet’s father, but the girl was half way up the flight before he even noticed her entrance. “So?” sang Mauve with a prying inflection of her voice. “Tell me a story!” Vi swung her legs over to the other side of her bed and pulled a laminated sheet out of her backpack. “I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but I remembered your souvenir.” She handed her friend a table menu. Mauve cocked an eyebrow at the first item on the list. Violet smiled and pulled the backpack off of the floor, spilling its contents across the bed and revealing a jar of sand, tiny keychain animals, a wooden ruler, some kind of handmade taffy and a dozen other trinkets and bobbles. “Make yourself comfortable, Miss Mercury. You can’t imagine how crazy this world is.”

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


One shoe was tipped over on its side, halfway down the dock. The other shoe dropped, standing up on its heel for a moment before it wobbled down beside its match. It was a pretty good throw, especially without looking, but the girl's attention was out, across the lake, and she didn't even notice.

An early summer heat wave had driven her to the water's edge that afternoon. Twenty-seven degrees with no mention of humidity, and the temperature was supposed to keep climbing. She stripped off her socks, one at a time, letting them drop without much thought. One rolled right to the edge, stopped only by a large metal ring that would soon be used to tie an assortment of watercraft to the little port's only floating dock. The other tumbled over the side and was caught by a wave. The sound it made was so soft that, had it been heard at all it would have caused no alarm. But the girl didn't hear it fall. Her mind was occupied elsewhere. Out... across the lake.

The wood of the dock had worn smooth from years of running children and their pacing, nervous parents. She walked out to the ladder that hung into the lake. It was an old aluminum frame, the kind with tall handles that arc from the dock to the water, the kind that made backwards somersaults so easy. The girl balanced herself against the rusting metal bars, memories pulsing through her with every heartbeat. The ladder was strangely cool to the touch, just like it always was, just like it had been. She ran her fingers over the freckles of erosion, the red-orange spots that betrayed the age of this much-loved place. She sat down. With her legs swinging gently below her, her spreading toes almost grazing the surface of the lake, the girl drew in a deep, slow breath and closed her eyes.

It had been three years.

The water lapped against the dock and rippled back again. She couldn't see this with her eyes closed, but she could feel the air changing direction if she focused intently on the pads of her feet. It was extraordinarily light, the wind, like the breeze of a fan from another room that you only perceive because the wisps of hair that frame your face are moving gently, as if by a will of their own. Very slowly the girl pointed one foot, extending it according to the muscular instruction she had received in her one-and-only dance class. She lowered her toes towards the water until they hovered, motionless, barely an eighth of an inch from the surface.

Two summers past, she and a friend had borrowed a paddle-boat from the little marina, if you could, in good conscious, call it one. Three canoes, one flat-bottomed rower, and the vessel they had set out on were the sum of their options -- unless you counted a stack of Styrofoam flutter-boards propping up one of the shack's side windows, which they did not. The girls dabbled out on the water for hours that day, talking about everything and nothing all in a moment. They took turns dozing off in the sunshine, rocked gently by the undulating rhythm of another's wake. Once they both woke up only to find that they were drifting not ten feet from a fisherman, quietly casting his line almost right over them. They tumbled into laughter as they pedaled as fast as they could back to the paradoxical safety of open water.

The same water had been the cleansing agent of a messy heart the summer just past, when she and her depression took a literal dive. She floated in the lake for hours until her anxious feelings seemed to seep out of her, down into the dark sediment, down to the deep. It took her days to unwrinkle from the water's raisining effects, but by the time her skin smoothed again emotions had followed and the rest of August passed by without another tailspin.

She was dragged back to the present moment by the flickering dance of a dragonfly, flying back and forth from knee to knee, never allowing itself settle more than a second before flitting off again. There was a canoe of people over by the cliff, a few half way up the rocky path, and one at the top fighting the battle between fear and thrill, deciding whether or not he should leap into the water. Even standing so high was a brave thing. As she listened, she could hear his friends taunting and encouraging him to jump. The climbers had reached him now and seemed to be threatening to toss him, if he wouldn't step out on his own. He was signaling boldly and with the determined stiffness of anger just before the boil. He harnessed it, and jumped. They cheered.

So much of this place felt the same: the wood as smooth, the air as hot, the flecks of rust as red. But something had settled into its essence that was unfamiliar to her now, and it seemed to wash her reveries with a pastel of commonplace. The lake had memories of its own; hers were significant only because they were hers... but that knowledge didn't dull the memory nor undermine it's importance, especially not today.

Three years had past since she had sat in this space and watched him run off the dock, sprinting and leaping like some wild deer, then diving underwater with the grace of a loon. Three years since they had spent the afternoon hauling a sunken fishing boat out of one of the little bays. With the help of some friends they had hoisted it into a tree in the little public park downtown. Their prank had made the front page of the little daily newspaper twice -- once upon the discovery of the boat (and one strategically placed home-made mannequin), and again when the police uncovered a stash of fifty dollar bills sealed in Ziplock-safely in one of the tackle-boxes tied under the front bench. The second article announced that the reward proposed for those individuals who had found the money would exactly balance the threatened fines for the crew responsible for the prank. The reporter called it a clever truce; the giggling teenagers who met up at Pizza Pizza to watch the show called it forgiveness, and were never turned in by the all-knowing store manager for their shenanigans.

That spring and summer had been a beautiful gift for the pair and they had become a couple by the time the first leaf had fallen. But her blue sunshine skies thundered into rain the day he didn't knock on her window. He had knocked every morning from May through September - he would wake her up, and together they would walk down to the shore - but the morning he didn't, another knock roused her from dream. It was heavy, determined to be heard throughout their small country home, and loud enough to wake everyone. The Sheriff, and yes, some small towns still have one, was talking to her mother in low whispers at the front door. The sky and her emotions crashed simultaneously with the weight that comes from shock and grief. She ran through the deluge to the dock and fought against the urge to let the water swallow her whole, resisted the clawing desire to find a place as dark and cold as she felt. She screamed out her pain at the roaring waters. She stayed at the ladder all night, slowly calming as the clouds exhausted their store. The gales hushed, the thunder rolled on and the dock rose and fell steadily, setting pace with her own breath, coaching her soul with what was left over of the wind-piled waves.

Three years ago she had taken her place between their families, standing beside his sister at the far east end of the little graveyard that overlooked the lake. She could see the spot from her perch; it was a fitting space for his body, she thought, but his spirit spent much more of its time haunting her here, at the dock. Either he was in heaven, as he had believed, or he was with her, as her heart was inclined to hold true.

She had only returned to this place on a handful of occasions in the collapse of time between past and present. On each visit the lake had reflected her state: tempestuous, numb and lifeless, foggy, grey, covered in ice... and this time was no different. As she sat by the water in the early summer heat wave, barefoot with toes hovering just over its surface, the lake reflected something new. She had found peace. She was content.

She was not overwhelmed by the welling of tears today. One shaky breath in, one out, repeat. Despite the temperature she shivered slightly. The tremor was the only thing that betrayed any hesitation or residual fear. Her heart was healing; she was finding peace.

She opened her eyes to the sun and smiled, out, across the lake.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Heart on Hand

Wendy, Moira, Angela Darling.

In a few paragraphs, my introduction will come into its context - but we must grow to the conclusion, so if you have a few minutes of freedom, come with me to the roots.

I went home this weekend, out of the city and back into my native northern land. We spent Friday night and most of Saturday in a trip down memory lane that felt like someone had injected us with a concentrated shot of summer right through the heart. I saw faces I hadn't in months, reconnected with friends I hadn't had any time to talk with and collected hugs from all the right people. It reminded me of every wonderful thing about my May-through-September life, and I have to tell you, I felt my fingers trying to close. (This will also make sense in a little more time.) I sang again, I praised my God, I danced a little dance and I walked around my Muskokan sanctuary, and when the weekend came to a close on the long drive back to Hamilton on Sunday, God had finally shaken the last of my resistant fingers free.

About a month ago, the MoveIn team was challenged to consider a new idea: long term change is often partnered with a long term commitment. That night I wrote out a long response, so far unshared. A segment of that letter to myself now follows.

"...If I am going to MoveIn right, I can't treat it like an idling zone until Camp begins again. I've been living in transition for the past four years - I never intended to stay in North Bay, so I didn't root myself there, didn't invest my being. But here... Why did I move here motivated by the same year-to-year mentality? Why did I come here expecting, waiting, to leave again? If I am going to move in right, get involved with a school program or community shelter, or with families at the YMCA or with ministry at church... if I am going to really do this, then I can't plan to pick-up and ditch-out come May. I need to be willing to stay.

Several weeks ago I had a meeting about summer with my bosses. During the meeting (both planning and review), John Friesen said something that changed my life. It was simple, and probably something that he's said to fifty other people as they learn to grow up in their faith: he said I needed to learn to live with an open hand to God. I'm going to tell you something that I've only shared with a few up to this point. While John was explaining what he meant, the LORD was doing the same. I don't know how to put it otherwise... this was the closest thing to a vision I have ever experienced.

I saw myself, vividly, in a worship concert, surrounded by people on all sides, each with somber faces and eyes closed. As quickly as it came, my awareness of the crowd fell away and I was standing, one-on-one with God. My hands were lifted up above my head and I was holding out my heart - my physical heart - like a six year old holds up a new drawing to their parent, seeking approval in a smile. Look, Daddy, look what I've made. "Look what I'm doing with the heart you have given me, with my skills, my mind, my time, my passion, my effort, my friendships, my study, my art... Look, Father, aren't you proud?"

I did feel God smile, but it was with a sigh and a slight, slow shaking of His head. "Child," He said to me, "I don't want you to show me your heart. I want you to give me your heart."

Anxiety flooded my body as I saw myself standing there, arms up, staring at the pump-pumping life in my hands. I knew instantly, instinctively, that it represented some very particular element of my life that I was holding on to. I realized that I had given up control in almost everything - in career, in geography, in love - but not in Camp. I had a tight grip on Camp, and I wanted to show off, not let go. I said this. "But look at what I have done with everything you have given me! I haven't buried my talents, they have multiplied! Aren't I doing a good job? Aren't you pleased with me?"

The Great He smiled again, with gentle redirection. "It is the offering that gives me pleasure. It is your vulnerability that delights me."

For the first time in my life I understood the implications of "living sacrifice" in my own realm. Trusting God meant lifting my hands in worship, but it also meant holding my heart out to Him with an open hand - heart on hand, not heart in hand - so that He can do what He likes with it, even if all He wants to do it watch me hold it out to Him.

I believe this means that I have to leave Camp behind me. I feel like Wendy Darling, looking at Peter in the moment that she understands that he won't be coming with her - that to grow up, she must leave him behind. Muskoka Bible Centre has been my beautiful Neverland. I have learned so much, I have been so supported, so trusted, so safe. I have come into myself on its grounds... but like Wendy, I believe I need to let it go to grow more. I need to be brave, heart on hand, and grow up."

I am confident that Miss Darling, though her story is not formally secured for us by her author, grew into a magnificent storyteller with a vast repertoire of tales reaching far beyond the borders of the Neverlands. She saw things that the boys who stayed lost never would... and I believe that Wendy grew into womanhood wiser and stronger and more imaginative for the time she spent in the company of Peter Pan.

It will be a struggle, for a while, not to worry about the mermaid and pirates and young people of MBC, and it will be a heart wrenching, tearful farewell when the metaphorical golden ship finally sails out of sight... but it is time for a new kind of adventure, new bravery, new challenges and renewed, reservationless commitment to my Author.

Heart on hand.

Thursday, 3 November 2011


Sit in one place long enough and the world stops passing you by. Oh, it does pass, don't get me wrong - but it passes slowly, pausing before you, awaiting your observation, occasionally bowing majestically to your senses and giving you a knowing wink before strolling along once again, merrily on its way.

When you stop to simply witness the world's movements, when you sit back on the banks of life with open eyes and baited pen, the fish will come. Tall, business oriented fish with wide-brimmed European wedding hats and large clutch purses en route to an afternoon rendezvous organized in whispers an hour before; balding, bustling fish with a phone to his ear and a fire in his eyes that betrays the passion that lies latent in his lawyerly labours; a school of toddling fish following after their mommas in a grocery-store-shopping line of almost-trouble; a couple of exotic, brightly coloured teenaged fish engaged in some kind of mating ritual that, however fascinating to the lookers on, should have remained secreted away in the deepest parts of the sea.

It's a veritable reef of witnessed moments and tested poses, here in the flurry of stillness. Every trivial moment is an exposé, every distant action a silent film with subtitles so vividly implied; it's a beautiful world, from the wallflower's post. Would you join me?