Fall

We don’t call it Fall, here in South Africa. We do it the English way. We call it autumn.

Barn Quilt Trail, Prince Edward County

Be that as it may, fall has arrived, including this morning an unseasonal thunderstorm and rain. It’s not just the weather that is changing, folks, it’s the climate, as you know of course, unless you’ve had your head in the sand, or in Fox News’s ass. In Teilfingen, in Germany, our friends Lisa and Klaus have had snow, no less out of place at this time of the year, except that our expectations about what to expect weather-wise at any given time of the year now need to change.

This is not just an inconvenience, it’s a global emergency. But let me not go on about that now. It’s the weekend, right, and we just want to relax.

Not that we can go anywhere relaxing, what with the lockdown and the rising threat of a third wave of Covid. Here, too, one could rattle one’s chains and mutter something foreboding about the encroachment of farming and human settlements on wild spaces and wildlife, the inevitable risks of animal to human transmission of viruses and disease – but again, let me not spoil your lunch.

Which comes, I guess, from a farm somewhere, or many farms, some of them close by and others in far, exotic lands, flown in by air, trailing not clouds of glory as in William Blake’s poem but carbon emissions and … oh, dear, there I go again. Must be something in the water, though in this water scarce country, not to mention incompetence and misgovernment, even a reliable water supply can’t be taken for granted. Ask Cape Town.

Barn, Prince Edward County

Fall, it seems, is not just about autumn, it’s about Man’s Fall – oh blast. Not Man’s Fall, people’s fall, their fall, they being both singular and plural and extremely awkward these days.

(The thing to do, I’ve been slow to learn, but am learning slowly, is that when you’re digging yourself a hole, it’s time to stop digging.)

That goes for you, too, humanity. Stop digging us all a hole!

Ahem. So here, to soothe your shattered nerves, and to make up if I can for my lack of consideration, my disturbance of the peace, calm and tranquility we expect as our due as members of the middle class, are four images of fall – of farms, and barns, and autumn light. The time, October. The place: Prince Edward County.

Rob and I live in hope that one day soon, armed with our jabs and our vaccination certificates, we will climb on board a plane, and fly all the way back home, across the warming oceans, to our little heated house in Toronto, and then drive up some time to revisit the county.

Perhaps we should purchase some carbon offsets.

If time is a river

If time is a river, it is a river with rapids and falls.

We snipped another month off our wall calendar on Saturday, the first day of May, leaving just four months to go before we pack up and leave our house in Johannesburg and begin the long journey home, to Toronto.

The calendar now truncated, cut short, a token not just of progress towards an end date or goal, but of impending loss.

My grandson, Tom, on his 4th birthday this week

I hadn’t realised, I realise now, how much the prospect of leaving South Africa was affecting me. I imagined I was down because of all of the recent dramas in our family, because of the seemingly endless Covid lockdown, because I was tired and distracted – but it struck me this morning that while it is all of these things, it is also the emotion damming up, the water gathering before it heads into the rapids and spills over the falls, the river of time hastening towards partings and goodbyes.

Leaving means leaving Tom, and Kath, and Gareth, and my mom; not a place, but people, not a past but the present.

You carry on, you are busy, there are things to do etc. – and then it hits you on the head. To paraphrase John Lennon, life is what happens when you are busy with other stuff.

So here’s the thing. In novels, you expect, there is a happy ending, or a sad ending, or in any case, an ending of sorts. The last page turned, the story done. Or, in self-help books, there is always ‘the message’ – of upliftment, or growth, of change or hope.

There is no message here.

Leaving just sucks. That’s all there is to it.

Which is not to say, I want to stay in South Africa – I don’t – or that I am not looking forward, each waking moment, to returning to Canada and my family there.

I am ready to go, but I don’t want to leave.

You got that, right?

Something Unreal Right Now

Rob and I agree, there is something unreal about our lives right now. This odd sense of unreality rests, uneasily, on a simple fact: after more than four years of living in South Africa, we are just six months away from packing up our rented townhouse in Johannesburg, moving out and – Covid willing – getting onto a plane to return to Toronto.

Which means that in six months’ time we will be opening up our own house, on Marchmount Road, getting our things out of storage, stocking the refrigerator, making up the bed, rediscovering the neighbourhood, reconnecting with family and friends.

Here in Johannesburg, meanwhile, we have begun going through our things, figuring out what to toss, what to sell, what to give away and what, depending on whether we ship things home in a small container, or decide to bring what we can in our luggage, we will take back to Canada.

Already Kath and Gareth have been through the house in Parkmore with us, pointing out what they would like to take over when we leave – bedside tables, desks, office chairs, artwork, a whole kitchen-full of pots and pans, crockery, utensils.

I am glad that some of our stuff, at least, will find a proper home, and remain connected to us, in some sense.

So this is the thing: we are here, and we are almost not here. Our heads, as Rob likes to insist, are here in the present, and yet, as we both admit, there is an air of unreality to all this. Not the unreality of not believing in the present, but the unreality of knowing that this too too solid earth will vanish, this time and effort and hard work we have invested in South Africa, this time we have spent with family here, and friends, will come to an end, and our former lives, our Toronto lives, our lives in Canada, will resume. We will step back into the past, and into the future at the same time.

Meanwhile there is work to be done, and there are people to see, and places to visit. And a whole lot of packing and sorting.

Apropos of nothing at all, here are some photographs of Prince Edward County, one of our favourite places in Ontario – a sub-conscious reminder, perhaps, that winter this year will be different.

Two photographs, and a poem

If I have been remiss lately in posting my photographs, here are two images from an ongoing series on rural Ontario, with the promise that there will be more to follow.

And just to mix things up, here is a teeny weeny poem from my Lost Poetry project.

Words and pictures, folks, words and pictures!

The Gift

Let me wake within your eyes
And sleep again in your safe arms,
Free from the terrors of surprise
Protected from all worldly harms:

I swear your love, with its strong powers,
Will raise a man so joyful, true,
He'll charm the desert into flowers
And give the sun and moon to you.

A Biden Hope

The great thing about Canada, Canadians will tell you, is that it’s so boring. No big drama, no insurrections on the steps of Parliament, no QAnon lunatics impeaching the prime minister, and no prime minister, for that matter, doing his damndest to overthrow a legitimate election. Just law, order and good government.

It’s national news when a moose crosses the road in Bobcaygeon.

So it is in this spirit that I want to applaud the entirely boring Inauguration Speech by President Joe Biden in the US this week. Honesty and truth? Boring! Common decency, consideration for others? Boring! Stopping a pandemic? Boring! Tackling climate change? Boring, boring boring!!!

Mind you, one unintended benefit of these four golden years of the Trump era is that the US has shown – nakedly, garishly, like a Brueghel painting, or Hogarth’s depictions of a gin-sodden London – exactly what a fetid state of corruption and misgovernment actually looks like.

Some other states that I can think of are no more virtuous; the difference being that they are better at hiding it. Extra-judicial killings, surveillance, disappearances, the gulags and even ordinary, institutionalised every-day lies and evasion can work wonders.

But the US, bless it, has as always been a shining example. Look at your ex-President, Americans, and think what you have given those of us poor benighted souls who live in ‘shithole’ countries – which I assume includes places like Norway and New Zealand. You have shown us the ugliness and venality – oh, and the arrogant, hilarious, know-nothing incompetence – that other, less fortunate countries, endure in silence.

The lesson, I guess, is that boring is beautiful, normal is to be treasured, truth matters. And lies are lies, everywhere and always.

So thank you, President Biden, and thank you, America.

A Biden Hope, all of ya.

Canada Day, yeah!

Canada Day, yeah!

For my first Canada Day as a brand-new permanent resident, Rob took me off to Pelee Island, on the ferry, where we watched a Canada Day parade as bright, as happy, as easy-going and genuine as a village fete or a child’s birthday party. It was infectious and entertaining and innocent – simply lovely.

This Canada Day, July 1st, 2018, finds me reaching back into my files for an image through which I can share a sense of celebration, of Canadian pride, and gratitude, to my adopted country. A Canadian citizen, I post this from South Africa, the still-troubled land of my birth, conscious of the fact that we are pretty much exactly a third of the way through my EU contract. Before we know it, Rob and I will be back in Toronto. And Canada, thank god, is very definitely not America! Though not without its issues – the treatment of First Nations is a prime example – Canada is the modest, civil, and civilised light on a hill that America likes to pretend it is.

In the meanwhile, as long as we are here, we make what small contribution we can, to help rebuild a nation plagued by its legacy of apartheid and the locusts of state capture. And we travel, we go out, we see friends and family, we are very fortunate.

Still, today, along with Canadians everywhere, it is Canada we celebrate. Happy Canada Day, Canadians!