Author

Sarah Thomson

Browsing

THE RAMBLINGS OF A LOVESTRUCK WOMAN

Something strange is happening to me, and it’s more than this flu I’ve caught. Lately I’ve felt like my senses have come alive, from the pounding of my head to the beating of my heart. Every sight, texture and smell has intensified and it isn’t the Sinutab that’s doing it. Colours seem richer, tastes more piquant, even the sound of the wind howling round the eaves seems full of promise. I’ve also noticed a strange desire in me to be more graceful. Instead of running up the front stairs and tackling Greg in a bear hug when I get home, I’ve caught myself walking one step at a time and hanging up my hat and coat before making my way to his office. And I’ve noticed that my accomplishments seem to matter more now than they ever did.

I think it has something to do with the fact that this Valentine’s Day, I’ve got a sweetheart. He is tall and handsome, kind and honest, strong and sensitive, and what he thinks of me matters more than anything else. We met last spring at a book launch. I had met Greg’s sister at several other events and she introduced me to him. He was the best looking man in the room. It’s been almost nine months since then and he gets better looking every day. I’ve learned many things about him. I’ve learned that he is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met; that’s because he listens and never assumes he’s right, although he often is. I’ve learned that he is strong-willed but that he’ll listen to reason. I’ve learned that he is conservative in his behaviour but loves spontaneity. He is one of the few men I’ve known who knows the words to most of the songs from musicals like “Song & Dance” and “The Lion King.” He collects almost everything, from beer caps to pennies and wine corks, but his music collection is by far the biggest I’ve ever come across. He can name almost any song just from the tune and can usually tell you who wrote it. There are so many things I’ve learned about him and so many more yet to learn.

Evening has come and Greg is once again sitting at his computer, typing away at his music charts. During the past week, while I’ve been coughing and sputtering, he’s made breakfast, lunch and dinner for us every day. This morning I found him on the web looking up symptoms for pneumonia and by this afternoon he had me at the doctor’s office. He is a man that cares more than he lets on. He has a huge heart. Each day seems to pass so quickly.

I can’t remember which of us said the “L word” first. Did I say it while being swept away in a moment of pure bliss? Did he say it while we spoke seriously about our future? The last nine months has passed quickly but there are moments that seem to last forever. I remember a song from a musical he sang to me on our first weekend together. The line I like the most goes: “ Love can make the summer fly or the night seem like a lifetime. Yes love, love changes everything…” And has it ever!

Last February I was a single woman, living with my mother, dating here and there, and waiting for Mr. Right. And today I sit in the apartment we share, his cat is asleep on our bed, and I’ve got a plant on the kitchen-window ledge.

Tonight, as I sit typing this column, I remember a walk on a beach in 10 years ago. I was walking with an older man who was dying of cancer. He asked me what I wanted most in life. I told him I wanted to have real love, the kind that lasts forever. I knew that others thought it sounded romantic and foolish but I believe that every so often it happens to a few lucky people. The older gentleman didn’t think I was foolish and hoped someday I’d find what I was looking for. He too was from Toronto and he told me to look him up when I returned from .

Life got busy and I never did look him up. The man died a few years after our walk and long before I met his son Greg. I sometimes wonder if he’s smiling down on us. Love isn’t the subject of very many Saturday night party discussions and I’ve an inkling that it’s because so few couples have found the real thing. I’ve only had the luck to know three or maybe four couples that have absolute, unquestionable love. They truly care more about their partner’s well-being and happiness than they do their own. They were people who had lived through a long life together. I wonder if the rest of us are working towards this kind of love. With a bit of luck we meet someone who complements us, who makes us stronger and better than we can be on our own. But how do we prepare ourselves for them?

ROAMING FOR ROMANCE IN ARIZONA

Unforgiving, relentless, scorching light. In Arizona the sun pentrates, burns and shrivels all but the toughest plants. Its brightness is piercing and its intensity withering. In a dry desert setting, surrounded by mountains, sits Phoenix, the capital city of Arizona. Here the sun brings simmering heat and the darkened rooms offer more than just shade and air conditioning.

As I sit in the plane, 26,000 feet above the earth, my partner sleeps with his mouth open in the seat beside me. I roll my new ring around on my finger and think of placing the ring in his open mouth, or perhaps a few drops from the tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce that came with this morning’s breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore. But he looks so peaceful. I recline the seat back and think about the past few days.

Four days ago we landed in Phoenix, dressed in pants and sweaters far too hot for the warm day. We changed into shorts and packed up our sweaters. Renting a jeep, we headed north to Flagstaff. The highway from Phoenix rises out of the desert and climbs steadily up to the Mogollan Plateau. Small towns along the highway are filled with flat, square, pueblo-type homes. Built of sun-dried brick and mortar, they are made to protect the inhabitants from the simmering heat. Southwest walls are bare and empty of windows; anything to keep out the penetrating sun. Blinds and thick heavy curtains are drawn over every window to stop even the smallest amount of light from entering a room.

Our first stop is Walnut Canyon, three hours north of Phoenix. The canyon is the site of 87 cave-like cliff dwellings built into the walls of a 400-foot deep limestone gorge. As we climbed in elevation, we began to notice small patches of snow in the gullies. By the time we reached Walnut Canyon, snow was falling heavily. We unpacked our sweaters and scurried into the visitors centre to take a look at the trail maps. The centre sits on the edge of the canyon. A large glass window takes up most of one wall, but the snow flurries created a sheet of whiteness that cut off the view completely.

As we watched the snow swirling below us, my partner reached for my hand. I looked up from the window to meet his eyes. He stroked my cheek and a serious expression came over his face. His eyes were warm. “Sarah.” He paused and looked down at my hands. “Will you…” The park ranger leaned over a railing just above us and announced, “The visitors centre is closing now. We hope you’ll come back tomorrow.”

We hurried through the snow back to our jeep and drove into Flagstaff on Route 66. Our reservations that night were at The Inn at 410 in Flagstaff. Owned and operated by Howard and Sally Krueger, the Inn sits on a hill just off the main street of the town. Built in 1894, the old house was converted to a bed and breakfast in 1991. We were greeted by an open door and a smiling young man who rushed to take our bags. He showed us to the “Southwest room,” located in the original section of the old house. Fully renovated, the room has a private bath, gas fireplace and over-sized Jacuzzi tub. The snow was still falling and the day had been long.

Curious about my partner’s question at Walnut Canyon, I was determined to salvage the romantic mood disrupted earlier in the day. I filled the Jacuzzi and poured two glasses of wine. We got into the large tub and my partner reached over me to turn on the jets. But nothing happened. He pushed the button, I pushed the button. Nothing. Frustrated, he got out of the tub and wrapped himself in a large terrycloth bathrobe provided by the Inn. He went searching for another switch, a button, anything to get the jets working, but found nothing. He called the front desk for help and before I could finish my wine, jump from the tub and climb into the other robe, our innkeeper was knocking at our door. We didn’t have time to turn the lights on. Firelight flickered and danced on the walls. Soft music played in the background. I tightened my robe and went to meet Howard, the innkeeper. He was kind and a little more embarrassed than we were. He couldn’t get the tub to work and apologised profusely.

The next morning we woke to the smell of hot rolls cooking in the oven. Thirsty and hungry, we dressed and hurried to the dining room, where they served fresh fruit with coffee and orange juice, followed by baked oatmeal with cranberries, cream and the fresh home-made rolls we could smell from our room. When Howard learned we were heading to the Grand Canyon, he fetched his maps and showed us the route he and his wife, Sally, travelled. The dining room was elegant and combined with Howard’s friendly personality our morning was relaxed and enjoyable.

Following Howard’s instructions we drove northeast. The change of vegetation is stunning. From barren desert with dust bowls, rolling tumbleweed and cacti, to pine forest and dry mountain settings with vegetation clinging to life amid rock and rubble. We followed the highway north as it wound its way through the San Francisco Mountains. Once past the mountains, we crossed the Coconino Plateau. At the rim of the plateau, the land drops off and slopes down to meet the Painted Desert below. The desert is surrounded by eroded sedimentary hills. Colours of every shade paint the hills and sweep down into the desert, where rain and snow have washed different colours of sediment out over the flat plain.

Turning west, the highway meanders along a ledge between the rim of the Plateau to the desert below. We discovered an abandoned dirt road leading from the highway towards the desert. Weeds, cacti and brush camouflaged the road. Parking the jeep, we hiked down towards the desert. Dirt and prickly pear filled our shoes. Huge gullies dropped away from the trail. It came to a sudden end as if the land had been swept away. A deep, dry, gulch separated us from the road as it continued its way down the hillside. The sun was hot and the air still. Shade was hard to find. We listened for sounds of life, a bird, a rustle, the murmur of a bug. Nothing. I threw a rock and its sound disappeared into the vast empty desert below us. My partner stood beside me. His camera shutter clicked. Again the sound disappeared into the silence. Beautiful in a stark and eerie way.

The highway rose up onto the Plateau and wound its way along the edge of the Grand Canyon. We stopped at many of the lookouts to peer down on the Colorado river far below. Reaching the Grand Canyon village by late afternoon, we were too late to hike down the canyon or dine at the hotel for lunch. We snapped some photos, enjoyed a cold beer and left; both of us try to avoid tourist-filled areas.

Heading south to Sedona, we found the perfect setting for a car chase. The highway (89A) zigzags down the side of a huge canyon. There are switchbacks every few hundred yards. A tiny creek winds through a valley filled with cottonwood, willow and oak trees. Sedona sits at the end of the canyon where it opens out to the desert beyond. Our reservations for the night were at Canyon Villa Inn, located just south of Sedona.

We arrived just as the sun was setting and our innkeeper, Les Belch, gave us a brief tour, taking us poolside for a glimpse of a Sedona sunset. Les pointed to the east and told us that in Sedona the greatest views aren’t found looking towards the sun but away from it. He pointed to Bell Rock, a huge spire rising out of the dusty desert setting. The red rocks glowed as the setting sun touched their peaks. Night approached quickly and Les showed us to the “Spanish Bayonet” room — the most romantic room at the Inn. Our balcony faced Bell Rock with the Courthouse Butte (pronounced beaut as in beauty) across from it. With king-sized bed, gas burning fireplace, and a Jacuzzi tub I hoped for the best. We were invited for hors-d’ouevres and cocktails in the dining room and he left us to unpack and get comfortable. That evening we drove into Sedona for a romantic dinner. The night was chilly and we went back to Canyon Villa to enjoy the fire and the warm jets of the Jacuzzi — they worked beautifully.

Next morning we dined with other guests in the dining room. We were pleased to meet another couple from Toronto and four people from New York. All suggested we take a path from the Inn that connects with trails leading to the Buttes and Red Rocks beyond. The day was gorgeous; not a cloud in the sky. We hiked and climbed, the red sand covering our shoes and filling our pockets. Enjoying the view from the flat surface of one rock outcrop, we listened to the stillness of the desert. A slight breeze brought the sound of someone chanting a few buttes away. Sedona is known for its holistic community. Aging hippies and palm readers fill the shops. The majestic buttes and spires give it a magical quality.

Leaving Sedona late in the afternoon, and dusty from our hike, we headed to the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. Arriving early in the evening, in hiking boots, shorts and t-shirts, we felt a little out of place. But the manager took no notice and gave us a brief tour of the grounds, treating us like royalty. Inspired by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Biltmore first opened in 1929. It boasts a 92-foot-long water slide, an 18-hole championship putting course and a 22,000-square-foot spa, fitness centre and beauty salon. With 736 guest rooms, it’s the largest resort in Arizona. We were shown to our suite with living room, dining area, and full kitchen. The marble bath with double sinks was larger than my dining room.

After taking in the grounds and wishing to spend more time at the resort, we tried to get our flight changed. But alas, luck and the airline were not on our side. We dined at Wrights, the Biltmore’s fine dining restaurant, where executive chef John Zaner has created a fresh, flavourful menu of New American cuisine. My rack of lamb was exceptional and the strawberry banana soufflé was ecstasy in a bowl. Waddling out of the restaurant and into the cool evening, we noticed steam rising from the hot tub beside the pool. In no time, we had our heads propped on the edge of the tub, our legs floating in front of us and our gaze resting on the stars glittering above. My partner put his arm around my shoulder and kissed my cheek. He leaned close to whisper into my ear and I knew this was the moment. He spoke softly. “Sarah. Wake up. The plane has landed.”

WHAT WILL MAKE THE ROM GREAT?

A friend of mine insists that Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect who’s designs were exceptional. I disagree. Frank Lloyd Wright designed a few great buildings (Johnson’s Wax Administration Building and the Guggenheim Museum) but he also designed many disasters (Falling Water, the Robie House). I wouldn’t consider him a great architect. He doesn’t belong with those I consider great, like Beethoven, or Michelangelo. But Wright wasn’t a failure either; he was able to sell the idea of architecture to the masses. For that he deserves credit.

But who am I to judge architecture or great art? The daughter of a man who strove to be one of ’s greatest architects, that’s who. He taught me that a good architect considers the form and the function of the building he is designing. One without the other is not architecture. A great architect designs buildings that fit both their form (dictated by the lay of the land and by building materials) and their function elegantly. A building is meant to shelter us and protect us from the elements. That is its primary meaning. Without meaning it’s like a stone standing in a field; there, but lacking human context. Good buildings are those that fit their meaning; a home improves the quality of life for those living in it; an office building improves the ability of employees to work effectively in it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a house, an office tower, a church or a museum; a building must have some sort of function.

With the Guggenheim Museum, Wright was able to design a building, a form that fit its function —which was to display and protect the items within — flawlessly. Perhaps it’s because of something inside him. He was, after all, a great exhibitionist. But his design of the house called Falling Water, in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, played romantically with form, but ignored its function as a home. Its halls were too narrow, its drafts too constant, and the moisture in the rooms, caused by the river below, made the house uninhabitable as a home.

What makes something art? What makes a painting, a sculpture, music, or literature a truly great work of art? I’m sick of hearing that it’s all subjective, that art is self-expression or that it’s whatever we like to hang on our walls. Those words are used by posing artists — with a class in finger painting under their belts — and duped consumers who have lost all sense of aesthetic judgement. The posing artists, too lazy to force a rigorous education on themselves, are as much to blame as our consumer culture. Both are in the business of producing commodities, not art. The disgrace is that a true artist must try to work within the contrived world of artificial art. And they’ve two choices — either they sell out, giving in to the industry of art which dictates that two parts shock value equals an increase in market value — or try to make a living in another field, creating real art when they can find time.

There was a time when people studied and apprenticed themselves to great masters in the arts. A time when a great painter learned biology, history and engineering. A time when a great composer often knew how to play every instrument. A time when great art was created.

Today we have junk labelled art, with ridiculous price tags. There is something substantial about real art, a pull, an aesthetic pull that isn’t in most of the schlock produced today. You can feel it in Beethoven’s music, in Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings, in Henry Moore’s sculptures. The presence of a sculpture can capture you in a dark room. The pull of music can tease you and force you to listen. The aesthetic pull can reassure and comfort. It has taken our society from tribalism to civility — it’s in the choices we make each day. Choices made well adhere to this aesthetic law; they’re in harmony with the physical world. This aesthetic law steers us away from putting an armchair in the middle of a hallway, or a picnic table up in a tree. So many choices are aesthetic and when that pull is ignored, mother nature disciplines — we bang our shins or fall out of trees.

My biggest worry is that real art, the kind that teaches us how to listen and develop our inner aesthetic guide, will get lost. Buried in the waste of junk that currently passes for art. A few weeks ago it was announced that our custodian of aesthetic knowledge, the Royal Ontario Museum, is getting re-designed. Will the design consider aesthetic form and function? Will it be a work of art? Or will it be a sales job, something we’ll be tearing down in twenty years because it didn’t quite work, because the sensation today isn’t aesthetically valid. We won’t know until it’s built, until we’re standing inside it, until the sensitive among us can feel the aesthetic tug of the building itself. For now we’ll have to trust the architect, Daniel Libeskind, with the responsibility of creating a design that is aesthetically valid.

THE ART OF LIVING

Just before dawn the lake is quiet and still. Its body is a flat, dark mirror – it is motionless until the sun comes up and gently rocks it from sleep. Small waves undulate, barely noticeable but for the patches of grey, reflections of the sky that melt and reform instantly on its surface. In the distance a gentle breeze sharpens the waves and a lone fisherman casts from his boat. Like a needle, his line pricks the surface of the water. Slowly the motor boats begin to appear. They scratch incessantly at the lake, cutting over it. Does it reel in agony? Does the pain travel in the waves that lap against the dock? Lake Rosseau is female in nature. She constantly laps at the land, sometimes pounding against the shore, at other times gently caressing it, like a mistress with her lover. But her real passion comes out during a thunderstorm. When sheet lightning fills the sky, the lake stirs with excitement, longing for its touch. Her waves pound the shore as the tension between them builds. The storm rumbles and the lake shudders, her passion is released when the night sky is filled with bolts of lightning. Each moment is captured in an eerie flash of light. The sky and lake are joined and for brief seconds merge as one. The sky is dark and silent, every so often echoing the burst of lightning with a clap of thunder. In the calm after a storm you can hear the lake give a gentle sigh. But even when her surface is pummelled by wind and rain, by forces beyond her control, she cradles and protects life gently in her embrace. Last night I dreamed of a day long ago in my childhood, of a memory I’d forgotten. It was a hot, lazy summer day on our farm. I was lying in the long grass watching swallows swoop and dive in the blue, cloudless sky above. They flew in a group and every so often they’d dive and disappear through the open windows of our barn. Inside the barn was cool and filled with the calls of baby birds. The nests were high in the rafters. I waited until the mothers went out to collect food, then climbed up to get a better look. The young birds could sense me and were silent, sitting very still in their nests. I sat motionless when the mothers returned. At first they darted around me, nagging angry protests, but the baby birds began piping for food, tugging their mothers away from me. They fed their young quickly, darting their beaks from one mouth to the next. After a few trips, the mothers no longer noticed me and flew directly to their nests with food. The baby birds were completely dependent on their mothers. I woke up from the dream just as my arms spread to take off in flight. I lay in bed for a while thinking about that summer day in the rafters. I was about eight or nine years old and even then overwhelmed with the idea of motherhood. Having a small life completely dependent on me suddenly seemed more significant than anything else I could do with my life. In this morning’s paper was an article about an American lawyer who repeatedly sued the large tobacco companies and won. The lawyer is now fighting the fast-food chains and has already caused quite an impact. It’s not so much the causes this lawyer is backing, but the fact that he is attempting to change the world, that I find so inspiring. He is accomplishing so much in a world where idealism has all but vanished. I’m struggling to find inspiration today. It is all around me, but just out of reach. My thoughts drift to cleaning. Should I straighten the carpet? Rake pine needles from the beach? I can’t seem to write. Frustration pulls at my sleeve. The words are in me. Ideas that float about in my mind, but I can’t seem to get at them. The key to success is hanging on. Human effort needs to be constant, like the rhythm of the waves on the dock or the singing of the birds each morning. I’m not sure how many times I’ve wanted to give up on this newspaper, but each time I couldn’t let go. As Kipling wrote “If you can hang on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to those hang on…”My father used to say that the art to life is holding on through the bad luck and making the most of the good. The paper has finally developed into the dream I envisioned. But I find myself wanting to reach a little further; we could, after all, be national… How do I express the gratitude I have for those people who encouraged me – my husband Greg, the writers and editors? How do I thank the advertisers in these pages for taking a risk on us? They have enabled us to create a paper designed for intelligent women. “Thank you” doesn’t convey the deep appreciation and motivation they’ve given us over the years. ********************** With the help of Royal LePage, we have been able to add a section dedicated to non-profit organizations for women. We hope to make it an informative spread that will both educate and motivate our readers, while at the same time providing information to women who may be in need of the help these organizations offer. In the past decade the number of women and children in shelters has increased dramatically. On page 10 you’ll find an informative piece on the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, which contributes to shelters for women across the country. I implore you to make a donation; your help will provide shelter to women and children in need. A small contribution will go a long way. You can make a donation online at :www.royallepage.ca/shelter/donation/index.htm

WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN

Dear Dad,

Last night I dreamt about the morning you died. I was back there again, in that hospital room at dawn listening to you struggling for each breath. Once again I lifted my head from your bed and looked out the window over the still lake. I watched the sky turning from gray to pink and the black shape of a seagull gliding high above. The anxiety of that moment came flooding back and I knew what was to come. I wanted to try to change it, to wake you so we could watch the sunrise one last time. I wanted to talk to you the way we once did, about life, love and the challenge of both. I wanted to tell you about everything that has happened over the last five years. When I stood up to walk to the window as I did that morning, I woke up with a start.

So much has happened in the last five years. I’m not sure what to tell you about first. The terrorist attack on the U.S. is one of the worst tragedies that’s happened since your death. It erupted on September 11, 2001 with a number of plane hijackings. Terrorists tried to crash the planes into important landmarks. Thousands were killed in New York when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. The twin towers crumbled, the smoke and dust was so thick it turned the sunny morning into night. Papers, accounts, records of all kind floated down softly onto the debris-covered streets. A cloud hung over the city for weeks, business came to a standstill. The attacks brought terrorism into our homes; they made people aware, for a brief time, that life is circumstantial; and that hate and anger can consume.

Since then the U.S. has retaliated, invading Afghanistan and using the terrorist scare to push itself into Iraq.

Here at home, Chrétien is no longer in power and some scandals that occurred during his term have since come to light. They have stirred up a lot of controversy over the past few months, but will soon be forgotten as these sorts of things usually are.

Last summer we had a power shortage and for a few days a crisis put Eastern Canada and some of the eastern states out of power. The outage made Toronto quiet, it shut off all the televisions and people filled the streets; they looked at the stars and could for once see them. Suddenly neighbours were talking and strangers spoke to one another on the street. But the sense of community disappeared almost as quickly as it came.

Do you remember the power dams you designed for Ontario Hydro back in the ’50s? I know you left Hydro when a group of people began pushing for nuclear power. I remember you thought nuclear power so costly that it was foolish even to consider it. Well, the nuclear debt has grown so large that the government is now having to subsidize Ontario Power in order to keep consumer prices down. Of course it can’t last. But there is still a small group of nuclear power supporters who released a report which proclaimed nuclear power to be the best solution to our power crisis. I don’t think the public bought it; however, the worry is that our government will take nuclear as the easiest route, even though it isn’t the most economical. It may bandage over the short-term dilemma, but at what cost?

And now to more intimate things. I have yet to tell you about my husband. His name is Greg. He is strong, thoughtful and reserved. At times he holds his passion bottled up tight inside him. It’s hard to get a tear out of him and I have yet to see him sing from our balcony, at the top of his lungs, but I’m working on it. He was a consultant, which wouldn’t appeal to you or me, but he left that career to find more meaningful things to do with his life. He joined me here at the newspaper and has helped us grow and become profitable. We were married a year and a half ago and bought a huge dump of a house, which Greg has decided to renovate. He’s doing almost everything himself. At times I wish you could see him. He researches everything he does. He taught himself to do the plumbing and wiring, to build walls and lay floors. He’s facing life with his arms wide open, not worried about status or position but focused on creating beauty in the world. Sometimes he asks me what to do about problems that arise with the house and I wish I could pick up the phone and call you. Remember how much I used to call when I renovated my first home? I know you would love Greg as much as I do. I wish you could have met.

The newspaper is thriving and our readership is growing steadily. Our writers are some of the best in the country. I ask them to write on an intimate level, not to preach at the reader but give them some sort of emotion to take away from what they read. Since we are gaining more and more female readers I think this slightly different approach to newspaper content is working. There is still the odd feminist who calls to complain that we don’t provide enough doctrine on feminist issues, but there are so many more women who call to congratulate us that it doesn’t worry me.

At times I think you are here with me, especially when I sit alone writing. I feel like you already know half of what I’ve written and sometimes, when I have an important decision to make I hear your voice in my head suggesting ideas. They say that we live on in our children and I hope that part of you will live on in my children. I want to thank you for teaching me to live out there in the world beyond my doorstep. It’s a beautiful world that hate and anger can tarnish only briefly.

I’ll write again soon.

Love,

Sarah

WHERE IS HOME?

I just listened to a beautiful song by Nathan Wiley titledHome. The first line goes “When I was a boy I had everything, I had silver and gold.” The song ends with the same words – like a circle. The song has me thinking of my past. When I think of who I am and where I come from, when I remember my childhood, I want to reach back and grasp something that I seem to have lost along the way. But I’m not sure what to reach for.

As I look out our cottage window at the deep snow, unmarked and fresh, I remember the winters at our farm. The sunny Sunday mornings filled with plans that my twin brother and I made to build snow forts or ice rinks. I remember the excitement we shared over a fresh snowfall, not just because it meant we had a new landscape to explore, but also because it marked a change in our world. For us, every little change brought new discoveries and we approached the changes with a strong desire for adventure. I don’t think I’ve lost that attitude, although it isn’t as carefree as it once was.

I remember lying in the tall grass on long summer days; the rich smell of damp earth; the chorus of 1000 frogs that sang us to sleep on hot summer evenings; and creating stories from the shapes we made of the clouds in the sky. We swam in a neighbour’s pond, explored the nearby swamp and choked on cigarettes made from dried leaves and weeds. We rode horses from the neighbouring church camp, sneaked into their gospel hall and sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight over their public address system, and flour-bombed their prayer wagon. We grew. We fought and argued. We worried over each other – best friends and bitter enemies all in the same day.

We pushed ourselves to be strong and brave – testing our limits. I remember the fear and exhilaration that came from swaying in the upper branches of a tall tree on the crest of a hill, as an August thunderstorm rolled, clashing and bursting over the fields, toward us. It made us want to sing. We sang Born Free at the top of our lungs, our voices carried away by the wind and thunder. We raced down the ice-covered hill in our apple orchard, each balanced on one ski, wanting to fly and hoping not to crash into the trees we zipped past. Some days we disappeared into the forest with our lunches tied to the end of a stick, like Huckleberry Finn, returning at dusk full of secrets. I can’t think of a better childhood. I was very lucky.

I don’t think I’ve lost my curiosity. Even now I look for fish in the still water of the lake and search for signs of change along my path. I will always want to know where things come from and how they came to be here.

I don’t think I’ll ever lose my strong urge to sing – it brings out the carefree child I was. I’ve taken to singing into the answering machines of company presidents. My goal is to sing to every CEO or president in Canada in order to get a meeting with them and build some sort of reputation. In some ways it confronts propriety – but it’s working. I’m meeting interesting and smart people whom I’m learning from and sharing ideas with – and it’s all because of the singing.

I don’t think that I’ve lost my sense of adventure, either. I still get a thrill from being lost or jumping into things without looking. This newspaper is one of the biggest adventures I’ve ever undertaken. Building an independent newspaper, with a unique voice, in this age of media monopolies is challenging, exciting and a little bit crazy – everything that makes for a great adventure. But my sense of adventure is now tempered by wisdom.

Have I lost my innocence? I approach change differently now because I know that it can bring sorrow and hurt. I know about loss and the feeling of emptiness in the pit of your stomach that has a way of growing into you, becoming part of you. I know that happiness can come and go. This knowledge is something I’d never experienced as a child; but I think its price was my innocence.

My childhood home was my Eden. Can I ever go back? Would I give up the knowledge I have to return to it?

I look around at this beautiful cottage, at my husband stoking the fire, at Lake Rosseau, smooth and covered in snow, and at the ice rink we just finished shoveling off. I know that in some ways I am almost back. I’m home, where I belong. The little, devilish girl still lives in me, but life has changed her. I feel more deeply now than I did as a child – like laugh lines that deepen with age.

Perhaps if I live long enough, the knowledge I have might slowly begin to melt away and someday I’ll regain the innocence I’ve lost. If that happens I hope to be like my dear grandmother, who also enjoyed meeting new people. She was brilliantly happy in her dementia because she got to meet a new person (even though it was the same person) every five minutes. Life is, if you live long enough, one big circle.

There is a beautiful song fromThe Lion King titled The Circle of Life. It begins with the lines. “From the day we arrive on the planet, and blinking step into the sun, there’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done….”

THE HEART WILL LIVE ON

A soft morning rain has left the island damp. The water is dark, murky green, its surface still and impenetrable – a mask reflecting the dull, grey sky. The mist, a shadow left by the rain, holds on wet and clinging. Thick clouds hang low, their imposing weight holds the air and lake in stillness, muffling and distorting sounds. The air carries the smell of damp pine needles and wet rock. The trees whisper a timeless tale carried from branch to branch, almost within reach. Understanding fettered by thought. My eye wanders from the green, feathery ferns to the dark, glistening tree bark. Rusty pine needles cover the forest floor and cushion each step – a carpet of moist smells meander a trail through the trees. Birch logs lie scattered and broken as if thrown and discarded by an angry child. I look at Mother Nature’s yard and want to pick up the rotting logs, to pile the dead wood neatly to one side. I wonder if this human desire for order might harm the forest by taking away its natural layer of waste. I don’t want to disturb the cycle of life. But how do I fit into it? I remember my aunt’s stone farmhouse. I first saw it about 30 years ago as a child, just before her husband passed away. I remember the huge maple trees that provided shade over the well-clipped lawn that surrounded most of the house. Overflowing flowerbeds were scattered around the edges. Behind the house stood the barn, rickety with a few boards missing here and there. Beyond it were cornfields as far as the eye could see. Over the years, as my aunt grew older and less active, nature claimed back her farm. The old barn boards disappeared into the weeds and vines that grew over them. The rubble foundations cracked and stones tumbled down year after year leaving a grassy mound where the old barn once stood. The clipped lawn grew into a field of wildflowers. The bushes and trees that once provided shade around the house went from lush to smothering. Long branches grew thick and heavy, reaching for any sliver of light available. The sun that once filtered through the tree leaves, splashing in puddles that moved across the living room floor, no longer came in the windows. Gradually the house grew dark, buried beneath a cave of vegetation. My aunt stopped using the large living room, confining herself to the back bedroom and kitchen where electric heat provided more warmth. Mice moved in, burrowing in the settee and moths made dust of the books that filled the shelves. Time began to erode the house from within. It was easy to feel the world living and breathing around you in that house, but it was also easy to feel conquered by Mother Nature. After my aunt passed away, the old house was levelled to make room for more cornfields. The beauty that was once there, the home that she and my uncle had shaped, existed only because they cared enough to create it, to build it with their own hands. The ease with which that beauty came undone gnaws at my mind. Can human endeavors have permanence? I know that straightening a crooked picture frame will last until the next time I walk past, that the flowers I planted this spring will be gone in the fall, but I can’t help doing it. Last month Barry Allen wrote about art, about turning possibilities into reality. When I breathe in the smell of damp earth, of sunlight on the warm dock, so many possibilities arise almost within reach, just an arm’s length away; possibilities that could slip away as easily as they appear. Simple forms, wood, grass, leaves I can shape. The flat smooth surface of stones become in my mind a stepping path to the new cottage. Bits of wood spin out a host of possibilities, it’s as if the very life that was once there inspires creativity. The smooth surface of driftwood calls to be polished, the rough bark on a broken tree branch demands peeling. Possibilities abound. But can I create or add beauty to the world that will last? Beauty that will outlive me? That’s the question of many artists. Perhaps after I’ve edited and perfected every article and advertisement in this issue of the paper, after I type and re-type the words on this page, after I finish straightening the picture frames. The afternoon sun has burned off the layer of mist that crept through the forest surrounding the cottage. Slowly the wind, free from its damp morning weight, rustles the leaves, shaking off the wetness. The sounds of summer fill the breeze. Boats in the distance, children laughing and splashing, waves lapping against the dock. So many possibilities sit within reach, ideas given by nature, full and waiting to be taken. But is there enough time? That’s the thing about Mother Nature; she sits patiently waiting, at times it seems like she’s mocking. Her winds blow against the pyramids, her weather crumbles Stonehenge. The trace of a human life disappears. She destroys without compassion, but still we live on. Surviving with the hope that somehow, if even for the moment, we can shape her bounty into forms that comfort us in this cold harsh world.

I WILL REMEMBER

The lake is calm and still in the cold morning air. The warm muggy days of August are gone and September brings fall to our island early this year. I can’t quite see my breath, but at some point during the night a chill crept into the boathouse. I smell smoke, which means someone has lit a fire at the old cottage. My husband is down below on the dock, just about to have his morning swim. He’s quick to jump in and out again. Over the last week the cold nights have caused the temperature of the lake to drop rapidly. Our kayak slides quietly over the water. We decide to circle a large island with a forest of dense trees on its north shore. The surface of the lake is like glass, a transparent window to the hidden world below us. I snuggle against my husband as he paddles. His strong arms surround me and I can feel his stomach muscles tighten as the kayak moves over the water. We glide and listen to the morning sounds. A train whistle in the distance, the constant hum of traffic far away. A fish jumps near a rock close to shore, startling us back to our current surroundings. The chickadees call, their song echoes through the forest. Suddenly there is a commotion a short distance ahead of us. A huge turkey vulture leaps up from the water’s edge and flies to a tree further off. We pass by a dead beaver, bloated and rocking against the fallen logs on the shore. I think of this lake in the winter, of the cold winds and crushing ice. The shoreline is littered with fallen trees, broken stumps and twisted branches. Huge cedars lean out from the land, their branches reaching for precious sunlight. Lake Rosseau seems harmless in the soft light of dawn, yet the tree stumps and weathered rocks show its hidden strength. A large tree lies fallen, its branches stick out of the water and block our path. We steer around it and move on to the south end of the island where cottages are built up. Most of the cottages are quiet, their occupants still sleeping. We pass a woman reading on her dock and try not to disturb her but she smiles and comments on the beauty of our kayak. Its polished wood surface and elegant frame took my husband months build. As we paddle, a crow flies so low that we hear its wings beat. We continue our journey around the island. A monstrous orange cottage looms over us. It ruins the grandness of the large rock it sits on. I wonder about the kind of person who would build something so ugly. My guess is a middle-aged man, probably the kind who fills a quiet restaurant with loud boasting. My guess is that he came from a farm and made a fortune in the stock market. But he desperately wants attention. We reach the boathouse of the monstrosity and a man stands on the balcony pissing into the lake. My husband whispers that the man will be embarrassed when he sees us. I can’t help thinking that he’s pissing into the drinking water of every cottage on the lake. It is now almost lunch time. The wind has picked up and the sun makes the lake shimmer with activity. It reminds me of September 14, 1999 the day my father died. I remember the cold early morning when I drove to the hospital to sit at his bedside. I could see Lake Ontario from his hospital room. I remember the horizon lighting up with dawn and the black arches of seagulls in the clear sky. I can still feel the worry, the weight of it and knowing that so much would be lost. I had a thousand questions I still needed to ask him. I remember the peace that filled the room as the sunrose and the moment I looked up at the lake and knew he was gone even before he stopped breathing. I remember thinking he was out there in the sunlight that glistened on the water. I’d felt left behind. I thought about how beautiful the day was, the blue sky and sunshine twinkling on the lake. My father taught me to reach out into the world and find comfort in its beauty. I will always remember. I remember another sunny September day. The morning was beautiful and busy with people scurrying to work. I remember the sight of the planes crashing into the twin towers. I remember the weight that seemed to sit like a heavy invisible burden on the shoulders of everyone I looked at; and the fear, so obvious in the children. I remember the sorrow, the anger and the huge loss and I feel the sorrow again. Tears glide smoothly, like our kayak, without making a sound. I search for meaning, as if there is a secret to life that is out there, at the horizon. Sorrow has a way of magnifying happiness. Do I feel more now than I once did. Happiness doesn’t come from being so busy you forget to listen to the sound of the earth breathing. I haven’t found it in the rush of our current culture. Although a movie or melody can cause an immediate smile, it doesn’t last or travel deep inside me. I’ve searched for happiness in people, in games and in music. They all have an impact on me, but what I’ve discovered is that happiness is in me. Sometimes it’s hidden,sometimes it gets buried in sad circumstances, but at other times it’s out front leading the way.

EMBRACING CHANGE

Why publish a “Women’s” newspaper? I get asked this question frequently. ^The Women’s Post~ was not created to exclude men, it wasn’t created as a political soapbox for militant feminists, and it wasn’t created to be a fluffy fashion tabloid. Our most basic ambition is to contribute to the engines of change that drive social behaviour. Recent studies have shown that on average women tend to read more than men do, that women have more spending money and control more of the large purchase decisions than ever before. ^The Women’s Post~ intends to support and encourage creativity and inclusive attitudes – the fundamentals that got women where we are today. By encouraging intelligent and interesting columnists to debate ideas and by discussing the changes occurring in the world, we intend to create an atmosphere that embraces and unites the very differences that have, for too long, divided people. Our pages promote an atmosphere that welcomes debate. I’ve always believed that social change begins with one person behaving differently. This newspaper began as a celebration of such people. We hope to continue that. The other day a woman said to me “I can’t stand Pakastanis.” She said it in anger, without thinking. She didn’t know how strongly opposed I am to racism. But the worst thing about it is that she didn’t think her words were fundamentally wrong. In her limited world, racism, when expressed in a low voice, is acceptable. Does that mean she has her own moral code that is right for her alone? Do we each have our own moral code that governs – one for cannibals, another for fascists – or should morality have a strongerconnection to truth and knowledge? I tend to believe that our morals govern us as individuals and that a larger, social morality governs society, and if our own personal moral codes aren’t in line with the governing social morality, then we’re standing on very unstable ground. Ideas that enhance knowledge, adding to our civil community, are moral and anything that detracts from the community isn’t. But is this just my set of beliefs or is there a greater judge? Does circumstance impose a set of rules on us? In this issue we have a guest columnist, C.G.Prado, discussing what morality means in our current world. One of my personal mandates is never to exclude others because of sex, race or status. I’ve always believed it important to fight against exclusion. I find it impossible to simply ignore racist or sexist people and I find it difficult to distinguish between them; both exclude because of differences and both are defended by clinging social traditions. Over the past hundred years our society has changed dramatically. People no longer have to sit at the back of the streetcar because of their skin colour; women have the right to vote and work outside of their home; and it has finally become politically incorrect to exclude people because of their colour or sex. But women are still predominantly excluded on the golf course and in many boardrooms; people are still judged because of their skin colour; and differences are still being used by the weak and narrow-minded. Exclusivity breeds like a virus. It creates a climate in which differences are shunned. Exclusion is wrong because it limits us from personal growth and social development – but this, unfortunately, is my personal belief, or could it be part of a larger, social morality? “Our success is based on inclusivity,” writes George Cohon, CEO of McDonalds Canada, in his book ^To Russia with Fries~. Is his knowledge something many choose to ignore? There will always be narrow-minded people, there will always be those that simply go along with the status quo, and I hope there will always be people who stand up and defend right from wrong. “Exclusion will get us all killed, inclusion is what will allow us to survive and flourish,” says Gale Zoe Garnett (author of ^Transient Dancing~) in an interview with this paper (to be carried in our next issue). More and more people are beginning to realize the need for an inclusive philosophy. I’ve always admired those who speak out against the norm, especially those who become social outcasts by doing so. I admire the individual and believe that individuals are the impetus of change. The future looks promising, the young adults of today give me hope. They are much more inclusive than their parents and I think that in itself will make them much more knowledgeable. The older I get, the less I want to interact with sexist or racist people. But that leaves me with the fact that I’m excluding them from my life and my own philosophy won’t allow me to do that. So I share my wine with all; at times I sit uncomfortably in a crowd of people who insist on clinging to their traditions, at other times I mix with thoughtful people struggling to change the world. What’s important is that I learn things from both and that I’m open to listening and debate.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF OPRAH

This month I asked our columnists to write a few lines about the most romantic thing they have done in the last few years. Many of them had trouble with this subject.

One of our editorial mandates is to carry intimate, first-person narrative pieces. I didn’t understand how hard the romantic challenge was until I began to write mine.

A few weeks ago a relative asked me why my journals no longer focus on the love I have for my husband, the way they did when we were first married. I hadn’t noticed the change, but after reading some back issues I see that he is indeed right.

I suppose it is because we’re still in the process of learning what marriage is all about. I find that writing about the personal, intimate details of my life – which wasn’t a problem before marriage – is much harder now that there is someone else sharing in my aspirations and mistakes. Although I was raised in a family that always spoke openly about our problems – airing our dirty laundry without restraint – my life is now joined to a man who doesn’t care to have his private life hung out on the line. He is strong and decisive, and also shy and reserved. The voice inside me, my writing voice, is learning to speak in ways that won’t embarrass him, but it’s a long process and at times I need a little more editing than I once did.

The love I have for Greg is the most important thing in my life. The intimate issues that I might have written about revolve around the challenges we face in making our love important every day. Our issues are probably similar to those that most couples go through in their first year of marriage. With deadlines, meetings and social events it’s easy to put romance and passion on the back burner. But passion can boil over and we’ve found that our love needs to be tended with careful hands.

The romantic scenarios of prime-time television don’t even come close to portraying the harmony between passion and friendship that steers us through our days. When I fumble to understand what a romantic action is I can’t help thinking of those two things: passion and friendship.

What I view as romantic are gestures that show deep understanding for the other person’s desires. So although I may want bum rubs and intimate conversation, I know that my husband doesn’t desire the same sort of thing. My ways of being romantic with him are based on what I believe he desires: cooking his favourite dinner and suggesting a game of foosball, or dinner at the pub down the street where we watch the hockey game. I find that desiring to do something that he enjoys, and developing a passion for it in myself, is one of the most romantic things that I can do for him.

As we grow closer, I am beginning to understand what will embarrass my husband and what won’t. Like the futile months of fertility clinics and doctor’s offices we’ve faced together over the past year. After months of hormone injections, mood swings and ultrasounds, we finally decided to take a break from it all. The instant flashes of anger that came with the hormones are now gone. And we’re both feeling as if we managed to survive a monster that invaded our home. I smashed more of my husband’s beer glasses than I care to admit, and I’ve never bought as many new ones as I did after the hormone therapy ended.

We both feel as if we are in a state of calm, the calm after a huge storm has blown over. We looked around to see if there was any damage but found that together we are stronger than ever before.

We’ve decided to try a new Chinese herbal therapy program that involves acupuncture. Lying side by side in the doctor’s office the other day with needles poked into our stomachs was, for me, romantic. I doubt others would agree, but the passion and desire in the act of trying to create something together is extremely intimate. And I never would have imagined how sexy this mission of trying to make a baby is.

I’m not sure if I should write about the tender moments that come after a huge fight, when we are both a little bruised but want desperately to get inside the other, to make our connection as strong and deep as it was before. Should I write about the emptiness I feel each month when I learn I’m not pregnant and I know that a child is one of the things that Greg wants most? Or should I write about the way he can make me feel so completely loved that I don’t want to breathe for fear the moment will end? There are so many things I might write about and so many that I’m slowly learning are just for us.

Last night I woke with his body curved up tight against mine. I listened to his steady breathing and lay still, soaking up the feeling. The warmth of his body, the strength of his arm as it curved around me. My version of heaven would involve hours upon hours of that moment. That feeling of love, of being loved and loving intensely is what romance is all about.