When I put up the tent in the front yard on the lake side of the cottage and start sleeping in it, people ask me, “why do you sleep in the tent when you have a nice old cottage with five bedrooms and nobody but yourself in it most of the time? I explain that I can hear the sound of the waves better in the tent than in the cottage and that the evening breezes meander through the tent more easily. Of course, I don’t tell them the real reason I sleep in the tent is just because it’s fun.
It’s fun to drag the tent down from the attic and put it up, and make the same mistakes in putting it up I did every other year. It’s fun to inflate the king-sized inflatable mattress with the little pump and then squeeze it through the front door flap of the tent. It’s fun to drag blankets and pillows and sheets out of the cottage and across the dirt of the front yard and shove the whole pile into the tent and then struggle to arrange it all on the big inflatable mattress in the small space. It’s fun to lay my head down on the damp pillow in that dim cozy place and remember building tents with blankets when I was a kid, and to see the magic show shadows of the trees and the leaves moving on the tent walls, and to hear teenagers laughing on the beach. And it’s fun to fall into a deep sleep and be awakened just before the first light by the sweet noise of the birds gossiping and shouting at each other from the trees over my head. Everything about the tent is fun, even having the damn thing collapse on me in the middle of the night during a storm that suddenly arrives from the great lake that is only fifty yards away.
Of course I don’t tell people the real reason I sleep in the tent is just because it’s fun, and I am enjoying my second childhood. One of the best uses of old age is to rediscover the simple magic of childhood, and to use the magic to cast sunlight on the dark shadows of life.
This is the latest from my good friend, mentor and creative editor Robert Miller
I decided to begin Canada Day by driving out to the Saugeen First Nation just over the bridge two miles east of Southampton. I wanted to find a member of the community to whom I could express my personal regrets for Canada’s treatment of the indigenous people and my hope that together we would do better in future. I hesitated because I was afraid of making a fool of myself but then I thought, so what, I have plenty of experience doing that. So off I went.
I drove from one end of the small community to the other then turned around. On my way back I saw a woman and three children hanging a string of small Canada flags along the hedge in front of their home. I parked along the side of the highway, walked over to them, introduced myself and said what I had wanted to say – I was sorry and hoped we would do better in future. The children, who ranged in age from 10 to 4 looked at me a bit suspiciously but carried on putting out the flags. The woman said she wasn’t enthusiastic about what they were doing “but the children wanted to do it”.
In a quiet voice and looking off into the distance, she then began to recount her story. Her mother had gone to residential school and experienced abuse. She spoke of the stealing of the land and the breaking of treaties. Looking at me, she explained that the children were her grandchildren who had been placed in her and her husband’s custody because their son had problems with alcohol. She said that in previous times the authorities would just come onto the reserve and take children away, often with no explanation and no opportunity for the family to care for the children. Throughout, the woman spoke quietly with a mixture of anger and sadness in her voice and eyes.
As our encounter came to an end, she said that I should speak to her husband who was a Deputy Chief and “knows more about the politics.” I found him at the gas bar he owns and waited for a few minutes while he served a customer. Then I walked up to him and said that I wanted on Canada Day to express my regrets for the past and hopes for the future. He smiled, extended his hand to me and thanked me for coming. He said there were not many who knew his people’s history. I said more are trying to learn but they are afraid to acknowledge or talk about these things. He said the same was true of his people who keep what happened inside themselves. He asked my name, again thanked me for coming, we shook hands and I drove off for the rest of Canada Day.
During the official Canada Day celebrations that afternoon, as we listened to the speeches and awaited the raising of the huge flag on which hundreds of us had signed our names, I was reminded of my encounters at the beginning of the day. Not one of the local officials who spoke, including the Member of Parliament for the area, made any reference to the history of the indigenous peoples of Canada or the harm done to them by our great country during the last 150 years. So far as this Canada Day celebration was concerned, it was as if the first peoples of Canada did not exist. I thought to myself this is more than ignorance and I wondered, Oh, Canada, why we are so afraid to acknowledge the wrongs we have done?
This will be a series of books about Upper Canada focused primarily on the area we now know as Ontario. It will cover the family tree of Agnes a woman residing in Southern Ontario and her ancestors that consist of Indigenous peoples, French and Scottish fur traders, and an English geologist. There will be at least seven books in the series. The prequel and book that inspired this series is “The Tree”, scheduled for release later this year.
Since my last message I have transferred my base of operations from the little apartment in downtown Ottawa to the old family cottage in Southampton on the shores of Lake Huron.
I have been coming here since I was knee high to a grasshopper which, in my case, was over 70 years ago. This old place is as much part of me as I am part of it. Every room in the cottage is a repository of memories, some of it culled from family albums.
I am especially happy to be growing old with the cottage, though I hasten to say that it is 20 years older than I am. We will celebrate its hundredth birthday in five years time. I would say that we are roughly in the same kind of shape, still sturdy and presentable though with lots of scratches and dents from passing time. Both the cottage and I have settled a bit over the years, the cottage in its northeast corner and me all over by an inch or two.
The two of us have something else in common – our age is a matter of some controversy. I remember a dear friend, who loved the cottage, telling me that her grandchildren would never be willing to stay overnight in a place this old because it would give them the creeps. It is a known fact that dust and sand gather in the corners and that spiders more or less have the run of the place. Similarly, some of the young are slightly uncomfortable in the presence of old folks like me. They have trouble figuring out where we fit in the great scheme of things or whether they need to take notice of us at all.
There are others who love the cottage and are especially interested in it because it is old and represents their idea of what a cottage should be. Every once In a while people out for their evening stroll along the sidewalk by the lake will stop in front of the cottage to say hello and take a good look. I sometimes invite them in for a tour which confirms their stereotype of old cottage as falling somewhere in the continuum between rustic cabin in the woods and old house in town. During these tours, I take advantage of the opportunity to play the part of the wise old man whose memory extends back to the ice age. To enrich the experience further, I sometimes make up stories because cottage and story go together like horse and carriage.
Speaking of horses, as I was sitting on the beach before sunset last night, there suddenly appeared before me three horses and riders. I was surprised and delighted by the sight of these large beautiful mythological creatures making their stately ways along the sand. Then, as if to give me the memory of a lifetime, one of the horses paused in its stride, bowed its head and gently rubbed the side of its head with a hoof. If I live to be a thousand, I will never see anything more graceful than that.
Is age really a state of mind? I am the ripe old age of sixty-seven and am reminded daily through physical activity such as climbing stairs, shoveling snow or stepping into my underwear that I am no longer twenty-six. Fortunately this does not apply to my creative process, there seems to be no end to the next great adventure. I’m not talking about physically walking the El Camino de Santiago in Spain, or climbing Devil’s Tower National Monument in the U.S.A. My adventures are for the most part in my mind, involving some God given talents that I pursue, such as writing stories and songs, entertaining with my voice and keyboards , and picking up my pencils and brushes to create some art.
I often hear of people retiring and just withering away. I can’t imagine that. I feel I have been handed a huge amount of time to pursue passions that far too long, sat on the back burner. Sustenance for the mind that can no longer be ignored.
Much of this was triggered, or should I say re-ignited by writing my thoughts every day. I will talk about that in another blog, but suffice to say the more I journal the more projects and ideas pop into my head.
Now the only problem seems to be, how will I ever live enough years to complete them?