We have been feeding the birds outside for almost a year now, since last summer. I have a hanging tray with a mesh bottom I fill with seed every day, and a vertical suet feeder with a tail prop. Mostly we get house sparrows – even though they’re not supposed to like black oil sunflower seeds, or perching vertically on a suet feeder – but also a pair of chickadees, some nuthatches, the migrating junco, and now a pair of house finches. There’s even a tiny mouse that whisks out of a tree stump to clean up any crumbs the bossy, messy sparrows toss over the edge. A northern flicker is thinking about building a nest in the tree but has since abandoned the effort (we are glad, because it’s in a spot accessible to cats.) I have an app on my phone that lets us identify the birds quickly and easily, which is how we found out there’s a little merlin too, swooping around the neighbourhood and crying. It seems this year there are more birds, brought around by the regular food. (Feeding birds is okay and helps support bird populations.) People who can’t get out much, and cats, also appreciate bird feeders placed within sight of the house. It’s a commitment, though – bird feeding is not just for fair weather – and I worry a bit about what will happen when we move houses. But I do what I can while I’m here.
I was going to write more, write more every day but I felt like I needed to have a specific topic, which was an excuse to avoid it altogether. It’s better just to write on what I’ve thought about during the day rather than to save it all up for a themed post. I also feel if I start writing I will never stop.
I finished reading Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson. It is a good book. There isn’t an extra word in it, and it slips into you so quick and quiet like a filleting knife, you don’t notice that you’re cut till there’s blood. It’s both of Canada and older than Canada, spare, light, and dark.
I am full of resentment. July is hot and long. August will be worse. The bus schedules have changed, but not for me. I can’t tell if our neighbourhood is insignificant or underserved. I am not cycling either, and the tang of hot car permeates my days. We have to replace it, cumbersome thing. Another chore to add to the weekends. The brake caliper is sticking, a several hundred dollar fix on a car worth at most twenty-five hundred. Math we know too well. The faint shoofing of the brake pads against the rotor grind my nerves every time I drive. I hate when things are broken.
I cannot leave the city, and in this car-mad province there are few options. It is the inverse of my teenage life, stuck at the farm with no way to get into the city. It helps with perspective. There are many ways of living in the city, though. My sister purchased a Saskatoon Canoe Club membership for me as a birthday present, and we sign out kayaks to slip up and down the river. I pretend my house is a cabin, and we cook burgers on the smoker. I buy flip-flops and swim at the pool. Evenings I sit outside with a light beer and play games on my phone. There isn’t any wifi at the lake. I don’t work hard enough to be a lake person, anyway.
A thing I think about a lot is the amount of invisible infrastructure needed to support our highly specific lives. Like tonight, I went swimming. It’s a very simple act that requires a highly technical and complicated system of chemistry, physics, math, mechanical engineering, and a huge amount of oil and coal to manufacture and run it all. The bus that takes me there and runs back, on asphalt roads, rubber and tires and a diesel-electric hybrid engine, with focus-grouped patterned seats in an indestructible fabric woven out of plastic. The pH balance of the pool, the chemical composition of the grout holding the tiles together, metal halide lamps, the polyester spandex blend of your suit, the little grippy patches along the pool lip to hold on to while you discuss with your swimming partner the news of the day. Who could invent all this by themselves, given a blank slate and all the materials? Tiny inventions, one by one, building upon each other like coral, and we take it for granted. Just so I can get some uninterrupted thinking time and exhaust myself deliciously before bed.
We grew up swimming in lakes and occasionally dams. Water, mud, sky, plants, fauna. Don a suit (or not) and wade in: algae, leeches, slimy muck engulfing your toes, seaweed groping your legs, and in one case, a rusty nail in a 2×4 that made my vacation rather more exciting than scheduled. I can’t say it’s any more fun, but then I don’t swim for fun anymore, other than the enjoyment of having exercised. (I am telling myself that I enjoy exercising; having utterly resisted all attempts at gamification, my brain is easily fooled by the simple expedient of telling it what it likes or doesn’t like.) So the complicated city swimming uncomplicates outcomes; and the simple country swimming ends up in a trip to the ER on the weekend of your grandparents’ 50th anniversary, an ER that may or may not still exist out Canora way. More examples of infrastructure humming away under the edges of your life, HVAC systems and healthcare scheduling and sterile bandages catching you, propping you up, sending you back out.
I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately. I hate it. I also like it. I hate that I like it. You know why I like it? It’s easier. I can lock all my stuff in the trunk. I usually can find a place to park. (Yes, even downtown.) Impulse purchases fit in it. I have air conditioning. Of a sort, the car is 17 years old. The infrastructure is made for it. It’s easy to drive, it’s easy to park in this city. I don’t have to plan routes going around spots where other people may try to kill me. I’m not really afraid of other motorists hitting me, unless they’re in an oversize vehicle. (Again, it is 17 years old. You want to trade paint, go right ahead, I have nothing to lose.) I can wear what I want and not be sweaty when I get somewhere. I can carry my gym clothes, I can go to the mall, I can go for lunch all in one trip and not have to carry everything with me. Also, I fit in. I am sure most of us can identify times when you’ve stepped even fractionally outside cultural norms and felt an immense weight on the back of your neck. I don’t think I know anyone who bikes regularly in this city who hasn’t been met with a diatribe or defensiveness from ordinary drivers.
I hate it. Hot car smell is the worst. I have to go back and move it whenever I meet someone there and we want to go to a second location. It costs a lot of money to maintain. I feel like a lump when I get home, a road-raged lump who hasn’t stretched their legs. You know how you get, when you are avoiding doing a thing that you must do, and you get irritable and bitey and mutinous and you Do Not Want To Do It but at the same time you know you’ll feel better once you’ve done it? (I was brought up with a strong Protestant ethic which wars continually with my strong procrastination ethic.) Anyway, this is me, driving. I hate that it’s easy and I hate that I’m doing a lot of it. If you want to ask me why I’m killing the planet etc. etc. and voice out loud the thousands of criticisms I am already replaying on a loop in my head, please do so on Twitter so I can tell you publicly it’s for health reasons, health reasons that are sadly aggravated by cycling at this juncture.
However. I have lived in this city since 2002. In that time my transportation profile has morphed wildly. Mode choice is not inevitable; it is not fate; and it is subject to change. There were several cycling summers where we used the car maybe once a week between April and October (the year we got the cargo bike was especially gratifying.) I had two years where I roller-bladed almost everywhere, and in my spare time between classes. In first year university I didn’t start taking the bus until well into my first year here, my previous experiences with buses being the large yellow rural kind that have only one route.
I know enough about bikes now to intimidate some people, but I can assure you I didn’t express the faintest interest in getting to know bicycles from 2002 to about 2008. I had an old, entirely too large mountain bike that I oiled with chainsaw oil and locked up with a $15 cable lock. I rode it on the sidewalk with grocery bags hanging off the handlebars, despite having a very good rear rack. I did this for six years! Six years. I had other priorities (boys, mostly, and Smirnoff Ice, although if my parents are reading this, school.)
People would ask me how I biked to work every day. It was quite easy, I didn’t decide every morning. When I wake up and start to negotiate with myself things like how I am going to work, or even if I am going to work, I have already lost. I get up and I go. This is how I started biking to work regularly. I missed the bus and was late. So I got on my bike and went. Then I just kept doing it. This also applies to things like going to the gym or flossing my teeth. I negotiate, and all is lost. I skipped an awful lot of class in university (hi Mom) by not realizing this about myself. Deciding every time whether I have to do a routine thing exhausts my willpower. So I make it non-negotiable, which frees up decision-making bandwidth for whether I should get sour jujubes or peanut M&M’s.
I really would like to live to see the day where you can just bike somewhere here and nobody comments on it. Sometimes when I cycle or take the bus to meet someone I’ll gloss politely over the fact of how I got there, because I am tired of the pessimistic bromides. In the end it doesn’t really matter what I am using, I am just a person trying to get somewhere. In a reasonably non-sweaty fashion.
Yesterday was a little heavy. Let’s lighten up a bit.
I didn’t plan for 2016 to be the Year Without Craft Beer. It just happened. January I embraced an ascetic lifestyle – OK, a more ascetic lifestyle, let’s be frank – and I discovered I wasn’t really missing my hefeweizens or stouts. I won’t say I didn’t like them — but I didn’t miss them when they weren’t around. You could say they weren’t sparking joy in my life, aside from the usual joy alcohol brings for a brief time.
It’s also very freeing to not be constantly up on something – the latest glassware, or brewery, or chasing a Trappist ale through the vagaries of a provincial liquor board system. Some people really enjoy that, and I can’t fault them. I mean, I read city reports in my spare time. It was just becoming a chore. As I get older, I find myself less inclined to prove myself, to explain myself all the time. It’s exhausting! Besides, as a supertaster, most IPAs are wasted on me. Ales are right out. I can tell some wheat beers apart in close proximity, but I discovered at the end of the day I want something cold, not too sweet, and affordable. (Reader, I drink GW Light.)
I don’t mean for this to be a snooty thinkpiece, one you write after you ascend to a higher plane. I do enough of that elsewhere, and I know how perversely enjoyable being superior is, a smugness shot through with tiny little barbs in your soul. Rather it’s about the maturity that springs from, or caused by, when you decide a thing isn’t for you. “Oh, it’s not really my thing” – what freedom these words give you! You’ve had a look at it, you’ve tested it from all angles, and it’s not really fitting in with what you want or need, so you set it aside and thank it. I’m not worried I’m closing myself off. My interests are as varied as ever. It’s just — it doesn’t apply to me anymore. And knowing when things don’t apply to you is the real key here.
Many of you know me from Twitter and that’s still the forum I prefer for interactions – I don’t have the patience to edit comments here so if you’re peeved at me you should sign up for Twitter. It’s quite fun to be peevish on Twitter, I find.
This is a space where I can reside unedited (mostly) and collect all of the things I am interested in. You’re going to see some awful photography, some hackneyed art, and some terrible puns. Also a lot of adverbs but I’m working on those. You’re also going to see a lot of politics stuff, I think, especially in the run up to the elections in 2015 and 2016. I don’t care if you don’t like politics because one of the secrets I’ve learned about politics is that it’s just gossip that controls the city, and who doesn’t like gossip? Even Paul cannot resist a bit of gossip. Maybe you can, in which case I cordially invite you to skip the politics post. Alas, what you will not see here are any of my celebrated analyses of letters to city council, as the city clerk’s office has seen fit to not include these in the new city council agendas. Truly a great loss for society, and newshounds, as often times you could get at least one or two stories out of them. I will find and post my great transcription of the mayor’s snow-clearing rant, which is a thing of beauty and a joy to read for ever. But enough about me. How about you? Oh wait, I’ve not enabled comments on this page. Guess I’ll see you on Twitter.