Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remembering my personal “lending librarian”

Several months ago, I had a conversation with someone about the importance and meaning of community.

I have since pondered that conversation. I think there are many types of communities—communities of shared interest, geographic communities, communities of belief, and so on.

But I think the central part is a sense of sharing, and of having care for others.

There is one example that stands out from my childhood.

My earliest years were spent on a rural property. There was no public transit, and the nearest town was too far distant to walk to on my own. And of course, in the 1960’s, personal computers (let alone the internet) were yet to be discovered, let alone popularized.

Living rurally, there were plenty of outdoor pursuits that I enjoyed, but the summer I turned eight, I had a small problem. By then, I had developed a love of reading, but it turns out that I’d exhausted our household’s limited supply of child-suitable literature by the second week in July. Since we lived too far from town to walk to the library, it seemed there was little choice but to wait until school started again in the fall. For an avid reader, this was not an attractive prospect.

One day, my mother and I were visiting Mrs. Sharpe, a lady of Scottish descent who lived in a tidy, well-kept house just across the street.

At some point, the conversation turned to reading. Mrs. Sharpe eyed me shrewdly and asked whether I might like to borrow some of her daughter’s books. Although her daughter had since grown and moved out of the house, she was certain there were still some volumes kicking around that I might find of interest.

This kind gesture opened a whole new vista for me, and made the summer far more enjoyable. Trixie Belden, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, even Calling All Girls magazine-- I would borrow the items one or two at a time, read them cover to cover, and then exchange them for fresh reading material.

The loans from this informal neighbourhood library sharpened my reading skills, broadened my horizons, and kept me out of mischief through that summer. And the kindness and generosity of our neighbor in making the initial offer presents a example of the sense of community—and the fact that small gestures can indeed make a difference.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Poem As Lovely...

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree”

I don’t think I truly appreciated those lines from Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees” until I moved to my rural property, which supports a variety of species, each beautiful in its own way.

For example, there are the beech trees, their grey bark reminiscent of elephant legs. The young beeches whose bronze leaves provide a wintertime counterpoint against the gleam of the snow. The birch whose white bark, in autumn, makes a pleasing contrast against the golden leaves of the surrounding maples. The poplars whose rustling leaves in the summer provide a backdrop to summertime musings on the back deck. The tall red pines whose crowns capture the glow of the setting sun. Or, my favourites: the graceful, branching oaks—lovely in any season but at their peak when clad in their blaze of autumn finery.

Once, on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park, we came across what looked like a broad path leading through the forest. On closer examination, the “path” proved to be the trunk of some massive forest giant that had crashed to the ground years—or more likely decades—ago. It must have been unthinkably huge in its time, and I wondered long it had presided over the area before ultimately surrendering to the forces of gravity. Thinking these thoughts reminded me how small and insignificant we humans really are in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, trees have a usefulness beyond aesthetics. The oaks I so like to admire provide acorns for the wildlife to dine on. The poplars seem to be one of the favourite springtime haunts of the local porcupine population. The deer enjoy the subtle and delicate flavor of the Spartan apple trees as they nibble the tips of the branches. The dead “snags” provide both home and sustenance for birds and mammals. And many a squirrel or chipmunk has been more than happy to find haven in a tree when my Border Collie Emma is in hot pursuit.

I once saw a science fiction moving in which the few remaining trees had become such a rarity that they were kept as specimens in an open-air museum. People would come, and look, and marvel at the fantastic and hard-to-believe notion that there were once vast forests covering the earth.

Hopefully, that scenario will remain in the realm of fiction. Trees are too wonderful a resource to squander.

I’m sure the squirrels and birds would agree.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Taking a new step

I think it was less than a week ago that I took part in a conversation at work about facebook, blogs, etc. where (I will admit it) I was maybe a little skeptical of the value.  And here I am just a few days later, doing the second thing I thought I might never have the courage to do:  start a blog.  (The first?  Start a facebook page--which I did earlier today).

Not as painful as I thought--just like a lot of things.

So what is this blog going to do?

Provide an update on writing activities.  Provide a forum for input on writing ideas.  Solicit input or participation.  We'll see...