Tag Archives: Ottawa Valley

Pussy willows in the wild

Do you buy yourself flowers?

I don’t. The frugal former farmgirl part of me is uncomfortable with impractical spending. Why spend money on a luxury that will die in a few days?

Praises be, I raised a city daughter who thinks differently. She willingly spends money on touches of beauty: plants with character, fresh flowers and unique throw pillows. (Frugal former farmgirl says, Throw pillows? Useless!)

three throw pillows, one with a Harry Potter Marauders' Map

Last week my daughter brought home pussy willows.

Boom! She transported me back to my childhood farm near a wooded area where pussy willows grew wild. In my barn-chore gum rubber boots, I’d walk through the soggy marshland in the spring and run my fingers over the soft pussy willow buds.

I wondered how many people in our oh-so-urban society are lucky enough to have such a beautiful memory. I felt privileged and full of gratitude.

My daughter, spending her money so willingly, bought more than fresh flowers. She bought a long-forgotten cherished memory, an appreciation for my carefree childhood, and gratitude for how her different approach to life makes mine richer.

Those aren’t luxuries, and they won’t die in a few days.

Pussy willow buds

Pussy willows in the wild: Ontario Trees

The examined life: Shaw Woods

I have become an avid fan of the Facebook page of Shaw Woods.

The site posts photographs and information about the plants and creatures flourishing at the Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. High-quality photographs show close-up views of the flora and fauna of Canada’s Ottawa Valley. The accompanying descriptions give background information about what is in the picture. I’ve learned so much.

When I look at the photographs, I feel like I’m on a walk with a toddler. If you’ve ever walked anywhere with a 2-year-old, you know you don’t get anywhere fast, because toddlers take advantage of their place close to the ground to discover everything along the way. Bottle caps, rocks shaped like hearts, bugs, and flowers must survive the intense scrutiny of the inquisitive mind of a young child.

The Shaw Woods photographs depict a toddler-view closely examined life of Shaw Woods: Every tree, every flower, every insect, every bird, every creature noticed, appreciated, studied and chronicled.

And I have to admit to feeling a little embarrassed. I grew up a few miles away from Shaw Woods. I spent my formative years there, and I didn’t even know that many of those plants or creatures existed in that area. How could I live there for decades and never know about a Goldenrod Crab Spider? How could I have missed a spider that stalks prey in flowers and changes colour to match its background? This spider below had just left a yellow flower.

My embarrassment makes me realize how little I closely examine my surroundings. If Socrates was right when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” I’ve got some work to do.

The Shaw Woods Facebook page is a good start. Then I think I’ll go for a walk—toddler style. 

Why I didn’t make my kids go to school on snow days

IMG_2821Time: late 1960s, early 1970s
Place: a small family farm in the Ottawa Valley

On storm-blown winter mornings, I woke up under several layers of my grandmother’s quilts. Crystallized frost on the single-pane windows of my bedroom prevented me from seeing if the weather outside held snow-day potential, so I stayed huddled in the warmth watching my breath form misty clouds in the cold air. When I worked up the nerve to leave the sanctuary of my bed, I dressed quickly and ran downstairs to the warmth of the kitchen. CFRA (the number one station at the time) always accompanied our family breakfast. I waited to see if the morning DJ, Ken “The General” Grant, would march me off to school, or out to an unexpected day of freedom and play.

We cherished snow days.

The change in routine injected a little excitement into our otherwise routine lives. And, while snow days meant poor driving conditions, it also meant ideal playing conditions. In our snowmobile suits and woolen mittens, we built snow men, made snow angels, built snow forts, and held long, heated snowball fights. (Gasp! Isn’t that dangerous!) At the end of the day we placed our sodden mittens on the register to dry and fell into bed exhausted and happy.

Today, I live in a suburban house within easy walking distance of all the schools my kids attended.

Really, there should have been no such thing as a snow day for us. But I couldn’t—I just couldn’t—make them go to school on those days. I didn’t want to rob them of snow day joy. I wanted them to go to bed on the night of a predicted snow storm filled with excited but ready-for-disappointment anticipation. I didn’t want them to go to bed resigned to the inevitability of school. I wanted them to learn that the stuff with which we fill our days is not so all-fired important that it can’t be delayed from time to time; it’s funny how meetings and duties that seem so critical on an average days suddenly become flexible on a snow day.

Sometimes we receive these jolting reminders in not-so-enjoyable ways like deaths in the family or natural disasters. A snow day does the same thing but with an injection of fun instead of tragedy.

That’s why I didn’t send my kids to school on snow days. Because every once in a while it’s good to be reminded of the power greater than ourselves. Everyone once in a while it’s good to put the routine activities of our days into perspective.

I’m from the Ottawa Valley, eh

The rural area where I grew up is in the news.

CBC news reports that a University of Toronto linguistics professor is spending time in Ottawa Valley towns listening to people talk. We speak differently from everyone else, you see. You could call us a linguistic enclave.”

When I left the Ottawa Valley decades ago to attend university in southern Ontario, my accent—my Ottawa Valley twang—was the source of much frivolity for my classmates. I called potatoes “pu-da-duhs”, and  they found it quite amusing. The word “bank” in my hometown comes out more like baw-ink. They laughed at that, too.

Some of the quirks of the twang defy explanation. For example, if someone dies and needs to buried, we pronounce the word “buried” just like it’s written, while others say “berried.” On the other hand, if we want to eat berries, we call them “burries.” Similarly, a carrot in the Ottawa Valley sounds like “car-ott,” while a car we drive sounds more like “caare.” The list of unique expressions and unusual pronunciations seems endless. A former high school teacher of mine started a list: http://ogradys.ca/opeongo/ov_expressions.html

When I landed at the University of Windsor 31 years ago, in order to fit in, I changed my accent. I bought into the idea that the way they talked was “better than” the way I talked. I had an accent from a rural area, and I bought into the myth that urban is better than rural.

I don’t believe that now, anymore than I believe any of the other “better than” myths: black is better than white, or vice versa; straight is better than gay; tall is better than short.

I’ve been gone from the Ottawa Valley for 31 years, but the Ottawa Valley is not gone from me.

I spent my formative years in an area where we dug in the dirt; where we grew our own food and food for others; where we treasured manure instead of shunning it; where neighbours were far apart physically but close together emotionally; where we ran free in fields in our bare feet; where we had “play” clothes and “good” clothes, but the good clothes rarely got used; where pick-up hockey took place on a frozen stream; where road hockey games could go on forever without having to shout “Car!”; and where we honoured the cycle of life by welcoming every mewling kitten and mourning every lost cow without denying that it be so.

If there’s anything “better than” that, I can’t think of it.