Friday, July 31, 2020

TREES by Eleanor Shepherd

    In Grade Six, an English teacher introduced me to a poem by the American poet, Joyce Kilmer, who died fighting in the First World War. The simple and delicate beauty of the poem so impressed me that nearly all of the six two line stanzas have remained with me from that time until now. That was in the late 1950’s. 

            The poem says:

                        I think that I shall never see

                        A poem lovely a a tree.


                        A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

                        Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;


                        A tree that looks at God all day,

                        And lifts her leafy arms to pray;


                        A tree that may in summer wear

                        A nest of robins in her hair;


                        Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

                        Who intimately lives with rain.


                        Poems are made by fools like me,

                        But only God can make a tree.


            Yesterday the words of this poem came back to me again as Glen and I were enjoying a picnic on the Niagara Parkway.  It was not the holiday we had originally planned.  This was the year that the whole family was going to enjoy a holiday together on Prince Edward Island.  However Covid put an end to that plan. 


            Instead Glen and I came to visit friends on the Niagara peninsula, at a place where we could still practice social distancing while our daughter and son-in-law tried to finish the renovations they were doing for us at our place when Covid hit. 


            The weather has been so hot this summer that whenever we venture out of our air-conditioned comfort, we head for the shade of the trees.  Perhaps that is what has made me so aware of them. Plus my daily morning walks, when I find myself as I walk along the lakeshore looking for the places where I will be able to walk mostly in the shade of the trees.


            As I opened the blinds this morning and looked out, I saw near the house where we are staying a tree so enormous, I had to bend my head way back to try to see the top.  I called Glen to ask him how tall he thought it must be.  Together we agreed that it was at least five or six stories high. 


            This new fascination with trees intrigues me.  I have always loved the way that the trees turn such beautiful colours in the fall.  I am struck by their starkness on the winter landscapes and how they are softened by the gentle covering of snow they often don. With eager anticipation, I await the signs of the first budding of the leaves in the spring, that heralds the end of winter and promises the end of ice and snow and warmer weather to come. 


            Awareness of the trees and what is happening in the world of nature is another one of a series of gifts that I have received during this season of isolation. We all know that this has not been an easy time of any of us. All of our routines were curtailed by having to change our way of living. At first we were up for the challenge but as the months went on, we began to desire what was familiar but no longer possible. 


The gift for me was that in the midst of all this, I found the capacity to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me, not just rushing past the trees but actually stopping to look at these strong and steady messengers and listening to what they might tell me about my perspective. Through them I heard echoed the words of the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.”   

Word Guild Award 


                                                                                 Word Guild Award 


Friday, July 17, 2020

The Collection and A Biker Part 1 BY SUSAN HARRIS

For Peter Black, a man whose goodness I wish to emulate. 

Ruth had received a giant baby bottle as a gift when she was born, which she talked about many times. The oversized container resembled a baby's feeding bottle. It was clear, and the cap was a large white and pink plastic nipple with a slot for coins. For many years Ruthie, as she was called, piled pennies into the bottle. It seemed to take an eternity, but finally it was full. With her mother's help, Ruthie's six-year-old fingers had placed penny after penny into paper rolls. Painstakingly she filled and rolled, and filled and rolled again. Three times they had trekked to the store for more wrappers, only to find that they were out of stock on the last trip.
"I can put them in plastic bags." Ruthie rushed in the direction of the kitchen eagerly, her long dark curls swinging up and down.
"The bank will not take plastic bags, sweetie," her mom explained to the child. "I'll get some rolls when I go to the city." 
Soon the day came when they stood before the teller in the bank.
"How can I help you?" the teller asked Ruthie's mom.
"It's her that needs help." The mother gestured to Ruthie on her left, who was barely discernible behind the counter. They were both holding the heavy bags of metal currency.
The teller leaned forward to see the child and commented on how cute she was with her crisp, dark curls and large, luminous eyes. 
Ruthie is my daughter
 An employee at the next station who had no clients then came over to look at Ruthie. Judging from their reactions it did not look like diminutive customers made frequent appearances at the bank to conduct their own business. 
"What can I do for you?" the woman asked Ruthie in a soft voice.
The little girl stuttered back, "I want to change my pennies." 
Ruthie and her mom heaved the bags onto the counter. Counting the dollars aloud the teller handed the paper money to the child. 
"Eighteen dollars for you," she chimed. "What are you going to do with all that money?"
"Eighteen dollars?" Ruthie repeated the words as a question, and her already large eyes grew even larger. She did not fully comprehend the value of eighteen dollars, but she sensed it was a lot of money. Like liquid pools of the bronze she had just exchanged, her brown eyes sparkled, and she touched the dollars with tenderness akin to reverence. This was her money. 
It was another poignant moment for Copper: the unified value of pennies. Coins that some think have no value. Coins that were sometimes tossed into jars among buttons, paperclips, rubber bands, and anything else that had no specific home. Coins that were thrown unceremoniously onto the nearest surface available, often forgotten and ignored. Considered a nuisance, and described as inconvenient, worthless, and heavy. 
"I will buy Easter eggs for the seniors' home." Even as Ruthie replied she held tightly on to the bills, as if afraid they could get lost. The child's little kindness had delighted the seniors, and many of them had patted her cheeks and hugged her. Dressed in blue tulle and chiffon, she floated like a fairy princess, offering her basket of eggs to staff and residents at the home. 
Savings like hers bought gifts for children living with their mothers in domestic abuse shelters. Pennies like Copper bought clothes and toys for children in orphanages. A penny helped someone get food. Copper had seen people's tears, their struggles, and their happiness. The little coin had been to many provinces, and had been owned by persons of status and persons living in poverty.
Like the woman with the straggly hair that hung on the side of her worn face. Her mouth was droopy and her back was slightly stooped. She moved slowly and paused for breath after every second step. Pork and beans had been her meals for the last week, but she was grateful she could afford that. There were no more Social Insurance cheques. There was also no heat in the house as the furnace was broken. 
Limping to the aisle with canned foods, she reached for the familiar tin with its picture of brown beans nestling in the thick sauce. She was so hungry she could have eaten the picture. Her gaze lingered on the soups next to it, but there were no options here. The soup would only be one meal. The beans could stretch over three meals if she spread it thinly on the stale bread she was rationing. Picking up the tin, the forlorn woman went to the checkout counter.
"Eighty-eight cents, ma'am." She fumbled with the tattered purse and handed the cashier of the variety store some coins. He counted it. 
"You're six cents short," he barked. Another quick fumble and she passed over the one nickel that remained. 
"You owe me a penny." He was irritated. 
Looking at his chin, the woman murmured, "I don't have any more money." The attendant barely heard her, but the empty purse spoke loud and clear. 
"Sorry." His tone was curt and the can of beans vanished under the counter as he shoved her money, one cent short of the total, back at her. He was not really a mean man, but if the cash till did not balance, then the difference came out of his earnings. Too many customers showed up with pennies short. This man knew that a penny here and a penny there added up, and on minimum wage, that was a lot to deduct. 
 Tears of shame filled the woman's eyes. She hunched down even lower as if the stares of the other customers in the line pierced her back. 
Then a gruff voice broke the tension: "Here's a penny."
A muscular biker with a tattooed arm slapped down a brown cent and the purchase was complete. Whispering a broken 'thank you,' the woman accepted the proffered beans that were resurrected from under the counter, and shuffled out of the store. Her benefactor looked a bit intimidating, with his head tied in a red bandana and bushy eyebrows half covering his lids, but it was clear to all that his heart was kind. 
Mostly, Copper saw the value of one cent.
Removing the physical penny coin would affect low-income families and poor people the most as they tended to use cash most. These people did not seem to mind the inconvenience and time needed to roll pennies and take them to the bank. When pennies were no longer distributed, prices would be rounded down or up. Since the poorer people usually made smaller purchases more often, they would experience rounding up more often and could have to pay more.
Copper was concerned that those people may not be able to afford the higher prices. When money is tight, every red cent counts. So children, poor people, and those without cards would shoulder most of that burden of eliminating pennies.
Little copper coins have always made a difference. They pass on positive values. They teach children how to save through penny power. Though Copper is the least profitable denomination—it cannot buy anything on its own—its power comes through unity. Collectively, with other pennies, they become thousands of dollars.
Copper dared to wonder: when pennies are gone, will the giving stop? Will small charities be able to carry on their good works? Its cousin the nickel will be the next smallest denomination, but that may not be given away so easily.
Even though the little coin pondered, it accepted its fate of elimination. For it knew it was a hero, and a true hero never dies.

Penny Fact
1. W.H.J. Blackmore designed the reverse of the 1911-1920 penny.
2. Canadians can still use pennies to pay for items at businesses that choose to accept them, and the cent will remain Canada's smallest unit for pricing goods and services. 
3. The composition of the most recent penny is 94% steel, 1.5% nickel, 4.5% copper plating or copper-plated zinc.

Penny Fun
·      Create dumb bells for exercising by filling socks with pennies and tying the open ends. Wrap them around your ankles or wrists as weights. Longer socks work better.
·      Start a hobby of collecting pennies from as many countries as possible. Storing them in coin holders or coin albums is ideal. 

An excerpt from Little Copper Pennies: Celebrating the life of the Canadian One-Cent Piece  by Susan Harris (Susan Harris 2012, Borealis Press 2014). 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

What do you dream? —Carolyn R. Wilker

What did you dream as a child, as a youth, or as a young adult? Has that dream come true, or is it still on the way?

Today I began to read Exit Stage Right by fellow writer Jennifer Willcock. In it a student dreaming of a career in ballet goes for an audition at a prestigious school, despite anxiety whether she will be accepted. [No spoilers]

I thought about the fictional girl and how we follow our own dreams.

From the time I was a small girl, I’d wanted to be a teacher. My dreams may have come about because of a Sunday School teacher, as I learned new songs and heard new stories. Or it may have been inspired by my first teacher in my elementary school. Whatever it was, I saved my Sunday School papers and told my mother that I would need them because one day I would be a teacher.
Mom gave me a set of loose leaf rings to keep the Sunday School papers together. I believe I would also have kept my school notebooks indefinitely, as well, if I had been allowed to. The Sunday School story pages eventually disappeared and my school notebooks made their way to the attic of our farm house, to yellow with heat and age, and one day be tossed, but I was fiercely attached to my goal.

After confirmation at age 14, I eagerly accepted the challenge of teaching Sunday School, planning each lesson and teaching the students entrusted to me. I taught children of varying ages, and at summer camp too. It was as if my site-glass was permanently set on that goal.

Me with one of my Sunday School classes and fellow teacher

During my Grade 12 year at high school, I applied to college in the Early Childhood Education program and was accepted. I achieved my dream, teaching for several years—in co-op preschool, a city daycare centre—and then my own children as they came along. Eventually I made my way back to co-op preschool with my daughters, assisting the teacher and filling in when she couldn’t be there.

In time, I began to write, then began to teach again—adults this time—and curiously also to take up Toastmasters and storytelling, and writing stories for others, including children. My goal shifted, but I was still teaching and helping others learn.

Storyteller at Enabling Gardens in Guelph

Through it all, there has been one guiding principle—my faith in someone greater than I am. A force that has been with me since childhood, something I continue to learn about. In spite of this current time with the Covid-19 pandemic, no matter my emotions at the moment or my goals for another book, I know that Jesus walks with me each day. I can count on him.

Your dreams can take on different shapes as mine did. They can take you on adventures you never dreamed possible. Who walks with you and guides you in your dreams? I hope you found a guide with a reliable compass.

Carolyn R. Wilker is an Ontario-based writer, editor and storyteller

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