The summer it rained caterpillars

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I had a fortunate childhood. I was born in the city and each summer we would pack our station wagon as full as it could get and we would drive North to our cottage in Muskoka to spend two glorious months at the lake. I was a water baby and could not get into my bathing suit fast enough in the morning so I could run, bare-footed, down to the dock to jump in the water. I would spend hours in that lake, eventually swimming to the point of land between our family cottages where our extended family members would come from their cottages for cookouts to fry the fish we had caught that morning.

In the afternoon, I was back in the water with my diving mask looking for undiscovered treasures or coming up for air in the open space under the dock to marvel at the number, and size, of the dock spiders inhabiting the space they begrudgingly allowed me to share. The recollections I have of being a child at that cottage continue to resurface and I hold each of those memories close to my heart.

Although I am blessed with a good memory, I could never forget one summer if I tried. I was still in single digits and the summer began as a normal summer. I was on my way to the dock when I noticed the tent webs starting to form in the V-branches of many of the trees surrounding our cottage. As the mornings progressed, the webs became bigger, they took over more of the branches and they began to assume ownership of the trees.  The larvae that had been birthed in those webs had grown and soon the foliage around our cottage was infested with Forest Tent Caterpillars. I can only describe the days that followed as something you would see in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

(the branch I removed from one of my trees this summer)

When the caterpillars reached maturity, they began to drop from their nests. The days of me running to the dock in bare feet was a thing of the past as I donned my running shoes and held an opened umbrella to avoid caterpillars landing on me as I slowly made my way along the tree-lined path to the open sky over the dock. I can still recall the sound of the caterpillars bouncing from the woven fabric of the umbrella and it gives me chills. The infestation was so brutal that cars slid into ditches because the roads were so slick after being covered by these furry little creatures and car tires could get no traction on the pavement.

The webs are back in the trees again this year, but their presence is nothing like it was that summer. Like the smell of spearmint gum in my mom’s purse, the sound of caterpillars pinging off my umbrella will live with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

The signs we shouldn’t ignore

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When the souls we hold dear move on to the next realm, I believe with my whole heart they send us signs. As strange as it sounds, when my friend Sandra passed away in 2003 I found my ear drums pummeled by the strains of the song The Girl From Ipanema. It was not a song I would ever have on my play list, and she knew how much that song made me cringe, but its chords would sound in random places and that same song magically appeared on the list of music I have on my iPhone. I have gone through my iTunes history and I have never downloaded nor have I ever paid for that song, but it IS there and I don’t have the will to delete it.

When my dad passed, it was owls. I would hear the Barred Owls at night having what seemed to be a profound conversation and one of those miraculous creatures would frequently visit and perch itself on the largest branch of the tree closest to my deck. When I am having a bad day, those owls seem to make themselves known with their signature call and the calming effect takes me back to when I was a child and would curl into my dad’s protective embrace.

Years later, when we lost my mom, it was butterflies. Although Monarch butterflies are relatively common where I live, these stunning winged creatures would appear in such a way that we knew my mom was letting us know she was close. There was a playfulness to their flight, like she was reminding us of how strong her spirit was on Earth and how that spirit continues to be a part of our lives even though she has been gone for almost six years.

Today, still fresh from the raw emotion of having to recently let my dog go, it was birds. Callaway and I used to sit on the deck together and I would marvel at the unique species that would visit my feeders. There have been many different birds who have frequented my deck, but Chickadees have always been my favorite. With the tears still sneaking up on me, I sat in my living room today and watched at least five dozen Goldfinches jockey for a position on the feeder through the window to my right. The slight movement to my left made me look out the other window and a single Chickadee was sitting on the window sill, looking directly at me from outside the glass. It stayed for longer than a confused bird would and its gaze was trained on nothing other than me.

These are the signs that make me feel like our lives are not limited to where we are now. Every one of the signs I have acknowledged over my lifetime gives me a sense of peace. They provide me a continued connection to those important souls in my life and let me know that they have not actually left, but they are now able to communicate in a way that is special to me.

 

A visit from an Angel

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For the past few weeks, my driving could have been compared to a young recruit at a police academy on a tactical driving course. The biggest difference is, I had been strategically steering my car to avoid running over fuzzy orange and black caterpillars, not trying to narrowly miss clipping each cone in a line of orange traffic pylons.

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar has been attributed with the gift of predicting the length and fierceness of the upcoming winter. I’m not sure if I would put money on those predictions, but The Farmer’s Almanac has historically used these furry little creatures to forecast the severity of the snowy season.

When I came home from work yesterday, I was greeted by two beautiful butterflies in my entrance way. I have had the pleasure of seeing many Monarch butterflies this year but these were unlike any butterfly I have ever seen. When their wings were open, the combination of colors was stunning. When their wings were closed, the mottled blend of grey and brown would be envied by any living being trying to camouflage themselves to find shelter in the forest.

I thought these butterflies were a product of the orange and black caterpillars I had so carefully been trying to protect, but these winged beauties are Compton Tortoiseshell Butterflies, also referred to as Angel Wing Butterflies. I immediately thought of my mother and the tattoo that has secured a permanent place on my forearm.

My mother loved butterflies. I always knew when she left this Earth she would find ways to come back and visit. Every time I see a butterfly, I know she has made that journey and my heart feels as full as it did when she was still a daily, physical presence in my life.

Never doubt our loved ones who have passed come back to visit. You just have to be willing to recognize the signs.

 

 

 

The hitchhiker who didn’t ask for a ride

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If you follow my blog, you will know I have had some strange experiences with animals and reptiles at my home. Coming home to the eight-foot snake in my window after attending the funeral for my best friend was one of the craziest stories I have had the good fortune to tell, but yesterday’s tale is climbing the charts.

My co-worker came in to the office around noon to tell me there was a groundhog under my car. Four of us crowded around the vehicle and attempted to push the furry little guy out with a broom. It would be an understatement to say this creature was extremely uncooperative.

All the cajoling did not convince my new friend to extricate himself from under my car. Instead, he climbed up into my engine block and thought he could outwit us. We couldn’t reach him with the broom handle any more so I retrieved a pitcher of water from the kitchen and flushed him out. He lay on the ground under my car again and it was suggested I roll my car backwards, very slowly, so I didn’t pin him under the tire. The wily little bugger moved with the car so we were no further ahead. Just as I thought we were making some progress, he climbed up over my back wheel and somewhere into the frame of my car!

The afternoon progressed with no sign of the groundhog. We all went on the assumption he had crawled out when nobody was around and made his way back to his den. We assumed incorrectly. 

Fast forward to 7:30 pm. I had been home for a little over an hour and curled up on the couch reading a book. I got up to get something from the kitchen and looked out my living room window. There, munching away on the grass on my front lawn, was the groundhog. He saw me in the window and froze. I moved slightly to get a better look and he scurried back under my car. I put on my bug jacket and sat on my deck waiting to see if he would come back out. He gathered the courage to continue his expedition in uncharted territory and I took a few pictures to prove to myself I wasn’t losing my mind.

He made his way to the other side of the driveway and I can only hope he was looking for new real estate. The darkness eventually enveloped my car and the surrounding foliage. As I am writing this blog post, I can honestly say I have no idea if my hitchhiker has taken refuge from the rain in his new ride or if he found greener pastures to set up a new home. If you see an ad on Kijiji for a 2017 Honda Civic that is pet-friendly, the two events are unrelated.

 

Long days and long walks

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It is that time of year again. Work is busy and we are waiting for our summer staff to join the team so, when we have guests at the lodge, my days are very busy. I put in a normal Monday to Friday work week (36 hours) in three days with the last group we had staying with us!

Since I had been making it a priority to make conscious healthy choices, I had been starting my day with a minimum three kilometer walk before I went to work. That routine was slightly interrupted by my 6:45 am starts and, after working such a long day, I could not muster up the energy to fit that walk in for a few days. I was surprised to discover that I really missed that part of my new routine. Like any habit, I was afraid my walks would be replaced by my desire to decompress on my couch after such a long day but I was wrong.

(image credit)

Although today was a mere eleven and a half hour day, I got home shortly after six-thirty, immediately changed into my walking outfit and pounded the pavement for thirty minutes, absorbing the energy of the day’s sunshine, and I feel great. I didn’t just walk off the stress of the last few days, I got back to myself and the new life I want to live.

Long days are something I have to live with but long walks are something I live for and I am proud of myself for making the effort to continue on this journey. Rain or shine, I will be on the road tomorrow morning at 6:00 am!

 

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

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Most people have a favorite time of year and there are meaningful arguments for each of the seasons we are fortunate enough to witness. While I can pinpoint many things I love about each of the seasons we have in Canada, I can not only choose my favorite one but I can narrow it down to a more specific time. While it may be fraught with predictable end-of-winter perils, mid-April to early May is, by far, my favorite time of the year.

I got home from work yesterday, slightly after 5:00 pm, and the sun still held the world in its warm embrace. I sat on my deck, glass of wine in hand, and soaked in everything around me. The new blades of grass were pushing aside the oak leaves that I had purposely left for the small eco-systems that help to create a healthier lawn (good information for someone like me who isn’t particularly fond of raking), those pesky Day Lilies I had attempted to vanquish were winning me over with their fresh green sprouts and the world around me was saturated with newness. The trees were proud to show off the promise of new leaves with their bright red buds, highlighted by the crisp hue of the blue sky in the background, and the Spring Peepers were singing their greeting after a very long winter. For those of you who have never heard Peepers, these small amphibians are the truest sign that Spring has finally arrived. This sound is the best way to welcome the new season and a sure way to be lured into a peaceful slumber.

Casting aside the fact that the bugs are still comfortably ensconced in their winter phase called diapause, this time of year could not be more perfect. The air is not weighed down by humidity, the sun’s warmth and strength are just as effective as a mid-July day and the streets are free from the overwhelming increase in population from the summer residents. It’s a win, win, win.

Spring is the beginning of a new chapter. Spring allows me to enjoy all the parts of summer I miss because I work in the service industry. And Spring affords me the time to bask in all of the sights and sounds of a new life waiting to be discovered. It is hope. It is growth. It is a promise of what is to come.

Let the sunshine in

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I had not realized I was suffering from the winter blahs until this past Saturday. I have successfully maneuvered myself through many winters and this one, although highly unpredictable, seemed no different. How wrong I was.

Saturday morning, I awoke to the sun beaming through my bedroom window. I was initially confused by the brightness in my room as I had become so used to the monochromatic mornings of December and January. I had not registered what the beautiful light represented.

The mercury reminded me the morning was frigid so I accomplished all of my needed tasks as the sun continued to warm the day. When I got home in the middle of the afternoon, the temperature was much more comfortable than the morning and all I wanted to do was sit in the sun. It was at that moment I realized I had nothing to sit on. I had sold my patio set last fall and had not thought about my winter sun tanning until now. I raced to the local hardware store and bought what seemed to be the only folding chair in stock in February.

I opened up my new purchase and set it to directly face that glowing ball of goodness in the sky, I closed the gate so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my dog, I poured a glass of wine and I sat. And I sat. And I absorbed ninety minutes of glorious sunshine.

The warmth of the sun was welcomed like an old friend we spent some time getting reacquainted. It is a long-standing tradition in our family to cover ourselves in layers in the middle of winter and soak up some much-needed Vitamin D. I’m sure my parents were smiling as I carried on that tradition. The photo below is circa 1975 ish.

As the sun sank into the horizon, I reluctantly folded my chair and went inside. Besides the noticeable pink hue in my cheeks, there was an immediate change in my demeanor. I was invigorated. I felt happy, effervescent even. I went from feeling like I had been sleep-walking through the last few months to feeling recharged. My mood was elevated and I spent the rest of the day smiling for no reason.  At least now, I have the chair ready and the next time that sun is out all inside tasks take a back seat. You’ll know where to find me.

 

The aptly named distraction called Netflix

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I can weakly defend the recent abandonment of my writing by calling Netflix ‘research’ but I don’t think that defense would hold up in a court of law. While I am gathering some very useful character traits and background ideas for my second book, I have yet to take those ideas and weave them into my characters.

My current book involves a serial killer but he is not fully a product of my imagination. He is loosely based on a child I met two years ago. This child did atrocious things to smaller living creatures and he stared at me with a look that turned my blood cold. He was only eight years old at the time. Perhaps my inability to focus on molding this character comes from my hope I am wrong about this little boy but everything about his mannerisms has been documented by behavior analysts and related to the psyche of a fledgling serial killer. I have had many discussions with professionals in related fields about this child’s actions and they have all expressed great concern about his tendencies toward violence and the path he is potentially going to follow.

This brings me back to my reason for this post. Netflix lives up to their name by casting a wide net of flicks and offering a profusion of shows and documentaries about many topics. If the authorities were to look at a list of the shows I have viewed recently, my name could potentially show up on their watch list. I spent the last couple of nights watching a series of shows about Ted Bundy and I am going to delve into a few more documentaries about real serial killers so my writing has an honesty to it and doesn’t come across as manufactured. I want this character to have deep emotion, to be real and to be frightening, and I want the reader to have an apprehension because they believe this character could be someone they have met before.

If you are looking for me, I will be caught in the net again, hoping these tortured human beings can help me understand how their minds work so the fiction of Lark will be as frightening as the reality of the heinous crimes they committed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The things that go quiet in the night

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The time on the clock read 2:29 am. The waning moon shared its luminescence with the corner of my bedroom and my eyes blinked repeatedly at the harsh difference between the blackness behind my eyelids and the moonlight permeating my bedroom.

love the moon

The sound that woke me was shrill and I tried to convince myself it had followed me from a nightmare. The uneasiness of my dog confirmed the polar opposite of my theory and together we looked out the bedroom window to discern where the awful noise was coming from.

My initial thought was that a baby raccoon was lost and crying out for its mother but it is the dead of winter and they are most likely sound asleep in their dens. As the cry continued, it became much more visceral and intense. My tension escalated and I could not drown out the suffering sounds of nature. There was nowhere I could protect myself from the wretched sound of terror.

The cry eventually lost its intensity and that sound of terror became more and more staggered until it was replaced by the silence of the night.  It took me a long time to get back to sleep.  Between my over-active imagination and my staunch passion for the television show Criminal Mind’s, I’m sure I had created over 200 plausible crime scenes by the time I finally nodded off.

I can only hope whatever predator was outside has moved on to a new hunting ground. And I sincerely wish we will not have to, ever again, listen to the unfortunate nocturnal requiem of the untimely death of wildlife that once felt safe to roam through our woods.

Walking in a winter WTF?

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Dear Mother Nature and Old Man Winter,

While I can appreciate your exuberant spirit this time of year, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my lack of sharing your enthusiasm to the extent at which you seem so willing to share with the rest of us.

Although I too enjoy a white Christmas, your overwhelming desire to coat the world in an abundant layer of winter frosting has become exaggerated to the point of becoming meddlesome.  The charming Northern snow globe in which we reside has been clamped into a paint shaker and set to convulse at an alarming rate, leaving us armed with nothing but shovels and good intentions.

Similar to Anthony Michael Hall’s geeky character in The Breakfast Club, I have been assigned the task of writing a letter on behalf of the disgruntled local residents who share my sentiments.

I could write an essay telling you how much this ridiculous amount of snow is defining our lives, but it wouldn’t matter.  You would still see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. Through this barrage of lake effect snow and churning vortexes of flakes, you found out that each one of us is a brain for surviving the storm, a princess for not wanting to drive in it, a criminal for stealing a few extra minutes hiding under the covers, an athlete for shoveling for three days straight and a basket case for forgetting all those other things and thinking it is still beautiful outside.

morning

Does this answer my question?  No.  But I certainly feel a little better having rested between the previous and the next battle with the effing shovel.

Sincerely yours,

The Winter Club

PS: I had to cancel my appointment to get my snow tires on because of you two!