Riding my bike in the morning helps me clear the cobwebs and heavier things out of my head. It also gives me a chance to really observe things in my neighbourhood. For instance, this time last year I had only been retired a few months and I was in Colorado working on a dig so this year is the first September I’ve had in a very long time where I’ve had the opportunity to really see things in the fall. I think I’ve been aware almost forever that squirrels at this time of year are bustling around putting away little treasures for those long winter months when snow blankets the ground making food scarce for them but I realize I’ve never actually observed them. Wow! They’re everywhere. And you really have to watch out for them when you’re on your bicycle because they’re rather indecisive little creatures — they sense the danger, look, start off in one direction, then change their mind and their direction, and take longer to scurry up a safe tree than if they had just stuck to their first impulse. Not that my bike is anywhere near them anyway and I’m not keen to run over a bulky little bustling rodent in the first place. It reminded me, though, of a sign they have up in Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Colorado — Please drive slowly — our squirrels can’t tell one nut from another!
There’s a long, narrow pond tucked away in a spot that isn’t much used since it’s right near a railway switching yard and traffic isn’t allowed through so it’s pretty protected. I had no idea it was there until I started biking past. I’ve seen some mallards and some beautiful blue heron (which you don’t often see in the city), enjoying the water and the peace and quiet in there.
Something I noticed this morning for the first time is a whole area just off Walkley and Conroy Rds. here in Ottawa that is fenced off and full of bushes, plants and trees that appear to be exactly the environment required for Monarch butterflies. There is an entranceway with gates so I guess the area gets tended by someone on a fairly regular basis and it’s really neat to see that this is being done. I got to wondering if children from a nearby school had set it up or if it was done by the city. I’m going to try to learn more about it as it has peaked my curiosity.
Yesterday, I walked up to the nearby community center to enquire about a pay-as-you-go fee to use a bicycle in their gym as the mornings are pretty cold these days (7°C/44°F) especially first thing. It turns out it isn’t city run and I thought their fee was a bit high (I didn’t think to ask for a senior’s rate, though, so I may go back and enquire again) but they have a little used bookstore there and I bought two paperbacks for a buck each. Combined with my walk there and back, that was a good deal in my book.
One of the books is by Canadian children’s writer Jean Little. If you aren’t familiar with her, she was born in Taiwan in 1932 to medical missionary parents working there with the United Church of Canada. At birth, her eyes were scarred but by the time she was two, the scars had shrunk somewhat and she was beginning to see. In her autobiography Stars Come Out Within, she was 26 years old and beginning to teach a class of five handicapped boys in a schoolroom she created in a large, unused space within the Guelph Crippled Children’s Centre. The children were curious about her eyes and wanted to know how much she could see:
I can see the same things you can — the walls, the windows, you, Rose, the easel. But I can’t tell what colour your eyes are. I can see the trees out that window, but I can’t see the separate leaves. I can read, but only if I hold the book up close. When I was a little girl, my mum was always sending me to wash the printer’s ink off my nose — especially if I’d been reading comic books.
She was 30 when she published her first book, Mine For Keeps, a story about a little girl with cerebral palsy and a dream of living with her family instead of in a rehabilitation centre. It was shortly after the publication of that book that, after several operations, Ms. Little lost her left eye to glaucoma. She has never lost her determination to write realistic stories about children. She has written more than 40 books to date and has been an adjunct professor at the University of Guelph teaching children’s literature. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. She now writes with a talking computer and has a seeing eye dog. Her writing is candid and touching. She has written two autobiographies, the other is called Little by Little.
The book I found at the community centre is called Willow and Twig. It’s about two native children who have been, well, dumped with an older lady while mother takes off despite the fact that she is on parole and not supposed to leave Vancouver. Willow is basically care-giver for her younger brother who was born addicted to drugs and has some serious behaviour problems as a result. I was quite a way into the book before the details came out that these children were aboriginal and I was surprised at the similarities between the lives of these two youngsters and the early life described in the autobiography I’m reading, A House In the Sky. Amanda Lindhout was born in Alberta, Canada and she begins her story at the age of 9 when she was living in Sylvan Lake north of Calgary. Her parents had split, her father entering a gay relationship and her mother living on a low income job and in a relationship with a much younger native man with an alcohol problem. Amanda’s escape was through the exotic, enticing photos in National Geographic magazines she bought 2nd-hand with money earned from bottle returns collected from dumpsters by her and her older brother. Willow’s escape is through her conversations with an imaginary friend, a red velvet mouse. I’ll be finishing these two books soon and tell you more about them.
The other book I picked up is from a series called A Caribbean Island Eco-Adventure and it’s by author John Dowd. This one is called rare and endangered. I’m looking forward to reading it in the near future. It looks pretty good, judging from the hissing leopard and the colourful parrot on the cover.