Nobel prize winner Alice Munro is my favourite author. In 2002, when I finished reading another collection of her stories, I was moved to write her a card of appreciation. It read: Dear Alice (may I call you Alice?), Regarding the collection "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" - Unbe-fucking-lievable. You are the master and you can put that on your dust jacket and smoke it.
Alice wrote back. Read the card below to see her reply in her own handwriting. I'll wait...
So my words were on Alice's refrigerator. I was thrilled. I showed the card to everyone and joked that I wished I had a fridge to stick hers on, or at least a fridge door. Someone took that seriously and word went out in our little community that I needed a fridge door and there were several offers. I was afraid people would start leaving their broken down appliances in my yard. I put a note on the gate, "No fridge doors today, please."
Later in the year I felt compelled to write to Alice again when a robin I was caring for pooped upon a book of hers. I took a picture of the robin with the book and mailed it to her with some dumb caption about a book worth shitting on. I meant it as a compliment but sometimes only I get my jokes. The way it was worded it could only be taken as a criticism, and a rude one at that, but I noticed too late. I have always felt bad about that. Maybe it's time to write Alice another letter - we have unfinished business.
Now that Alice is a Nobel Prize winner I've pulled out her card from where it lives between the pages of the Oxford Canadian Dictionary under M and I'm showing it off once more.
No fridge doors please.
People of a certain vintage remember where they were and what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the moment I heard Saturday mail would no longer be delivered in Canada. It was summer and I was a kid in the garden eating peas from the pod. Someone in the house heard it on the radio and conveyed the information. It was sad news. I was afraid we'd lose rural mail delivery altogether. I loved walking out the lane to open the creaking metal door and maybe there would be treasure: a parcel, a postcard, a favourite magazine. There you are out in the sunshine on a country road in your cut off jeans and bare feet, cicada buzz threading the air, and you reach into this magic box and retrieve a surprise. Sometimes in mailboxes with ill fitting doors the surprise you found was a nest full of starlings. My neighbour's mailbox contained a nest so the mail lady tucked the letters carefully beside it each day and the starlings hatched, grew up and fledged. My friend and I would take turns reaching in and the baby birds would swallow our fingers. This is what we did for entertainment in the country.
I love it when people get creative with their mailboxes and spotting one that is attractive or unusual is always fun. So this year I made my own. I kept with a simple design because it works best for packages (hint hint) but had some fun with the painting. It has magnets for a closure and four coats of paint. I will plant daffodils around the base. Nowadays there aren't many letters. Movies from the library's excellent 'Books By Mail' service are my main thrill, plus the occasional internet shopping item, but half the fun is the 12 minute hike through the forest anticipating the surprises that might be waiting in the magic box.
One of my fortes is making scenes with dead mice and photographing them. These mice were killed by friend's cats and left cosmetically perfect. They'd be frozen until their debut. I screwed the camera to a tripod and documented the process of making the picture "the Bath" from beginning to end and here is that photo essay.
A small garden had to be planted. I transferred tiny flowering plants from the bluff and woods and made a garden of different mosses with a backdrop of mint and sweet woodruff. Everything had to bloom on the same day so timing was critical. I nestled the porcelain bathtub into the garden on four smooth stones from the beach and let the plants grow up around it for a couple of weeks so the scene would look natural and lived in. Then I waited for it to bloom.
In the meantime a ladder had to be crafted from an arbutus branch and lashed together. Luckily I am a Girl Guide and can do these things.
The little garden had to be watered every other day by dipping the watering can into the swamp and carrying it up the hill.
A perfect mouse had to be chosen. There were over 30 contestants. I'd been collecting and saving them in the freezer for over a year.
The mouse was glued to the ladder and clamped with clothes pins and bulldog clips until the glue set.
Much hand washing was done throughout the whole process.
Pollywogs were caught to populate the bathtub. Millipedes were wrangled to crawl up a leaf and curl in the moss. The millipedes behaved admirably during the shoot. The pollywogs, however, failed to surface at the required time.
When the garden bloomed there would be two days when it was at its peak. Then I had to wait for the light, so the mouse went into the freezer on her ladder until the right sunbeam came along. Throughout the day I tried different light, each time transferring the mouse and ladder back to the freezer to await the next opportunity. Finally in the evening the sun came through the branches to illuminate the scene perfectly. I clicked the shutter for a minute or two and then the sunbeam was gone and so were the millipedes.
Afterward many hours were spent in post processing on the computer to tweak the colours, crop, and bring light to the parts of the picture I want to emphasize. The picture came out of the camera rather dull but I brought back the colours and the warmth of the light in a program called Lightroom.
To see more mouse scenes look on this site under http://www.raineyroost.com/mice.html
My name is Jay and I caused global warming.
It was the winter of 1996. This was back before we used ominous words like 'global warming' and 'climate change.' We called it greenhouse gasses then but that sounded like a good thing. Who doesn't love a greenhouse? And gas? We loved gas. Gas was good.
I was in my cabin cleaning the kitchen when I found, by smell, a plastic bag that contained the raw bloody juices of a salmon I had cooked a week earlier. I stabbed this nasty fish bag with a fork, held it at arms length, and said, "I am not going to wash this." I walked over to the wood stove, opened the door - and here's where it happened - I threw the stinking plastic fish bag into the flames.
Within the week I began hearing the terms global warming and climate change in the news. No more with the cozy greenhouse gasses, now it was the the real thing, the beginning of the end. It was no longer just a theory, it was happening. What had tipped the scale I wondered. What had been the last straw? Then the hairs on the back of my neck bristled. I remember it so clearly. I was sitting in my green easy chair eating buckwheat pancakes when the answer came to me like a bright and shining bolt of absolute, indisputable truth that I felt to the very marrow of my bones. It was the fish bag.
Obviously I can't take all the blame for global warming. I know that within a trillasecond it would have been someone else who tipped the scale. Global warming was going to happen whether or not I burned a stinking fish bag, but because it was this act that was the final straw I became the unwilling poster child for climate change.
Of course, only I knew this and I kept quiet. Still though, imagine how I felt. I'd turn on the CBC and hear the headlines: Polar bear habitat threatened by global warming. "Oh no," I'd say. "Not the bears." Penguin colonies dying off due to global warming. "But I love the penguins," I'd cry. I felt so bad. I took on all the guilt and shame and sadness. I was global warming's poster child and it was my cross to bear. It had to be someone.
The newspapers never let up. I'd turn on 'As It Happens' on the radio and listen to the horrible things I do to hammerhead sharks and monarch butterflies, the three toed sloth (it got slower), and the lesser-crested jibblywink of Greater Zambozia. The list went on and on and on. I'd even effected the California wine industry. "Oh no," I'd yelp. "Not the grapes, too."
I was so sad. Look at what I'd done to all these poor creatures. I'd filled their good lives with fear and cancer and death. Eventually the news was too much for me. I stopped being sad and instead became irritated. "Enough already," I snapped at the radio. "Stop harping at me. You're always harping at me." There's nothing more I can do to atone. I live in a tiny cabin, I catch rainwater for the house, I use a solar panel, I don't drive, I eat roots and berries. I can't live more simply. I even compost my own shit, for god's sake.
I thought about coming out then. I needed people to know what a blow this had been to my sense of self and maybe they would have a little compassion for the position I was in. I didn't want this job but now that I have it everyone hates me. My self esteem was in the gutter as you can well imagine. There are no support groups for the poster children of global disasters.
But I didn't come out then. I was too scared. I imagined revealing my secret at a press conference in Ottawa. Immediately after I'd be whisked away for an exclusive interview with Peter Mansbridge. He'd smile warmly and say, "I'd like to thank you for coming in to the studio today to talk with me, Ms. Warming. Or may I call you Global?" And, of course, I'd want to be friendly so I'd say, "Just call me Glo', Peter. All my friends call me that." Then Peter Mansbridge, who had seemed so warm and friendly in the green room, would say, "But do you have any friends, Ms. Warming?"
I imagined looking down at my shoes, my lower lip would tremble. "Well, no," I'd mutter. "I'm Global Warming. Nobody likes me." The very first question and Peter had come out on the attack. I was so naive.
There was also my own physical safety to think of. If I came out how would the world treat me? Would I be tarred and feathered? That was a good old fashioned punishment. But of course the tar would be an issue, being a product of oil and carcinogenic. You couldn't champion the environment and then use toxins to do it. Molasses, that may be the solution. Organic Blackstrap Molasses and feathers. But the feathers would likely come from a factory farm and molasses isn't local. Honey, then. Honey and thumb tacks. But the vegans would come out against honey. And the tacks, well, nobody likes taxes. Another committee would be formed, and another, and another, and there would never be consensus. I knew I would be safe. Environmentalists can't make decisions. They're too sensitive.
So I'm coming out now. To hell with all your stupid penguins and polar bears, screw your B.O. emissions or whatever the hell they're called. If the world thinks I'm bad then, dammit, I'll be bad. "Oh but what about the tree frogs?" you breathy environmentalist flakes will say. I don't give a rat's patoot about the tree frogs. Get away from me with all your flapdoodle and hoo haa. You can't hurt me anymore. I can burn you all to crispy bits of long pork and your David Suzuki can't help you now. Where's the DDT, wheres the agent orange? Everyone has a bottle of Round-Up or Draino or Killex in the back of the cupboard under the sink. It's the guilty secret that has been tucked behind the unbleached paper towels and the biodegradable dish soap and the rusty SOS pads for 20 years because you don't know where it should go. Give them to me and I'll spread them hither and yon like a toxic, modern day Johnny Apple Seed. And that moldy foam mattress that's been been taking up space in my shed for 18 years because it's not allowed at the dump? Burn baby burn. When I go to the outhouse I'll drive. And I won't even carpool to get there. I'll burn coal. I'll harpoon whales. I'll squash bees. And I will always, always choose plastic over paper bags.
My name is Jay and I am global warming.
Wayne Rainey - April 15, 1994 - November 3, 2006
He was an amazing cat and he deserves an obituary. Born the spring of 1994 in my lap at a float house in Cocktail Cove, bursting from the loins of his mother the stray who showed up one day all charm and good intentions but failed to tell me she was in the family way. Two days after the kittens eyes opened the mama went hunting. Later I looked in the box where the kittens were all crowded into one corner, frightened and hissing their tiny hisses. In the other corner (kitty corner you might say) was a huge dead mouse. They didn't even have teeth yet and their mama was bringing them fresh kills. I thought they'd all be in therapy when they were older. My mother left dead things in my bed, too, and look how I turned out.
Though he was more of a mouser, in his early days Wayne caught the occasional bird. So when he felt like hunting I would go out and sit with him and say "I will always give you good food, I will never abandon you, and the birds just want to be free like you and me." I put the pictured in my mind and reinforced this daily. Eventually I would find him asleep under a blooming lilac abuzz with hummingbirds.
When a day old orphaned hooded merganser duckling joined our home, Wayne went against instinct and joined the journey. I have no pictured of them together because every time he extended his gentle nose to her she'd go for his eyes. I learned I could trust Wayne implicitly and we have raised many chicks, foundling wild birds, and a deer together. He allowed Beedoop, the baby robin, to share his window shelf, no cage, and they would sit together for hours watching the bluff.
One morning I awoke to Wayne sleeping beside my head with Beedoop asleep on top of him. A baby flycatcher came to us one spring and when I let it out of its enclosure for the day it flew out and landed between Wayne's paws on the bed. I left them there, nose to beak, and went to the kitchen to blanch the morning meal worms.
In my magical backyard I feed dozens of wild birds and Wayne would sit among them. They knew he was on their side and fed around him on the ground, but if another cat came by they would fly into the trees and tick angrily. They differentiated.
He was my best friend (sorry Kathy, you're just my second best friend), my significant other (though not in the biblical sense - he was neutered), and the one who showed me communication with animals is wide open. Anyone can do it. It just requires respect, attention, and curiosity.
When he died I spent the next two days building the meowsoleum. I schlepped heavy boulders from all over to make the walls for the new garden. I lugged huge flat rocks for the stairs leading up to it. I made dirt. I used to think a labour of love was something you did not because you had to but because you wanted to. Now I know it's much more. It's hard work that drives you up through sadness. It's a way to spend grief.
Wayne was sick for a month, though only really uncomfortable in his last two days. The night before his death I wrote about his incredible bird spirit and that I would bury him with feathers. By four a.m. he was gone and I placed him on his window shelf. With only a candle lit I went to my stereo to play the song I'd been singing lately and associated with our experience together. On top of the stereo my flashlight lit up a wren. We watched each other and after a moment I said, "Little wren, I have to put you out." I reached forward and it flew to the desk. I went to get it there and it flew to the shelves and finally came to rest on Wayne's body. I stood before it, now knowing why it had come. I reached out and it let me hold it. I nudged the door open with my foot, opened my hands, and the wren flew up into the starry, predawn sky.
Wayne is survived by Gumby and Pokey (the rescued female African pygmy hedgehogs), Little-Chicken-Who-Loves-Me, Pearl (who spent a month trying to hatch an oyster shell), Flabbergastia, L.B.J. (Little Black Jewell), Spot, Speck, Sam, Our-Lady-of-the-Outhouse, Big Bertha, and Tiny - chickens all. Also Dead-Eye Dick, One-Eyed Wanda and Tail-Free Freddy (damaged raccoons that feed along side the chickens by day, though I wouldn't trust them for a minute after dark), the deer I raised and several grandfawns, Beedoop the robin, herds upon herds of wild birds, me, and these two magnificent ravens who watch over us all.
Twizzler is a frizzle chick. A frizzle chicken has feathers that curl outward. They can come in many types - it is not actually a breed but a type of feather. It is best to breed one with a smooth feathered bird to get durable feathers. Twizzler is possibly a silkie frizzle, also known as a sizzle. At nine weeks old it is starting to look like a male and is pushing out a feather duster tail. I really, really want to keep him so I hope he is gentle and gets along with Gregory Peck.
The egg came from a breeder in town and was hatched by L'il Lulu, the silkie mama pictured below on her chicks. She hatched three others of different breeds, including one that will lay blue eggs.
I don't let my hens hatch their own eggs because I like purebred heritage breeds. My rooster doesn't match anyone but his sister so sometimes I buy eggs from 4-H kids or breeders who raise chickens for show, and put them under my broody hens.
My chickens live about 12 years. My oldest was 13. I never get to go away because I have to look after them. Everything wants to kill a chicken. I've been wanting to get out of the poultry business and be free so I planned to have no more young ones but now with these new chicks I won't be free until I'm 62. It was a moment of weakness that has caused 12 more years of bondage. But I love all 14 in my flock and they make the yard so lively and beautiful. They enjoy their little lives - dust bathing, digging for bugs, lounging in the sun, sipping water - whatever they do they do it whole -heartedly. They live in the moment. So I'll try to keep them safe and see them through.
Jay Rainey is an artist living on an island in British Columbia, Canada.