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September 23, 2009

The summers of my childhood roll all together into one sweet kaleidoscope of heat. I spin the tube about and see heat’s stillness quiver, shift and split. Bright sounds and colours leap — birdsong and flower petals, open as a thirsty beak. Clip clop. Clip clop. The milkman’s horse trots down the street.

I tilt the tube: white sunlight catches on the leaves of trees and shatters. Fragmented light and shadow intertwine and twirl like dancers to the ground. Upon this green and dappled space a tablecloth is spread. A luscious picnic meal appears. My parents, lounging on the grass, eat plums and laugh, grow briefly young. As we  play about them, we children gorge on apples we ourselves have picked, and carrots pulled that morning from the warm, rich earth.483322_6ae4cb9d31

Soft drops of moisture blur the scene. Of course. The summer heat demands its share of water, whether rain or river, stream or sea. A patchwork quilt of lakes surrounds our leafy town: Chemong and Buckhorn, Sandy, Stoney, Pigeon, Mississauga. We’ve fished and bathed and boated in them all. But my magic tube now chooses to evoke our clear blue river. I see us bobbing merrily along its banks. ‘Otonobee! Otonobee!” we sing. “How we love thee, Otonobee!” And when we reach its sandy beach we tear off sunsuits, plunge into the pure and sparkling water. We splash and shout, we somersault and do the deadman’s float. Too soon, the sun begins to lower in the sky. Grumbling we file out of the river, shaking off water like eager pups, and then absurdly roll our bodies in the hot, white sand. On the way home, pink ice-cream (five cents a cone) trickles down our fronts.

I turn the memory cylinder again. This time it’s dark with hints of glowing red. A shaded bramble patch comes clear. I hear my father’s voice. Time for our berry picking ritual, Dad’s and mine. In this pursuit we have been scratched by brambles, bitten by gnats, burnt by sun and, once, scarily lost. No matter. These are no ordinary berries. They’re rare, rich, wine-coloured gems. Their juices hold the warmth and wildness of the woods and sun. And if we fill our buckets Mother will make a raspberry jelly that wondrously brings the taste of summer in the dead of winter.

And as I sit and muse on summers past and present, it seems that despite having lived three-quarters of a century, even now I long for the touch of hot sun on my skin and the feel of water lapping at my feet. I still love the sound of birdsong in the air, and the taste of those wild berries on my tongue. It seems that this old dame has scarcely changed, though the world around us clearly has. Today, from my balcony the only sound I hear is the constant rush of traffic on the Burrard St. Bridge. The once sweet air is now polluted. As are the waters below. The chirping birds that nested on this balcony for many years have fled; the salmon gone. The climate change is strange and unpredictable.

I have been blessed with eight wonderful grandchildren. I want them, too, to know the beauty of nature in all its intended forms. For them — and for all the grandchildren of this planet — together we will firmly act to reverse these most disturbing trends. Wondrously, human beings are capable of much more than they know.

Photo by Harshad Sharma.

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