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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Summertime Blacks and Blues

July 1, 2003

Well, jeez, I know it’s been somewhat chilly and grey and windy but it can’t all have been bad, else why am I  all red and peel-y and scabby?  Must have soaked up some rays some where.  In fact, I’ve managed to get out and about this summer more than ever before and if you’re wondering why this little monthly effort is late yet again, it’s for that reason: I’ve been out and doing and I can’t be getting both this, and that, done.

But my editor and mentor, Brett Chandler, never very sympathetic when I come moaning and bleating about my muse having gone AWOL, came up with the answer to this month’s dilemma when he suggested cross-sectioning my activities and presenting them for your edification and entertainment.  Well, what he actually said was “If you don’t have a solid anything, give ‘em bits and pieces.  We’ve got a hole to fill…” I know he didn’t mean that the way it sounded.  I know he values my sometimes  twee little contributions to his precious Web page.  I know I should have been able to control the tears.  But sometimes, this is so HARD, you know?

I should tell you of the discovery I made while I was dealing with the tears, utilizing the down-time by cleaning the stickers and labels from books being returned.  I’d been up to my elbows in Kleenex, some for wiping my eyes and some for wiping up the lighter fluid I was using to dissolve the adhesive, and as I cleared  the counter of crumpled tissues, I noticed several  dried coffee stains at the back of my station.  Eschewing the tear-and-mucus  dampened paper,  I selected instead a tissue that bore the distinctive gassy odour of  Rosonol, and swiped at the coffee rings.  Nothing happened.  I leaned harder and scrubbed.  Nothing.  Hmm.  I squirted a puddle of lighter fluid onto the coffee, rubbed at it with my finger and checked again.  The dried coffee remained untouched.  Thought fully, I gingerly chose a teary tissue, wiped it over the stain and scrubbed it clean.

Why?   I don’t know.  If someone out there does, I’d like to hear from you, the question being, why would a tiny bit of dampness, abeit saline dampness, clean away the coffee when a whole puddle of  lighter fluid (FLUID being the operative word, here) wouldn’t touch it.  As the King admitted to Anna, “Is a puzzlement.”

Having shared the foregoing with you has made me feel better.  Not smarter, but better, just for having begun.   And I should probably keep the pot boiling by telling you that, going with the not-smarter thing, I did some hiking up on Grey Mountain this summer.  Always wanted to do that, though I’m not sure why.  Must be some hardy little gene that couldn’t be completely smothered by a lifetime of peanut butter and chocolate ice cream, a wild chromosome with an inherent instinct to seek the higher ground.  I don’t know why it couldn’t have just struck off on it’s own, leaving me at home with my ice cream and new Jennifer Crusie paperback,  but I guess that was just too much to ask, and one day, there I was, gasping and huffing and hoisting my considerable bulk ever upwards in a quest to just get to the TOP of the bloody thing.  

Actually, it was a pretty fun thing to do, the huffing and puffing aside. At least, going up was.  I had great companions: nephew Neil and his Jean, their children Alan and Amanda, all up visiting from Abbotsford, and my youngest granddaughter, Jamie, home-grown and underfoot most of the time.  Chatting and laughing and thoroughly enjoying being together in this time and place, we romped to the top  of that old grey heap of rock. That is to say, some of us romped, straight up and over all obstacles in our path, while the rest of us, oh alright, while I zigged and zagged,  seeking the oblique rather than the vertical, my adventuresome little gene not being of much help in the practical application of effort.

I don’t think we ever accomplished our goal, which was to get to the highest point.  We gave it our best shot but no matter how high we were, there always seemed a point slightly above us.  But it was breathtaking.  Magnificent vistas, valleys and mountain ranges marching off in all directions.   There was a surprising depth of black dirt everywhere and an abundance of wildflowers , moss campion and forget-me-not and mountain avens and scorpionweed, as well as whole little eco-systems snuggled cheek by jowl with the occasional patches of snow that provided fuel for impromptu, delightful, and totally unseasonable,  snowball fights. 

We stopped for a lunch at the highest point we felt we could reach,  and afterwards, I clambered up on the clean-swept rock that had served us as a table and felt the master, OK, mistress, of all I surveyed.  Even that wild little gene seemed to be resting easy.   In retrospect, I have to wonder if the urge that had brought me to the top of Grey Mountain wasn’t nagging at me to go higher because in its evil wee heart, some atavistic memory was reminding it that what goes up…right you are…  must come down.  And man!  It was a long, long was back down to the car.

You’ve heard it a hundred time from a hundred different people.  “It’s not going up that’s tough.  It’s coming down.”  And every time, you looked at the speaker and thought, yeah, RIGHT. What a heap-a hooey!  Friends, I have to tell you:  “It’s not the going up that’s tough.  It’s the coming back down.”

Oh, I’d felt the stress ands strain of the climb.  My poor arthritic knees had screamed for mercy, a full breath of air had been at a premium, the old pump-station had wobbled the job more than a few of times, and I was pretty badly sunburned, into the bargain.  But five minutes of rest and some cooling lotion daubed over my rosier parts and I’d been back on my feet, rallying the troops, well, the troop, onward and upward.  Ten minutes on the top, a bite of lunch and swig of  aqua vita and I was primed and ready for the return trip, after all, that coming down thing, just a buncha BS, right? Wrong.

I had not take a half dozen steps down the hill when I knew I was in trouble.  From the top of my hip to the middle of my calf, I just seized up, solid.  No joints there, uh-uh, I moved my leg, swinging from the waist, nothing hinging until I got to the ankle and they weren’t feeling any too limber, either.  And with no bending, there’s no flexing to accommodate the holes and the gullies and the patches of mud or snow.  And with no bending, no flexing, there’s pain.  Lots of it.  And it was all mine.

The youngsters took off at a dead run down the mountain.  “Be careful,” I called after them.  “It’s harder going down.”   I guess they didn’t hear me because when I finally limped up to the car, they were still practicing their climbing skills on trees and rocks and anything that would stay still long enough to be assaulted.  Jean had progressed down at a steady and easy pace; apparently, she’d not heard me either.  That left me to make it down as best I could.  And Neil, of course, who faithfully remained behind to keep me company and lend a hand on the tough parts.  I urged him to go on ahead but he refused to leave, even said he had a sore calf himself and wanted to take it a little slower.  The way he kept looking at me out of the corner of his eye, I think he was assessing the possibility of having to pack me out like a side of moose if I shut down altogether.  Just between you, me and the gatepost,  I also happen to know there was no way in the world he was going to go home and have to confess that he’d  had to abandon his father’s favourite sister up on top of Grey Mountain.

After the Grey Mountain Caper, I was content to keep my adventuring to a minimum for a while, working on my greenhouse, actually, the Phil Davignon Memorial Greenhouse, *grist for another column, and messing with my flowers and weeds out front, I TRULY am not much of a gardener.   See *.

But not only have I had some recuperating to do, it being a typical summer in the bowels of  the Mac’s building, all of us have  just that-much-too-much more to do than we actually have time for, all these extra hours of daylight, notwithstanding.  Makes for stress of its own and a tendency to grump or burst into tears (remember my reaction to Brett’s imagined slight?)  but it also leads to outbursts of  inappropriate and inordinate giddiness that sometimes borders on hysteria.

When I joined the Mac’s staff, I brought from my former life a unique talent.  I may have mentioned this before but I want to tell you again.  In the old lodge at Johnson’s Crossing I honed an ability for picking just exactly the right sized dish for leftovers, to an art that many said was a joy to behold.  And when I began my career in the front lines at Mac’s, I utilized that gift by selecting without hesitation and without exception, the perfect bag for the book or magazine I had sold. 

In the fullness of time, I was promoted to the Basement, there to eventually become a Shipper-Receiver-Mail-Person-Returns-Clerk-Assistant-Special-Orders-Map-Queen-Mother-Dishwasher and General-Dogsbody.  As you might realize, in the course of my day, I get to utilize my unique gift but not as often, nor with as good effect as I did for my admiring audience at the front counter.  But last night…last night I gave an exhibition that rivaled the pot of stew I’d decanted into the green bowl after the last Stanley Cup game in 1983, and is still talked about today.

I had a couple of Flora of the Yukon to mail out, honkin’ big paperbacks by Bill Cody, heavy and awkward.  Amalie and Deb had been working on some mailouts and we’d been discussing the problems of  the day.  Without really looking, I picked a box out of the slag heap, eyeballed it and the books, put it on the counter and from a height of about a foot, and without missing a beat of the conversation, I dropped the books neatly into the box, filling it without a millimeter to spare in any direction.  It was so quick and so neat and took us so gob-smacked that we simultaneously burst into uproarious laughter that quickly degenerated into the hysteria I mentioned earlier.  It was so perfect, don’t you see, the books and the box  and the….

Oh well, I guess you had to be there.

There may be no cure for the Summertime Blues but a perfect container will do it for me every time.

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