Thursday, 12 May 2016


Flirting with Distractions

Sunday night we made like Horton and went to hear who’s left of the Who. The band’s 50-year-old pop art brand is bigger than Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, the quartet’s two surviving members who would probably prefer to tour billed simply as Pete and Roger if business and marketing allowed. The elephant in the hockey rink was the incineration of Fort McMurray and its boreal environs. Some of the 80,000 evacuees were housed nearby on the Northlands fairgrounds. After more than two hours of performance and 22 songs Roger said to his Edmonton audience, ‘I hope we’ve provided some distraction.’ Yes, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll and thank God for it.

The Who did not sell out. Pete acknowledged that the concert had been postponed for six months and he thanked us for hanging on to our tickets. The Who have remained massive despite decades of intermittent activity and certified and possibly certifiable legends do not face the twilight from a stage under a tent in a casino on First Nations land. Our tickets were expensive. For too many Albertans a rock show is now an unaffordable luxury. We are mired in bleak economic times. Money talks louder than a Hiwatt amp when paying bills and buying groceries.

Ann and I are incredibly fortunate because the bust and the Old Testament parade of drought, wildfires and high water have not yet aversely affected our provincial circle of friends and relatives. Our sense is that, despite perceptions, Alberta is more than a one-trick tar sands pony - even if 44 years of Tory rule and Mother Nature conspired to leave the barn door open. Part of the plight is pixilated and partially manufactured: there’s no flight from the hard news cycle nor the karmic, conspiratorial lunatic fringe pissing infected vitriol over social media platforms. All the world’s a stage for everybody now and sometimes I think it should just be left to windmilling guitar players who are crankier and more intelligent than talk radio hosts and twits who tweet.

Tuesday we hit the highway searching for distraction. J&C Gardens is a greenhouse operation located on a range road south and east of a rural community called Beaumont which used to be relatively remote until Edmonton began to sprawl like a spilt barrel of oil. In the gravel parking lot I overheard a woman telling the girl loading her plants into her vehicle that she’s shopped J&C for 30 years, from ‘marriage down to grandchildren.’ In one of the greenhouses Ann showed an employee a picture of last year’s spectacular variegated leafed sun impatiens which she’d potted at the front of our house. Another employee came over to admire the shot. Me, I looked for the charcoal and ginger cat that’s usually curled up asleep on the petunia table; I’m not sure if it has changed its position since last spring, maybe it stretched once.

We flipped the rear seat of the CRV down and loaded the space with bedding plants and flowers. The gardening rule of green thumb in Alberta is to refrain from planting anything prior to the Victoria Day long weekend because of the risk of frost and snow. My hunch is that we’ll be busy with trowels this weekend, seven days early just like last year, as neither cold nor any form of precipitation seems likely. The province is under a fire ban. The sustained drought seems to have compacted the ground. A brick planter abutting the house in the backyard has left a visible line indicating where it used to be. Visiting a neighbour yesterday I tripped over the stark three-inch cliff between his garage pad and his driveway, the entry slope to ours is steeper too. Ann and I have noticed squirrels and birds hanging around our sealed rain barrels; they can smell what’s inside. We are seriously contemplating the purchase of a birdbath. The good news is that in these conditions Killex works as advertised on dandelions.

We drove home through Nisku, the industrial muscle of the oil patch. Normally its roads teem with pickups, fleets flecked with magnetic company graphics and logos. The hotel and energy industry service company parking lots were eerily empty. Nobody was around to buy lunch in any of the fast food restaurants. Everything seemed dusty. Used, unsold heavy equipment sat on the enormous Ritchie Brothers lot awaiting a second chance at another auction. The sign said the public is welcome June 14-15. Anybody need a crane or a larger than life-sized Tonka truck?

This morning was hazy. For the first time we could really smell the northern smoke on the arid breeze. The arborists arrived early and pruned all the dead wood dangling from our trees and thinned out their crowns. The patio screening ‘Wuthering Heights’ scraggle bush permeated with cat piss which reeks on scorching days was cut down; the stump will be ground to mulch. The two birches in the front seem primed to live well beyond their allotted 40 years of living. They are delicate and fussy trees rooted in a less than ideal climate zone but Ann has been a careful tender. A soaker hose now snakes around their bases, the neighbourhood sparrows, chickadees and robins frolic like children dashing through backyard sprinklers; our two tabbies are only mildly interested in all the chirping activity, undistracted from doing something next to nothing. Next month’s utility bill will display a spike in water usage.

It’s all coming together, hot fun in the summertime amid the flowers and the trees. My 30-year-old Coleco NHL Power Play table hockey game is out of storage and has been painstakingly Zambonied with a damp cloth. The Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Rockies live to die another day. Plans are askate for a ‘Welcome Summer!’ patio tournament and barbecue. I’m hearing the Who on the iPod through the Bose dock at maximum volume all evening long. And once we accommodate everybody’s schedules and secure a date, well, if it rains, God, let it rain down on us.

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