City Mouse, Country Mouse

I haven’t thought of myself as a city girl for a long time, even though I was born and raised in the city.  The neighbourhood we live in now could almost be described as rural. There is no shopping mall, and only one grocery store. There are no fences – regal trees that tower like gentle giants separate our properties, offering privacy and shade in the summer. There are no sidewalks or street lamps either. On dark winter nights, the moon, the stars and the glistening snow  light my way home.

We moved here almost two decades ago to board our horses at a nearby barn and ride the beautiful, forested network of trails. We stayed because we grew to love the small-town lifestyle.

Unlike us, my friends love the vitality of city life. They love the cafés, museums, street concerts, noise and energy of streets teeming with people.  So much, that now that their kids have left home, a few have made the leap and bought units in the condo towers sprouting in the city. They kept their homes in the suburbs for now and have the best of both worlds, spending a little time in each.

Their condos are new, modern and beautiful. They have gyms and common areas worthy of a décor magazine spread. And the heart of the city beats at their doors.  “It’s great!” they say. “Plus you don’t have to worry about cutting the grass in summer or shoveling snow in winter.”

I’m uncomfortable in crowds and I get antsy when I don’t have a clear view of the skyline from the ground. I don’t enjoy shopping and we eat out only occasionally. But I do miss being close to my friends and family and their rave reviews had me doubting what I should want at this stage in my life.

“Maybe we should think about moving to a condo in the city,” I said to my husband. I knew the suggestion would be strongly rebuffed and he didn’t disappoint. Still, I kept toying with the idea. Then COVID-19 hit and we had to shelter-at-home.

Our house isn’t big, but the design makes good use of space. The rooms are airy and comfortable. We each have our own home office. If we want to watch different TV shows, one of us can stay in the living room and one can go to the basement. We can drink our coffee in the back yard in the morning and enjoy a glass of wine on our front porch in the evening. It’s well-used, can use some updates, but it’s comfortable and it makes quarantine bearable.

I started reading about condo dwellers who usually stepped into their homes only at the end of a long day. Suddenly, hundreds of them were home all-day, every-day, in the units of their multi-storied condo complexes. The beautiful common areas, pools and gyms were shut tight.  Noise complaints and wi-fi demand surged. Going outside meant stepping onto a small balcony or taking precautions needed to ride the elevator down to the lobby during a pandemic. That’s when I realized that COVID-19 was teaching me something about myself.

For many people, these are minor inconveniences during an exceptional time.  A small price to pay for a safe but temporary way of life. But I would feel trapped and even more miserable during this exceptional time. I am just not ready for condo life in the city, at least not yet. So until further notice, this country mouse will stay right where she is.

Cresting the hill (or flattening the curve)


This post was written in response to daily prompts provided by Jibber Jabber with Sue for Day 27 (hill) and  Day 28 (support)

For almost three months, we have been hearing about “flattening the curve”.  All over the world, politicians and scientists are talking about it, their words supported by graphics of curves in different colors. The captions differ depending on the point they are trying to make but include:  1) With protective measures; 2) without protective measures; 3) Healthcare system capacity, etc.

But those curves look like hills. And we have all been fighting our way uphill, hoping to reach the crest and make it safely down the other side, all the while looking behind us for an invisible enemy. And finally, finally, we are close. They say the enemy will be with us for a long while, but we have learned how to fight to keep it at bay.  Our weapons are not guns or bombs; they are masks, gloves and, most heartbreaking of all, staying at a distance from each other. But we can do this; it is manageable until a permanent solution is found. Except we now have a new enemy that is possibly more dangerous: those who refuse to take up arms and instead choose to endanger their own troops.

Is it comfortable wearing a mask? No. The first few times I wore one, I felt silly and self-conscious. Now, with the warm weather here, it feels like breathing inside a sauna. It’s not that big a deal, though, if it means protecting others and myself when I’m in a public place. What’s even stranger is to treat and be treated by friends and extended family as if we all might have the plague. The truth is that we could have this newest edition of the plague. That’s how sneaky this enemy is.  It can invade our bodies and spare us while it lies in wait, letting us do its dirty work by infecting those we love the most. And that’s how every one of us can become aligned with the enemy without even knowing it.

So, where do you stand:  With your allies or the foe?





The Wishful Gardener

Hats off to all the gardeners out there – I admire you.  I like the idea of gardening, and every once in a while I get the urge to put my hands in the dirt, pull weeds, and move plants around. After about a half-hour, I get bored, or hot, or bothered by bugs. So I put all the tools back in the shed and go about doing something else.

Part of the problem is that I never have a plan and I don’t know what I’m doing. Despite  that, I did one smart thing when I filled my flower beds years ago. Knowing I was a fickle gardener, I planted hardy perennials like lilies, black-eyed Susans, hostas and – my personal favourite – irises, because only plants who are mostly self sufficient would survive in my care.  And they don’t disappoint. Like loyal friends, the flowers return year after year and fill my front yard with soft coral blooms, bright yellow daisies with velvety brown centres and beautiful greenery. All this with no help from me except for the odd weeding session.

Just because I don’t have a green thumb doesn’t mean I don’t admire the talent of those who do.  Several years ago, we visited the Reford Gardens, also known as the Jardins de Métis. They are recognized as one of the “great gardens” of North America and one of the top 150 gardens in the world. I was fascinated by the sheer beauty and size of the gardens and intrigued by Elsie Reford, their creator.

Elsie was born in 1872 in Ontario to parents of a modest background. After being educated in Montreal, she studied in Paris and returned fluent in both French and German. She married Robert Wilson Reford, a Canadian photographer, art collector and businessman in 1892 and they had two sons. This sounds and is conventional for a woman of that era, but Elsie had an adventurous spirit. She rode horses, hunted, skied and excelled at salmon fishing!

After an appendicitis attack at age 54, doctors told her she could no longer practice her beloved sport of salmon fishing. So, she took on a new hobby – gardening. With no formal skills, she set out to build the gardens that would be her legacy. They took ten years to build and now extend over 20 acres. But there is one accomplishment in particular that makes them stand out.

Photo: Louise Tanguay, Jardin de Métis

Many gardeners thought Elsie was crazy when, in the 1930s, she decided to grow the Himalayan blue poppy from seed.  Her gardens are on the banks of the Métis River in the lower Saint-Lawrence area of Quebec. The poppy is a native of southern Tibet and grows at altitudes of ten to thirteen thousand feet, needs rich, acidic soil and doesn’t tolerate excessive temperatures. Against all odds, she succeeded and the poppy is now the emblem of the gardens.

Elsie Reford died in 1967 at 95 years old. Before her death, in 1961, the Quebec government purchased the gardens to boost tourism in the area.  In 1995 a non-profit created by her great-grandson, Alexander, to ensure the preservation and development of the gardens, bought the gardens.  Alexander is still the Director of the non-profit and oversees the gardens.