Saturday, August 05, 2006


photograph: "Heads Up" - sunflowers near Christ Church, Upper Canada Village © 2006

I can't get enough of Upper Canada Village. The creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway flooded several small towns and thousands of buildings that stood near the river's low-lying shores, and this Canadian Heritage Park was created as an attempt to preserve and commemorate a part of what was lost.

The Village is a re-creation of a typical rural community of southern Ontario in the year 1866. Some of Upper Canada Village's buildings were moved from areas soon to be flooded; others came from nearby towns and are representative of structures from the period; a few buildings are newly constructed using lumber milled at the water-powered sawmill in the Village. To go there is to step back in time (minus the worries of that age, of course).

I love to visit the seamstress or the miller or the cooper; love watching the piglets run free. I smile and nod approval to the gardener in one of the healthy-looking, weed-free vegetable gardens, note the goldenrod-dyed hand-spun wool yarn at the weaver’s, and admire the beautiful quilt being pieced in one of the log farmhouses. I sniff in the smell of freshly sawn boards at the water-driven mill. The St. Lawrence River flows nearby, the sun is ripening this summer’s abundance of apples and pears, and for an afternoon I forget about global warming, oil dependence and wars.

Friday, August 04, 2006

On My Nees

Men take their names for granted, and why shouldn’t they? They’re given a name at birth, and 99+% of them keep it until death. I have only known two men who changed the surname they were born with. The first was one whose grandfather had sired only female offspring. Realizing that his own family name was about to peter out (there’s an interestingly appropriate phrase...), this man asked one of his grandsons (who had a male offspring) to take the legal steps to assume that family name. The other name-changing man did what seemed to be quite a modern – and unique - take on marital name assumption: he and his wife combined their two surnames into a whole new spelling, the marriage creating a new identity for both.

The idea that a woman should “take her husband’s name” undoubtedly goes back to the fact that women have generally been considered the property of men: don’t let them own property (the first state granted women the right to hold property in their own name, with their husbands’ permission, in 1839), don’t let them vote (true in this country until 1920), and be sure they are labeled so that others may know which man makes their decisions for them (still true in too many cases!).

In 1967, in the style of countless brides before me, I marched down the matrimonial aisle, said I did, and signed my new name on the license. I was now Young Woman Jones, nee Wizard. Simple, no hassle identity change – or perhaps theft. It was accomplished by a minister, a minister who would later be thrown out of his church for his anti-Vietnam War views, not for legalizing a bad marriage.

Divorce followed, but even though I was single again, I remained Young Woman Jones, nee Wizard. Admittedly, Jones was easier to spell than Wizard had been.

I married again, this time quite happy to dump the Jones surname and take on the name of my beloved second husband: Young Woman Smith, nee Wizard. The marriage and the name stuck.

About five years ago, I became interested in tracing my ancestors. I realized how many things I had never asked my parents about their roots and set about trying to find the answers. It has been an interesting search, and it has led to an interesting result. As I uncovered more and more of the history of all the “greats” and “great-greats,” a sense of identity emerged. I am now Older Woman Smith, nee Wizard, but the name just isn’t who I really am.

My mother’s family had been early American colonists, Quakers who were banished to Canada in the late 1700s because they refused to bear arms during the Revolution; my paternal grandparents were Austro-Hungarian immigrants. I tried on various combinations of my parents’ surnames with my given name, first favoring the simpler-to-spell maternal name, but somehow that didn’t feel balanced. I divided a piece of paper with a vertical line, wrote my father’s surname at the top of the left-side column and my mother’s surname on the right side. Beneath the name on the left, I listed my traits, talents, abilities etc. reasonably attributable to my father; on the right, those things about me that seemed to have been inherited /learned from my mother. To my surprise, the lists were quite equally weighted. There was my answer: I would use my given name with both of my parents surnames, however clumsy and hard to spell it might be.

I tried it on, and it fit comfortably. That is who I am. I still have trouble writing it, and I still have not gone through all the legal steps to make the change official, but I am using my new “old” name. It feels really good to be off my nees.

Across Lake Champlain

It seems like a good day to showcase the beauty of the North Country. Here's a view across Lake Champlain toward the Adirondack mountains. Photo © 2006 by

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Last weekend my daughter took a three-day break from her job as a home health-care nurse. She works hard, caring for a number of people who are almost invisible to the rest of us. They all have health problems far greater than our headaches and elevated blood pressure readings, scrapes and head-colds. To her family and friends, they are nameless and have no addresses, known only to us as “a client” in one town or another in this vast area we call The North Country. They must live in urban locales too, where city nurses change their dressings, give their daily enemas, administer their drugs and treatments and at times provide their one link to the world beyond a bedroom or hospital bed installed in a living room or den. She has kept them alive, and sometimes she has seen them die. She has seen the best and the worst of families, of humanity, and she must wonder at the unfairness of life.

My daughter took a three-day break from her job, and during what might have been a wonderful time with her son and companion, she suffered a medical calamity and was taken by local rescue squad to the nearest hospital. Preliminary tests are encouraging, but she doesn’t yet know how her life may be impacted by this illness.

My prayer for her is that the medical people treating her will be the kind of loving and caring doctors and nurses that she herself is. She deserves no less. And of course I want her to be all right. I love her very much.

Max the Bull/Goodbye, Childhood

Max must have come of age gradually, changing by imperceptible increments over several months. I was caught off guard the day I noticed his gleaming eyes and the testosterone-driven threat he posed, for gone was the cute, playful calf, and here was a powerful mass of muscled, hostile, black and white bull. The idea of a breeding program based on live stock rather than artificial insemination suddenly seemed like a really bad idea: looking at Max, I couldn’t imagine how any human could facilitate courtship between him and the ladies of the barn without risking life and limb. The owner of the farm apparently had come to the same conclusion, because not long after my barn visit, a phone call was made and Max was trucked away to meet his McDonalds.

It was a long time ago - and I’d lived a few more years than Max - when a similar sort of thing had happened to me. One hot, sunny day in 1956, I was lying on my stomach in a pile of straw; facing me was a blonde, sun-tanned boy. The other kids had gone home for lunch, but the two of us stayed, resting under the summer sky at “the fort.” For reasons not understood then, it suddenly felt so good to be near that blonde, sun-tanned boy... Probably – like Max – I had been gradually, imperceptibly changing and didn’t realize it, and – also like Max – my life would never be quite the same again. It was nothing more than a new awareness, but that day marked the end of my childhood, the day the “Tom-boy” I had been for ten years was sent off to meet his McDonalds.

And by the way, this story is true - no bull.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hummingbird Moth (and Hummingbird for comparison)

Bugs are interesting (as long as they aren’t eating your fruit or vegetable gardens). Here’s a photo of a Hummingbird Moth. After being a yellowish-green caterpillar with darker green lines and reddish-brown abdominal spots and a yellow tail horn, it has a wing-span of about 1 ½ - 2 inches and – in its flight stage – lives the lifestyle of a HummingBIRD.