Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Summer in the Shire, A Collection of the Best Summer Photographs Taken by Our Friends and Neighbors

I read in yesterday's newspaper the Cloverdale library was sponsoring a display of local photography. The exhibition was titled "Summer in the Shire, A Collection of the Best Summer Photographs Taken by Our Friends and Neighbors".

Normally I'm not one to attend library sponsored events. They tend to be very 'local' if you know what I mean. The last one I attended was an art display of local water color painting. It was dreadful. The artists were on hand (many of them elementary school children), standing beside their water colors, beaming with unearned pride. I found myself in a quandary each time I gazed at those abominations of smeared oranges, purples and greens. Of course, I couldn't say what I really thought if I want to be regarded favourably by the locals. So I lied. I told so many lies that night that I'm guaranteed to have a few extra years of purgatory added to my already long sentence. The artists soaked in my false praise, feeding off each comment like it was summer's clover honey. I made myself ill.

I changed my mind when I read about the photography display and decided to attend. How can one go wrong with photography - unless you go too far down the artsy fartsy path and start messing around with exposure, focal length and of course, subject matter. There was another reason I decided to attend - it is the dead of winter in Cloverdale. It's cold, in fact its down right bitter cold. The cold is accented with snow and ice. Topping the weather are the short winter days. I was in desperate need of a dose of summer's heat and light. I wanted to smell grassy fields and the scent of an approaching summer storm. This summer photographic display would be just the thing I needed to brighten my solemn winter mood.

It was 6:30 P.M. by the time I got to the library. The library closes at 6:30 P.M. I had just stepped into the entry / coat room as the librarian shuffled toward me carrying the key to lock the door.
"I suppose I'm too late to see the photography display," I said. She looked at me over the rim of her reading glasses. I must of looked a right state in the semi dark of the coat room illuminated by one 40 watt bulb. She seemed focused on my dripping nose and unkempt hair (not my fault, the wind was blowing fiercely).
"You look like you need a bit of summer," she said cheerfully. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a kleenex. "Its clean," she said as she handed it to me.
"Yes I do. Can you spare me a few minutes?" I replied before blowing my nose.
She walked behind me, locked the door and waved me through.
"I've got some work to do before I leave so you get yourself a tan. I'll let you know when its time to go." She turned on the bright florescent light fixtures in the small theater and walked away, leaving me alone with these windows into the glory of summer.

The walls of the theater were adorned in absolute beauty. It was my Shire, the Shire of Cloverdale in all its majesty. I enjoyed each photograph. They were really good. Twenty minutes later I walked out with the librarian carrying copies of my favorites pictures purchased from the library's check out desk.

And now, your treat. Cloverdale's Summer as seen through our local photographers....

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Boy in the Red Sweater. Part 2.

Hello Friends,
Yesterday I met a boy wearing a red sweater while walking down a mysterious lane outside of Cloverdale. The boy intrigued me. I was curious about his identity, who his parents were, and why his small community was so secretive.

I was hungry for more information and decided to attempt another encounter by trailing Cloverdale's mailman as he made his daily deliveries. According to my friends at the Pub, a young boy wearing a red sweater picks up the mail every day from the community's dozen or so mailboxes posted side by side on Highway 3.

I finished my morning's responsibilities and parked my car near the "Welcome to Cloverdale" sign on Highway 3. I waited for the mailman. He's punctual so I knew the wait wouldn't be long. At exactly 2:35 P.M. the blue and white mail truck drove by. I followed as the mailman made several stops to fill the roadside mailboxes. After a mile or two I began feeling foolish. Here I was, a grown man, following a mail truck so I could get another glimpse of a resident of The Twilight Zone. I pulled to the side of the road to turn around for home when I saw the boy's red sweater in the distance. He was walking alone down the lane with his hands in his pockets.

The boy stopped near the mailboxes and waited for the mailman. I didn't want to be noticed so I parked on the road's shoulder about 100 yards away. The mailman got out of his truck, dropped the mail into each mailbox, waved at the boy and jumped into this truck to drive away. The boy watched him closely, staying motionless until the mailman was out of sight. Only then did he step cautiously forward. He hesitated for a moment before stepping off the gravel road and onto the asphalt. He walked toward the mailboxes, then saw my car. Our eyes met for a moment. He paused in mid step, turned slightly and walked towards me.

My heart beat an African tribal rhythm, beating faster and faster the closer he came. I instinctively locked the car's doors. Common sense urged me to drive on. Curiosity begged me to stay. My curiosity won and I nervously waited.

He stopped next to the front passenger door and bent down to peer in. Our eyes met. There was no smile, no joy, not even the slightest spark of curiosity. He just stared. I accepted the challenge and stared back. Our eyes locked in mortal combat. A minute later I noticed the first signs of a headache. The pain grew worse as the seconds passed. I felt something dripping from my nose. I broke his gaze to look into my rear view mirror. I had a bloody nose. I found a small dust rag in my glove compartment and held it to my nose. My eyes were off the boy for a few seconds. When I looked up again he was gone. I found him down the road gathering the mail. It was amazing how he covered that distance in just the moment my eyes were off his.

I started the car, made a U turn onto Highway 3 and started back for Cloverdale. My headache disappeared along with the nose bleed a few moments later. I was left again with unanswered questions and a curiosity that wouldn't let me leave this matter alone. This boy in the red sweater and I would meet again - that I was sure of.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Boy in the Red Sweater

The Boy in the Red Sweater.

One early October day I woke up with a bit of time on my hands. It was 7:00 A.M. The house was still. There was nothing on TV. Cloverdale Weekend Television doesn’t start broadcasting until 7:30 A.M. on weekdays. I looked out the window. The sky was heavy with dark clouds. I stepped outside to sniff the air. I thought it might smell of of rain, but it didn't . There was a cool breeze foretelling a storm, perhaps a few hours still in the making. I had a brief window to step through for a nice morning walk.

I put on my walking shoes, found a suitable light jacket, wired up my ipod and set out on a hour’s long adventure into the village and surrounding countryside. The village was coming to life. I said a few “Goodmornings” to the over 60’s streaming down the lanes and avenues on their way to McDuff’s for a their Gabbing Geezer’s Breakfast Club, complete with hot coffee and sticky buns. I noticed that most were wearing their dentures. Then I remembered it was Friday. Friday’s are reserved for “Breakfast Surprises”. McDuff’s like to surprise the Old Timers with something delicious for their final meeting of the week. And since they don't know what it will be, they all think it best to wear their teeth.

The Coastal Express just arrived as I passed the train station. The station was packed with ten or twenty people either arriving or departing. I stopped for a moment to review the morning headlines at the small news stand in the station's lobby before continuing on. Ten minutes later I was outside the village proper, walking down Highway 3.

About a quarter mile outside of town I discovered a mysterious, unnamed, dusty road I’d never seen before. I decided to explore this new, uncharted land. It would be my adventure for the day. .

Fifty steps further I noticed something. The air was absent of sound, except for that of my shoes on the pavement. I turned off my ipod and removed my headphones. I was right, there was no sound. Where were the chirping birds or barking dogs? I felt the wind, I saw the wind moving thought the trees - but didn’t hear it. I continued.

I saw faces in the windows of the few homes I passed. They looked at me intently, as curious about me as I was of them. One older woman wearing a dress of blue with little white flowers watched me from her front porch as I approached. She shook her head ever so slightly the closer I got. I couldn’t tell why. Was she disapproving of my encroachment into their little hamlet or perhaps she was warning me to stop and go back. I hoped to talk. She disappeared behind her front door before I was close enough to talk without shouting. A moment later I saw her in her front window and waved. She closed the curtains.

I noticed something red in the distance coming toward me. I was excited to meet another person on the road. I hoped it would be someone I could talk to and ask about this strange place and its residents.
I saw it was a boy. A boy on his way to school perhaps, yet he had no books or lunch. His hands were in his pockets. His face was stern and unwelcoming. The distance between us shrank as I tried to think of someway to start a conversation. He stared into my eyes, never taking his off mine. We finally stepped up to each other. He stood directly in front of me as if to dare me to continue on.

The road forward was blocked by this young boy wearing a red sweater.
“Goodmorning,” I said in my best cheerful voice. He didn’t respond. He looked right at me and stood, hands in pocket. I heard thunder in the distance. The noise was welcome.
“Look’s like rain,” I continued. “Can you tell me the name of this street?” He shook his head. I could smell rain in the rising wind.
“Can you tell me your name,” I asked. He stared. The quiet was uncomfortable. His staring unnerved me.
“Well, have a nice day,” I said to finish my attempt at neighborliness. I took a step to the left wanting to move on. He blocked my step stopping my way forward.
I’d like to move on,” I said politely. He shook his head no. I saw him blink, then slightly smile. It was barely perceptible.

I heard doors opening in every nearby home. Men, women and children emerged from their dark homes and stood on their porches watching me and the boy with the red sweater. I looked again at the boy. He moved his head up slightly then back down in a gesture telling me to turn around and leave.

Again, thunder accented my intrusion into this twilight zone. The wind picked up speed. Dust blew down the road, swirling at times around the boy and I.

“Well, I’d better go. Looks like rain,” I said. I turned and walked. My pace increased when I noticed the people on the porches were slowly moving in my direction. I felt a drop on my face. I started to jog. A few minutes later I reached Highway 3, turned left and jogged toward Cloverdale. I turned my head and glanced back at the forgotten lane one last time before turning out of sight. The boy’s red sweater was still visible in the distance. He was still there, standing beside the highway near the mailboxes, watching me.

Later that day I asked my local friends about that mysterious lane while enjoying a Diet Coke at the Kicking Donkey. They said that part of the Shire was home to a strange extended family group, recently immigrated from the Ukraine. Their privacy seemed of paramount importance. No one went down that lane, not even the postman. Their mail boxes were lined up side by side along Highway 3. According to my friends, the only person ever seen collecting the mail was a young boy, wearing a red sweater.

That lane leading to the Shire's outer limits intrigues me. I may attempt another breech of its security. Except the next time I'll choose a bright sunny day.