Notes from the Swamp

I'm writing this from the bottom of Lake Ontario. The swampy part. Sounds weird? Allow me to explain...

This weekend, the remnants of hurricane Ike came up this way, with cloudy skies and rain and when it wasn't raining, it was building up to the rain. And then building up some more, saturating the air with so much moisture it dampened your skin. As the gods had also seen fit to manufacture a humidex, for the first time in several weeks, the combination of clouds brewing rain, warm-ish, yet not sunny had me feeling clammy to the point that I felt ready to grow moss on exposed appendages. Well, on Saturday, anyway - Sunday, it was sunny enough to kick temps to a humidex of 37 (98-99F), which added sweaty to the clammy. Enter the part where TCHC management has decided to turn off the A/C a full 10 days before the City of Toronto bylaw mandates heat must be provided, living in an incredibly tight building that holds on to whatever is in it as greedily as Scrooge McDuck guards his gold and not only was I feeling a tinge of green on my arms and feet, my entire apartment felt like it was on the edge of a marsh. Opening the windows only let in more moisture-saturated air and by Saturday afternoon, after a mere 24 hours of it, I was ready to join the cat in the closet, where apparently, there was a pocket of cooler air. Unfortunately, the closet is not wheelchair accessible.

Sitting around in my imaginary marsh has brought back memories of my adolescence in Denmark where water, lakes and the like had starring parts. There was a group of us who were friends and we used to take long walks, me in my manual wheelchair, them pushing. We'd walk for hours, starting in our suburban neighbourhood, old brick houses surrounded by dense, green hedges, and head towards Furesøparken, a lovely grassy area, undulating gently down to Furesøen, a large lake. We went there a lot, it was one of our favorite places and in the summer, around sunset, you'd see the swallows flying there and when they flew low, we knew it would rain the next day.

When we wanted a longer walk, we continued into the woods down by the lake. It was beautiful there, the land belonging to a local member of the Danish aristocracy, a count maybe, and somewhere in these woods, right next to the shore of the lake, was a tiny red house with a thatched roof. My mormor (Danish for maternal grandmother) grew up there, one of 10 children and I was ever amazed that the tiny house could hold that many people. Life was tough back then - she told stories of ice on the comforters in the winter, of being sent into service at age 14 where she was told to butcher a calf, but not knowing how and rendered incapable by the liquid brown eyes of the animal, she didn't. She also told sad stories, of one of her brothers dying as a small boy and because it was winter, he lay on the porch until the ground thawed enough for him to be buried. Only a small child herself at the time, my mormor would visit him there on the porch until spring came.

Somewhere in those woods was a pond, encircled by trees dipping their branches into the water. I remember a bridge across the pond and walking over it in the dusk on a summer's after-dinner stroll, the pond heavy with lilypads, white and purple flowers dotting the surface and in the spaces between, pond skaters chased their evening meal. I miss the Danish summer nights, never quite dark, north enough that although the sun sets, it does so late and leaves enough light that you feel as if you can stay up all night, in the magic of midsummer and the bonfires of St. Hans.

In the swampy areas like this, there are frogs and one of our neighbours had a tiny pond in the backyard filled with them. One summer, we got some of the frogs’ eggs, about 26 of them, and put them in an aquarium we placed in the hallway window right next to the front door. And for weeks, we'd watch the eggs turn into tadpoles – we only lost two -and then legs grew and the tail receded and before we knew it, we had an aquarium filled with tiny baby frogs that we set free back at the pond.

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