Creative Non-Fiction

Leanne continues to sharpen her writing through participation in a number of writing groups and associations. She is an active member of the Manitoba Writer’s Guild. She is always looking at ways to stretch her imagination and bring her readers along for the ride.

WHAT LEANNE WROTE

Fly Away

The mist sits thick and heavy on our secluded bay. As it slowly lifts, I am held by its beauty and its promise. I watch with anticipation. I’m anxious for the light and warmth of the day, yet also want it to stop, stay just as it is, because I am secure and still in its embrace. The mist, the morning, the day, all emerging in their glory. It’s easy to miss this. To be moving too fast off to the next thing and away from here. It is a rare gift to be still like this.

The Great Blue Heron is here today. I didn’t see her at first, as she blends into the tangled, weedy shore. Revealed, like the day, through the mist. I have a kinship with this bird. Have followed her many times as she shyly wanders in and out of the bay. Her light never dims for me. I watch her now as she stretches, reaching for something I cannot see. I know she will leave again soon and I want to hold her back. I’m not ready to let go, yet at the same time I understand her need to fly.

When I first spotted her, she was standing tall and straight. Unassuming, grey, nearly hidden in the shadows of the towering poplars and pines. Shaded by all the others. Pelicans, ducks and geese, loons, ravens and many other birds, including the eagles. All more visible, more bold. Yet when the heron spreads her great wings and flies in, flies away, she is the most glorious of all. Her grey turning to sky blue, soft like the morning across and edged with the darker hue of dusk.

Flying alone, she is led to her next destination by a guide I do not see.Something that tells her when to soar across the bay, up to the highest tree along the shoreline or down again to rest upon a river island not far away. But far enough away that we miss her as soon as she leaves. The heron flies away in my mind on this day as I crawl along the damp shore, camera in hand. I want to capture this time, this memory before it is gone. I have missed many of these pictures.
Then, as I pause, contemplating the heron’s grace, an eagle interrupts the scene. Eagles are not unusual in the bay, but this setting isn’t right somehow. The heron has boldly landed on the tallest pine tree across the bay. The eagle doesn’t like this. He circles impatiently as the heron raises her beak. Is she taunting him, blind to this danger? Will she get some sense and get away to safety? Get away! I want to shout from my spot on the weedy shore. My knees are soaked as I sit, helpless to help. To do anything but watch this story unfold.

Nothing happens and I wait patiently. Then impatiently as life calls me away. I have work to do. I stand, glancing over at the foolish heron. As I turn and start up the hill to the cabin, there’s a flash of blue grey. It is the heron but she is straight and thin as she thrusts forward across the sky. Ruffled black and white follows. Eagle. He’s had enough and is pursuing her. I’m stunned at how fast she is. I had no idea she was so strong, so sure. But he’s quick too. They skim past me, out toward the creek, over the rocky ridge and then they are gone.

We do not see the heron again for a long time. Eagles, always the more prevalent in our bay, return often, but I do not know if it is that one. The one who chased my heron out of the bay.
When she does return, she’s changed somehow by her time away. She skirts the edges of the bay, seems to glance more often over at the eagle perched atop the big pine not far away. But she doesn’t bait him this time. Does she remember her close call?

I can’t really tell if she is the same heron and I don’t care, as she spreads her wings and floats across my bay. She is back. She is hope. And I am happy to watch her fly. The End


Cover Up
Inspired by and dedicated to grandma Mary. 

Mary is fit to be tied, the handle of the half full pot of congealed porridge clamped in a death grip as she tears up the stairs in search of Margaret. The waft of perfume assails her as she hits the top stair. Quite a contrast to the overpowering smell of bleach she’s been elbows deep in for much of the day at the hospital. But Margaret’s home brewed perfume is stronger and Mary wonders how it will taste if she gives in to the urge to pour it down her younger sister’s throat. “Peg!” she bellows as she pushes open the bedroom door. The untidy signs of Peg’s beauty regime remain, but no Peggy. Mary looks about, reaches to gather up a lipstick stained tissue off the floor then stops herself. She’s exhausted after her 12 hour shift at the hospital and the long walk home.

She looks longingly at her tidy bed, at odds with the chaos on Peggy’s side of the room. Beyond the rubble, the twin’s bunk attempts to make peace between the two older sisters. The stitched, misshapen bedding has been tucked in neatly as taught to the girls by Mary. Still she notes a few lumps under Dotty’s comforter, likely a pair of wool socks pushed off during the night.  Helen’s bunk up top is as pristine as Mary’s but for a stray candy wrapper poking out from under the pillows.

Mary stuffs the wrapper into her apron pocket and glances at the bedside clock. The older boys and her father will be in from the fields in about an hour. The younger children must be out on some sort of misadventure with her sisters who should have collected them from Pearl next door directly after school. She would have had time to meet up with Oscar for a bit if only Peggy had scrubbed the damn pot for tomorrow’s breakfast. Mary cusses her vexatious sister. As the family all rises early for chores before work and school this is a sacrosanct duty.

Gertie, her mother, had even harped on this today when Mary brought her breakfast at the hospital. “Yes mama,” Mary responded defensively. “Peggy promised she’d do it.” “Hmmph,” Gertie mumbled shaking her head. Mary ignores her mother’s dissatisfaction, reaching to pull the coverlet up around the baby, another boy, in her mother’s arms. Since she has to be at work just after dawn, she doesn’t have much choice but to count on her younger, more beautiful, and mostly uncontrollable sister, Margaret. Lovingly nicknamed Peggy, by the family who all adore her.

With babies coming into the family one after another Mary, the eldest at 17, is in charge of running the large household. Didn’t leave her much time for anything, including Oscar, who runs through her thoughts as she slides down on to her scratchy wool coverlet. Her cheeks grow warm as she recalls his reaction to her new coat. The fabric, given to her by Pearl who knew Mary had a way with a needle and thread, was a set of old drapes that had been destined for the burn pile.

She’d drawn out the pattern, and then risen even earlier than usual to work on the coat. Her stitches were exact as she sewed her dreams into the coat, guided along by her nimble fingers and a lonely candle. When the coat was completed Mary was thrilled with the results. So was Oscar. She met him in their usual spot in the alcove just pass the old barn. As she twirled around, the fabric of her new coat danced along with her. The late afternoon sun glinted off her hair and her beautiful blue eyes sparkled with a promise Oscar hoped she would keep. He had tossed his work gloves aside pulling her close. He liked the scratch of the fabric along his calloused palms. He pressed his lips to where the collar of the coat opened, inviting his kiss along the gentle curve of Mary’s throat. He lowered his gruff voice, pushed through his thick French accent to whisper in English, the words she had waited to hear. “Mary, I…” “NEED YOUR HELP NOW!”

Mary sits bolt upright cracking her head on the shelf above her bed. She winces in pain, a stark contrast to her sweet reverie. Her sister, Margaret is kneeling on the bed in front of her, frantically pulling at her hair with one hand, and shaking a bottle with the other. Her hair is green. Green as the peas waiting to be shelled for dinner.

Mary gives her head another shake, coming quickly back to reality. Peggy is babbling, beyond comprehension, holding up the bottle in accusation. “It says deep auburn with a hint of red!” She holds the bottle up for Mary to read which is impossible in the darkening room. In a panic Mary realizes that it’s now dusk, that she’s late preparing dinner and that Wilfred, her father, will be on the warpath. She has felt the consequences of Wilfred’s wrath before. She ignores her sister as she jumps off the bed heading for the stairs.

Then they hear it. The heavy tread of their dad’s footsteps at the bottom of the stairs. The sisters’ eyes lock and Mary begins to back away from the door. “Mary! Margaret! There better be a damn good reason that supper isn’t on the table. And the fire’s low! And the little ones are in the flour!” This is punctuated by a loud squeal from either Eddie or Art. There’s a pause. Peggy bounds off the bed causing the old mattress to groan audibly, alerting Wilfred to the girls’ whereabouts. His steps grow heavier as he makes his way up the stairs. The steps ring out in the darkened house like hammers, one after another.  Bang. Bang. Bang.

They are so in for it. Mary glances this way and that and her eyes land on the pot of gummy leftover porridge sitting accusingly beside the bed. She grabs her sister, pushes her down on the bed and promptly pours the pot of muck over her pea green head. “Ah! What the –“ Peggy protests to which Mary responds by fiercely wiping the sleeve of her battered work dress across Peggy’s painted lips, removing all signs of Ruby Red.

Just then Wilfred flings open the door, nearly knocking it off its hinges. He barrels into the room. And stops short. Mary is scrubbing what appears to be day old porridge over his second daughter’s head. The cereal is dripping everywhere, running down Peg’s delicate features all over her pretty dress and onto Mary’s usually tidy bed. Peggy winces in pain.

“Papa, Peggy has the lice and I learned from matron at the hospital that porridge is a sure way to be rid of it.” She smacks Peggy’s head as she meets his questioning look.

“Thought I’d better get to it right away before the little critters get the rest of us!” She gives herself a firm push away from Peggy’s lathered head, wipes her hands on her old smock and heads for the door, brushing past her father, who’s still stunned into silence. She cringes, not sure what he’ll do, but she needn’t worry.

Everyone knows that Mary never tells a lie. If Mary says it’s lice, it’s lice. And if a scrub with the morning’s breakfast will take it way, so be it. “I’ll get dinner on papa, right away,” she says. “Some nice peas and green beans with the salt pork just the way you like it.” She turns pointedly back to her sister.

“Peggy bring the pot down will you.” She pauses, meeting her sister’s dripping, grateful stare. “It needs a good soak.”  The End


The Real Power of Repurposing

It appears that “Green” really is where the money is.  We are now an eco-everything society and that’s a good thing.  I try to use the most environmentally friendly products I can but I’m sometimes stumped by cost or lack of availability (strangely I run into this the most in our summer lake community!). We compost at home and at the cottage and limit our use of non-recyclable products. Most importantly, we are teaching our offspring to be good, responsible citizens – and they are! My work here is done. Um not quite.

Our lake life has given us a whole new avenue to let loose all of our recycle, reduce, reuse…and repurpose fantasies.  At one time, taking other peoples’ old stuff was a necessity if we wanted chairs to sit on or beds to sleep in at our home away from home. Our friends, family and neighbours gave and gave. And we took and took. And the cast aside swing set became a rickshaw for hauling wood. And the warehouse storage shelves became our refurbished kitchen. The futon (handed down twice over) has been transformed into our kitchen island.  The wood from our neighbour’s torn down garage (reclaimed moments before it was hauled away to landfill) became our outside biffy, son’s fort and just recently, finishing on the roof to our cabin addition. Our boat is a 1975 refurbished Alumacraft with a new cover, custom built for us by a close relative.

The cabin itself is a decommissioned school mobile. Most of its windows have been replaced by those pulled out of my mother-in-law’s house when she replaced hers. It has a glorious purple door that came to us from friends along with various random shelves and bits of furniture scattered throughout our grateful rooms.

There’s a theme here.  My partner Mike or I now get regular calls or emails that all have the same plaintive tone with just a twinge of hope at the end: “Hey, I have a ______ I’m getting rid of. Can you use it?  (What they really mean is “Will you take the dang thing off my hands?”)

The fact that everyone gives us a chance to reclaim the glory of these cast-offs before they are tossed into to the back lane or landfill thrills me on many levels.  No, I’m not a collector of meaningless knick-knacks. I don’t do garage sales and I always part with my own junk when its time has come. What warms me up on this topic is the fact that our inventiveness has integrated our community into almost every square inch of our second home. The people who give us these things feel really good about it because they know their “gift” won’t become junk — even if it already is!  If we take it, it’s with a purpose in mind.

So here it goes — our top 10 tips for purposeful repurposing:

  1. Be inventive

  2. Before you throw or say no, ask: Can you or someone you know fix it? Can you or someone you know use it?

  3. Never think it’s junk

  4. Take pride in reclaiming it

  5. Dream of the possibilities

  6. Create a giving community by giving and taking

  7. Look for opportunities

  8. Finish it

  9. Love it

  10. Live by the words…and now for something completely different.

If nothing else, this approach to repurposing will save you tons of money and provide some great conversations around the camp fire. Your reclaimed treasures will become more and more beautiful in your eyes every time you share their stories. The End


Skills
Writing, writing, writing, writing, writing,