poetry and prose about place

Archive for April 2012

playing the parlour organ

with 12 comments

Within my grandfather’s house were rooms we were not allowed to enter, except under very special circumstances.  One of these was the parlour.

My ‘need’ to practice the piano allowed me access to this sanctum.  For each day of our vacation, I was allowed to practice on the old pump organ.  The organ belonged to my grandmother and my Dad could remember sitting on her lap while she played.

I was not an eager player and spent a lot of time testing the effect of the various ‘stops’ on the organ.  These were white knobs with mysterious black words printed on each.  When you pulled a stop, various connections were created to make the organ sound a certain way.  Now for a memory I am not sure is true or only something I imagined – one of the stops, if pulled, would make the keys play an octave below where I was playing.  They moved of their own accord and made me feel I was playing a duet with a ghostly partner!

One of the songs I chose to play on the organ was Evening Chimes.  It was an easy song and made a good impression.

'Evening Chimes', Michael Aaron Piano Course - Grade One. Mills Music Inc., New York. 1945.

Since I knew Evening Chimes by heart, my eyes could wander over the embellishments of the Victorian-aged organ as I was playing.  Its designs included flowers, leaves, exclamation marks, serpent-like creatures and four stylised figures of an octopus!  This last I could ascribe to a childish imagination, but since my sister now has my grandmother’s parlour organ,  I can verify the existence of those odd oceanic figures on the front of the organ!



Vox Angelica 8 Fţ


practice required

repeated bars and D.C. al fine

the E flat I could never

remember, stretch that little

finger, make it behave, do

tricky slurs and grace notes


to coax these from the organ

was like pounding on felt

and my feet

unused to pumping

supplied inappropriate pace


so I played Evening Chimes, folk song

over and over

rang church bells

imitated angels, impressed

my pious grandfather

and demonstrated piano prowess


© Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

April 13, 2012 at 7:01 am

end of the maple syrup season

with 10 comments

On Monday, we finished our last lot of maple syrup for the season.  The whole house was filled with the sweet smell of syrup at boil.  I finish the syrup on our electric kitchen stove, in a pan made particularly for the purpose.  Made of aluminum, it has a narrow base and a flared top.  I thought it was a terrible extravagance at $268, but it really has improved both the boiling time and the process, and it will last for many years.

I love the final boiling.  The smell of the steam is amazing and the boil of the syrup is fascinating to watch.  While the  sap is boiling, I skim the foam with a slotted spoon, a very soothing activity.  Then, the temperature rises suddenly on the candy thermometer, and those huge candy bubbles start to form.  The part I like best is hearing the seal ‘pop’ on the Mason jars and knowing we have produced enough syrup for our pancakes and muffins and a few gifts for family and friends, enough for the whole year.

This was not our best year but we are so used to the routine, it seemed painless.  We tapped 10 Red Maple trees, collected 167 liters of sap (compared to 329 liters last year) from March 12 to April 6, and prepared 14 pints of syrup.  The syrup was dark this year but very sweet and flavorful.



sugartime slow


in the rain

maples bloom

small red fireworks

slate sky


drip slow

time slow

sap runs bitter

hardly worth the boil



© Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

April 11, 2012 at 7:03 am

snippets of landscape – beaver lodges and beaver dams

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Everywhere along streams in New Brunswick there are dams and lodges the beaver have built.  The North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) is a clever engineer, building dams to create ponds as habitat.  The still, deep water provides safety from predators and enables the beaver to float branches and logs to be used as building materials and food.

a beaver pond near our cabin ... notice the two ducks on the shore to the left...

Unfortunately, the subsequent flooding of roads and other land means the beaver’s talents are not always appreciated. However, beaver dams help create and maintain wetlands, important for providing habitat for other animals and storage areas for water.



Bear Creek Meadow by Canoe


from the river

we portage

across the beaverdam

over poles and patted mud


to the quiet pond


and the bow

scoured by rocks

parts green


and our paddles

pitted by snags

spoon soup


dignity quiets our paddles

hushed voices heed

the diminishing echo


pliant as stems of pickerel weed

we honour the whisper

of wild rice

the edgewise touching

of nymphaea and nuphar

amphibian eyes

in the harbour-notch of lily pads


we are threaded by dragonflies

drawn by water striders

gathered in a cloak of water shield


oval pads a puzzle

part in silence

return to their places


no trace of our passing



Published as ‘Bear Creek Meadow by Canoe’, Canadian Stories 14 (79), 2011.

© Jane Tims  2011

Written by jane tims

April 9, 2012 at 7:36 am

Easter greetings from the past

with 8 comments

In my collection of old post cards, I have quite a few Easter greetings.  The postmarks range in date between 1912 and 1922.  Some of the cards are not postmarked, so they must have been delivered personally.

I like the hand-written message on the back of one.  It says, very briefly, ‘write me a good long letter’ !

Post cards are even rarer than letters in our world of emails and tweets.  But a card is so much fun to receive.  My brother and sister-in-law often send me greeting cards through the year and I keep a string in the corner of the living room to display them.

The ‘chick’ is a popular theme on the post cards.  I thought I would share them with you…

© Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

April 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

a moment of beautiful – ice in the ditch

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the space: a ditch along the road

the beautiful: a skim of new ice


When nights are icy cold after a day of spring warmth, water freezes in the ditches.  Ephemeral, this skim of new ice will be gone as soon as the morning sun overtops the trees.

The ice is frail, but if you are careful, you can lift a pane of this natural glass and see the world through a different window.



ditch ice


on the last sub-zero night in March

we forge swords and slivers

cast a lens, a barrier to warm


below ditch ice are sinuous

arrangements of water and breath

nostrils grope for airways

peer through frozen skim

as though through windows

learn the underside of pane



© Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

April 7, 2012 at 7:43 am

Dutchman’s-breeches (Dicentra Cucullaria (L.) Bernh.)

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Our first summer home was located in a rich hardwood of Sugar-Maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.), Beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.) and White Ash (Fraxinus Americana L. ).  In these woods, in early spring, as the snow melted, wildflowers found ideal habitat.  Many plants take advantage of the few days when the leaves of the overstory trees are still developing, and there is bright light in the understory of the woods.

One of these wildflowers is Dutchman’s-breeches (Dicentra Cucullaria (L.) Bernh.).  This charming little plant blooms early in spring, in rich, rocky hardwoods.  The white flowers are two-spurred, in groups of four to ten along a stem held just above finely divided, feathery leaves.

The plants is also known as breeches-flower, cullottes de Hollandais, and dicentre à capuchon.  The generic name is from the Greek di meaning twice and centron meaning a spur.  Cucullaria is the old generic name meaning hoodlike.  The plant was named by Johann Jacob Bernhardi.

The flowers of Dutchman’s-breeches are an example of plant adaptation for pollination.  The flower has a clever mechanism, in the form of fused flower parts, to ensure only certain insects (such as the bumblebee) can access the nectar and pollen.

In my copy of Roland and Smith (The Flora of Nova Scotia),  I recorded my first encounter with this little plant – April 28, 1985, during one of our first visits to our property before we purchased it.  We called our cabin Whisperwood, in part because of the subtle breezes in those wildflower-dotted spring woods.



Dutchman’s Breeches

Dicentra Cucullaria (L.) Bernh.



Dutchman’s breeches

brighten in sun

woodland washdays

have begun


spring-clean trousers

hung in rows

inflated with breath

the May wind blows


sprites are playing

tossing their hoods

above the damp

in the spring-fed woods


little fairy laundry

trembles on the line

before greening trees

block spring sunshine



© Jane Tims 1993

Written by jane tims

April 6, 2012 at 7:02 am

burrballs, weedballs and manganese concretions

with 8 comments

As I slowly clean out my office in preparation for my retirement, I am encountering the collected mementoes of 33 years of work.  One of the oddest items I kept through the years is a plastic case filled with six hard black gobs, about 4 to 6 centimetres in diameter.  They look like burnt chocolate chip cookies, but I assure you, even my baking is not that bad!

These are called iron-manganese concretions.  They were found in the late 1990’s on the bottom of a lake in New Brunswick.

The occurrence of ‘balls’ in lakes and other bodies of water has been an interest of mine.  In my experience, and in the reading I have done, I have encountered three different natural spherical formations in the Maritime Provinces.  One of these is found along the ocean shore.  The other two are found on the bottoms of lakes.

These are:

Water-rolled Weed Balls:

This was A.H. MacKay’s suggested name for ‘sea-balls’, compact balls of seaweeds and other materials found on a beach near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  MacKay wrote a paper about these balls for the Transactions of the Nova Scotia Institute of Science in 1906.  These strange formations were first reported by a teacher, Mary Bowers, who wrote to MacKay about their occurrence on a beach at Upper Kingsburg, along the mouth of the LaHave River.  She wrote: “I have seen up to 200 balls on a short strip of beach…”     MacKay described them as 1 ½ to 5 inches in diameter, composed of rolled-up remains of brown algae.  The balls also incorporated red seaweeds, sea sponges, and small sea shells.  MacKay wrote: “…Their structure in the different forms examined suggest their formation from light ridges of algae left by the retreating tide on flat sandy shallows. Under the sun, the weeds curl and lock into masses which, when moved over the sand by alternate tides and winds, occasionally produce very round balls.”

Kedron Balls:

These spherical balls of organic matter, a natural formation on the bottom of Little Kedron Lake, near Oromocto Lake in York County, New Brunswick, were described in 1904 by the naturalist William Ganong.  Needles of fir and spruce from the forest surrounding the lake roll together with twigs, sandy silt and other vegetable matter on the lake bottom, gradually forming these soft compact spheres.

In his book Walden, Thoreau describes similar balls of organic matter from Sandy Pond in Lincoln, Massachusetts: “… I have found, in considerable quantities, curious balls, composed apparently of fine grass or roots, of pipewort, perhaps, from half an inch to four inches in diameter, and perfectly spherical.  These wash back and forth in shallow water on a sandy bottom, and are sometimes cast on the shore.”

Iron-Manganese Concretions:

The examples I have were given to me by a friend who collected them at Balls Lake, a small lake near Cape Spencer in Saint John County, New Brunswick.    These are natural formations, known as polymetallic or manganese nodules, built in successive layers of iron and manganese hydroxides around a core.  The result is a spherical formation, rough and knobby on the surface.  The concretions range in size, but most, like the specimens I have, are the size of a small potato.  Manganese concretions form in both lakes and salt-water.




water-rolled weeds


begin with

a pinch of sand

a thread

a gesture, word

a fir leans

over the lake edge

drops a single leaf


layers spool

from chemistry of water


or a fluff of needles

quilting, quilting

soft balls wind

forward and back


gather, gather

while sunreels

ravel scene by scene

a bobbin

accepts the thread

and first line

builds to story



©  Jane Tims  2012



Some reading about burrballs and weedballs:

W.F. Ganong. 1904. ‘On Vegetable-, or Burr-, Balls from Little Kedron Lake, New Brunswick’. Bulletin of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick v: 304.

A.H. MacKay.  1906.  ‘Water-Rolled Weed Balls’. Transactions of the Nova Scotia Institute of Science XI: 667-670.  Available on-line at:  Accessed February 28, 2012.

Henry David Thoreau. 1954. ‘Ponds’, Walden or Life in the Woods.  Pennsylvania State University, 154.

Written by jane tims

April 4, 2012 at 6:43 am


with 8 comments

This time of year, along the St. John River, we watch for floodwaters.  For some, whose homes may be threatened by the flood, this means worry.  For others, it means a road along the river may be closed until the waters recede.  For me, it is a time to watch for the return of the Canada Geese.  It is also a time to see what interesting cargo the floodwaters carry.

All along the river, there will be huge wheels of root… the remains of trees ripped from the river’s banks and carried along with the floodwaters.  These ‘root wheels’ come to rest on the river’s edges, stranded by the falling waters.  Washed clean of the soil, the roots show us the underpinnings of the trees and reveal what goes on beneath the ground, where we ordinarily cannot see.





another scar

in the clearcut


one crooked pine

left sentinel

to watch shoots and brambles

scramble for sun


wind thrown in silence

(no ears to hear)


patted in by Boy Scouts



roots and fibre, exposed

clots of clay

dripping rock, wounded

rootlets, oozing sap


overturned war wagon

mighty axle, broken

wheel of matted roots, still

spinning, earth upended


a crater dug in regolith


a new shelter

from the wind, rain

sprouting seeds

in mineral

and fallen leaves



Published as: ‘Windthrow’, The Cormorant XI (1): 100 (Fall 94)

©  Jane Tims 1994

Written by jane tims

April 2, 2012 at 6:23 am

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