poetry and prose about place

Archive for April 2012

from the pages of an old diary – blueberries and other local foods

with 13 comments

My new writing project, ‘growing and gathering’, focuses on local foods and finding food close to home.

A source of information and inspiration for me is the set of my great-aunt’s diaries, written from 1943 to 1972.  From her diaries, I have a very good idea of how they obtained their food, and how they used local foods to supplement their needs.

Most of their food was obtained from the grocery store – in 1957, there was at least one grocery store in the community, and by 1967, they had an IGA.  There is no doubt some goods came from ‘away’.   For example, my great-aunt wrote about making coconut and pineapple squares for a Women’s Missionary Society meeting (Sept. 30, 1957).

Local goods, however. were used whenever possible.  For example, my great-aunt bought eggs from her sister, and chickens from her brother.  She also obtained vegetables and raspberries from her brother’s farm, apples from friends and relatives, deer meat from friends and relatives, and lobsters from Wallace, a near-by community.   By 1967, my great-aunt and great-uncle also kept a garden at her brother’s farm, a few miles away.

Obtaining local foods included picking local berries.  In July and August of 1957, my great-aunt went four times for wild blueberries.  Her gratitude and pleasure at getting these berries comes through in her words:  ‘ got quite a few’ (July 31, 1957) and ‘got a nice lot.’ (Aug. 21, 1957).  She also wrote about picking grapes and currants.

Some of the berries were eaten right away – for example, my great-aunt made a blueberry pie on August 1, 1957.  The rest was preserved for the winter.  On August 16, 1957 my great-aunt put up 5 quarts of blueberries, to supplement the applesauce, pears, peaches, sweet cucumber pickles, and tomato chow she mentions preparing on other days.  Others in the family also made preserves and shared them with her – in 1967, her nephew (my uncle) brought her three bottles of peach, apple and choke cherry jelly he had made.



an offering of berries


she stands on the stoop

offers a box

a brimming pint

of berries


I take her hand, we ripple

through the pasture, strew

blue ribbons over bushes, stir

a blueberry jelly sky, dance

with dragonflies


she waits on the stoop

her brow a riddle, please

take this gift, blueberries

in a simple






1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

©  Jane Tims  2012

accents in red

with 15 comments

We are still in the greys and browns of spring.

There are a few wildflowers blooming. The Coltsfoot is spreading carpets of yellow along the roadside.  And flowers in the deep hardwoods have begun to display their delicate beauty.  But most places are drab and colorless.

I watch for red this time of year.  There are a few red berries, still clinging to their branches after winter.

And the stems of Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera Michx.) are brilliant in the fields and ditches.

My favorite ‘red’ of spring is the muted red of the blueberry fields.





the blueberry barren

is faded scarlet

red osier in ditches

rosebush and hawthorn

a single berry, a single haw

Earth in brown

toenails red


©  Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

April 16, 2012 at 6:43 am


with 8 comments

In my posts this summer, the space I expect to feature prominently is our summer property.

I’ve talked about this place before.  One end of the property is along a lake (see ‘course of the creek’, September 12, 2012, and ‘ice is nice’, December 21, 2011, both under the category ‘waterways’).   The lake edge is a bright forest of cedar, hemlock, birch and oak, and includes a beautiful marsh.  We sit on our bench in the woods and look out at the lake, watching loons and deer and ducks.  Once I saw an eagle plummet from the sky and dive into the water with a huge splash, to emerge with a good-sized fish in his talons.

Most of the property was/is an oldfield.  When we bought the property in 2004, we bought an open field, thick with blueberry bushes and grass that rippled in the ever-present wind.  There were a few trees, mostly bushy pine, spared year after year by the farmer’s bushhog.  The field had been home to a herd of buffalo (bison) and we still find the dry, dusty evidence of their wallows.

The keyword in the last paragraph is ‘bushhog’!  The farmer offered to keep the field mowed, but we are very independent.  We were certain we could keep ahead of the various trees and alders sprouting everywhere.

The result has been the usual progress of an oldfield in the process of succession.  Today our pines still punctuate the property, and there are enough blueberries to keep us satisfied, but other spaces have emerged… the alder swale, the maple grove, the path through the birches, the blackberry barrens, and, of course, our tiny cottage.  There is a bit of grassy field still remaining and we struggle to keep it intact.

east boundary of our property, with our cedar rail fence, looking toward our neighbor's mowed field

When we go to the property I like to think about how it is changing, right before our eyes.  Those buffalo would have a hard time recognising the place.



evidence of buffalo


                         “…in this field, years ago, I kept buffalo….”

                                                       beef farmer, selling his land


massive posts brace a page fence

woven with wire birch

dusty wallows where soil is crushed

and only lichen will grow


three apple trees trodden

parallel to ground

grey feed trough

strung together with nails


cedar waxwings search the fence

coarse hairs for their nests

winds nuzzle and whisper

through the brush of pine



© Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

April 14, 2012 at 9:25 am

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

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