I sat in the back yard the other night to enjoy the warmth from a southern breeze blowing into town. I had noticed, a few days earlier, that a flock of geese had been flying high in the sky on their way south. Even though it was warm, I had learned long ago from my Elders and parents that geese heading south in the fall always meant cold was on the way in a day or two.
With that in mind, I sat back on a swinging chair under a night sky lit up with the soft blue light of a rising moon. I thought about how great it was to be outdoors without being too cold or miserably hot. I did not have to worry about bugs or biting insects. I felt at peace and it was one of those nights where I felt I could simply fall asleep outdoors and that would be just fine.
As I relaxed I thought about my grandmother, my Nookoom, Louise. She would have enjoyed this day, a perfect, warm autumn day. The sun shone through wispy clouds but with a dull light that signalled cooler weather. The trees were a perfect mix of fall colors and remnants of summer green. The wind ruffled the tall wild grasses and through the drying trees, creating sounds of rushing waves riding up on the shore of a great ocean-side beach.
Nookoom would have been happy to be outside, beside a campfire with one of her daughters and some grandchildren. There did not have to be a special occasion. For her the occasion was to take advantage of a perfect day to be outdoors.
I wasn’t sad about this thought. Instead, I considered how my grandmother would have wanted me to enjoy a rare day like this. And I did. I took the time to go out on my motorcycle and ride along highways lined with the mushkeg wilderness of northern Ontario. By the end of my ride, my lungs were full of fresh fall air and the sweet perfume of fall’s gentle decay on a day that was neither too hot nor too cold.
Riding back into town, I circled around to Elsie Lough’s house in old Iroquois Falls. Elsie is someone I came to know through my friend Emily. There was a real estate “For Sale” sign on her front lawn, with a “Sold” slapped across it. Someone was busy moving into the charming old home. I felt sad in the realization that she had left her home of so many years to head south to be with family. It was time, I guess. After all, I reasoned, she is well past 90 years of age. One more migration in this season of change.
My ride past stately old homes and then the Catholic Church took me back a few months to a recent season. I thought about my late friend Emily and how important she considered the more simple things to be. A bird at her front window, a neighbour walking by or the sprouting of a new flower in her garden filled her with joy. I recalled warmly all of those Sundays for the past several years when I drove Emily and Elsie to Sunday Mass.
It was a highlight of their week. My friend Mike and I called it the church lady ride. Emily, Elsie and their mutual friend Rhea met at church and joined several other Sunday church goers for breakfast at Randy’s restaurant.
This Sunday outing was a big deal to all of them. It was a testament to their independence and their calling to reach out and brighten the lives of others with friendly smiles, waves and local tales.
Emily’s son Mike and I took turns as Sunday chauffeurs, driving them to the church and the restaurant in, of all things, a rusty old truck. They never complained about the old Ford F150. As a matter of fact, they thought it was quite funny to arrive at church in their Sunday best in an old jalopy.
My Nookoom, my friend Emily, Elsie, Rhea and the church ladies all had something in common. They lived long enough to understand that the wonders of life are to be found in the simple miracles of everyday life. It has to do with good family, friends and neighbours. It has to do with the smell of fall in the air, the sound and sight of the Canada geese heading south, the bright colours of a summer garden and the falling leaves in the autumn.
I learned long ago as a child in Attawapiskat that everything in life is temporary. Thanks to my Nookoom and the church ladies I am reminded that this is not to be feared but embraced, as life’s precious moments slip through our hands every day.