Sunday, September 27, 2009

A change of season;
a season of change

Change is in the air. The signs were all present when Ed's cup, the one we had found just for him early in Nilgiris' history, the manly breakfast cup with the pheasants adorning it that no one else got to drink from, developed a spider-web crack in its side and sustained a chip in the saucer.

I searched for months for a replacement; but the only masculine breakfast cups I came across were "mustache cups" ("Tell him to grow one!" urged one ancient vendor, a grande dame who said that in her day, whiskers were considered fashionable and manly and "the mustache cup might be an encouragement to the gentleman ...").

Ed was one of our first guests when we opened Nilgiris in 2003, an old friend from years gone by. He is the first guest we routinely welcome on Saturday mornings. When he is gone on vacation, everyone -- including 5-year-old Taylor and 6-year-old Sarah, my tiniest "employees" -- miss him. The TH seems strangely out of sync when we don't make that pot of Earl Grey just before we open at 10-ish on a Saturday morning!

Ed's Saturday morning visits are as much part of the warp and woof of Nilgiris as was the old red barn across the road, the barn that engaged my imagination right from the days that the TH was being built. I loved the romance of how it listed to one side like an ancient ark tossed by rough seas and filled with bales, cats, birds and other livestock spilling out of it at various times. I loved observing Miss Anderson, the intrepid 84-year-old remaining daughter of the farm, trudge determinedly from her house to the barn to feed the cats and whatever else was hungry.

But times change and to my sorrow the old red barn had to come down earlier this year. Miss Anderson, the last of the line of farmers for whom our division of town is named, had sustained a fall that put her in a nursing home; too soon thereafter she passed on to her reward.

My sense of loss was mitigated somewhat as I discovered the presence of three new neighbours - young deer who had taken up residence in the tangled green space and played hide and seek with the dappled sunlight and the elusive shadows and the people who stopped to grumble or to admire.

Then out of nowhere heavy equipment moved in and started slashing at trees, tugging out beautiful bushes whose flowers and perfume used to fill the air in the spring. A formal "green space" was planned, to replace the natural green of the old homestead's magnificent yard.

My deer neighbours fled right before the plough arrived to pillage their home.

Some weeks later Matthew and Corinne, employees and gifts to the TH both, went to Mount Royal University. Lois went to Haiti and New York on a five-week trip, giving us a taste of what is to come in the new year. And what a gap their absence was for our Nilgiris family! We develop a sort of rhythmn as we work together. We're all a team here, and those of us who are left behind miss them so.

Businesses have closed or moved this summer, giving our Main Street a bewildered air.

And Tina, beloved friend to my Mum and Oma to four of my staff members, passed away; her funeral was held nine months to the day of the accident that precipitated her last earthly journey. The same amount of time it would take for a baby to be carried in the womb and be born into the new world awaiting her. Not quite the amount of time it would take for us to say goodbye.

And this weekend the second crazy, violent storm of the summer came up out of nowhere, lopping off treetops and dashing the lamppost across from the TH to the ground. The power was out for a couple of hours, and baskets of flowers and spectacular tumbleweeds sailed by our windows.

A tumbleweed accosting Shauna Rose

All of this to-ing and fro-ing, this temporal unrest of the past few months in matters large and small, puts me in mind of the drama being enacted in our little Trois Lumps itself now: The College versus The Town. Rumours are flying. Motives are being questioned. Tempers are fraying. Long-time allegiances are disintegrating. Doors are closing and discussions are being held on either side of them. It feels like the power is being snuffed out and we are all being plunged into the dark. The situation seems intractable.

And yet ... and yet ...

Some days later, two of the deer returned. This time they locked antlers and got down to the business of determining who was in control. Friend turned on friend as they took their brawl from the cover of the few remaining bushes to the open brown space. But soon they realized that this exercise was pointless: they had been together for so long that their differences were inconsequential; at heart they were friends. They moved amicably to a sunny grassy patch and enjoyed the afternoon, "a pair of book- ends," one neighbour laughed.

And after listening to my wise Dad's take on things, I realized that The College has not been reduced to the current administration, or the current board, or the current location, or the current student body. This college is and always has been the realization of a vision for students, for opportunities to impact lives around the world.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish," the old King James version of the proverb observes. A newer translation puts it this way: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint ..." Maybe this is a case of no new revelation, and so people in leadership are grasping at straws, blinded by the pressures and desperate for direction. Maybe the vision is missing, and so the restraint has been jettisoned; faith is being nudged aside by feelings, and serendipity given greater weight than sagacity. Maybe we -- whichever "side" we're on -- need to pray for vision rather than restraint. Maybe we need to be gentle instead of locking horns. Maybe we need to discover the sunny patch of neutral ground that's just nearby and spend some time together remembering our history and our mutual strengths and together seeking for revelation, for a vision for both The Town and The College.

One of my human neighbours captured the deer on camera and shared with me the images you see here. As I was looking at the pictures again on the day that two years earlier we had buried my Mum's body in broken brown ground punctuated with trees not unlike the space across the road, I realized that changes have been happening all around me: that neighbors come and go and neighbourhoods shift and readjust; that institutions teeter and perhaps topple; that people you have counted on as your closest friends are no longer there; that teacups crack and chip; that the deer are here only for a season.

It behooves me to recognize that this season of transition I am in is a gift; to treasure the people who are in my life now; to glory in the deer bravely returning when they can; to appreciate my neighbours and to love my enemies while they are both still with me; to make that batch of cinnamon rolls or call someone up for coffee; to have the time and the perception to appreciate my life.

To be still and know.

And in Victoria, at a hot Thursday afternoon farmer's market late in August, the proprietor of an antiques shop pulled from his personal storage room the end-of-summer-coloured teacup that I offered to Ed, the pattern criss-crossing like the fields surrounding the TH at this time of year, golden like harvest and green like hope.

The end of one era; the beginning of a new one!

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