For someone who loves words, who writes a weekly blog post and who aspires to become a screenwriter in retirement, who basically eats, sleeps and dreams about writing, how can that be?
The reality is that I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa. And by suburbs, I mean outlying parts of the city, but leaning more toward the city than the country.
Up until last year, I hadn’t been fully aware of the differences, intricacies and nuances of language simply by moving from an urban to a rural postal code. As a result, the gaps in my lexicon have left my interlocutors with squints and raised eyebrows.
The first glaring problem was my inadequate ability to distinguish between conveyances.
For example, if I was ever arriving home a little late from an errand in a neighbouring village, I might say, “Sorry, I was stuck behind a slow-moving truck on the highway.” My partner realized that I used “truck” for just about any vehicle that didn’t qualify as a car, as I later used the term to also describe every type of construction vehicle that ran across our lawn when we built our garage.
Upon realizing that “truck” was pretty vague to someone born and raised in the country, I adopted the expression “agricultural vehicle” as a seemingly more accurate catch-all term for farm vehicles. At least that would distinguish the conveyance from let’s say, a pick-up truck, a dump truck or a tractor trailer hauling “stuff” (which I should also more accurately describe as goods, crops, livestock or building supplies, as appropriate).
My partner still smiled and shook his head knowing that for this city boy, this was about as far as I could get in naming the different types of vehicles one might encounter.
He jokingly (or was it seriously, I’m still not sure) offered to get me a picture book of different types of farm machinery. He even suggested that when the world opens up again after the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, he would take me for a field trip to the local John Deere dealership to go over the different types of vehicles I might see on our country roads.
In those moments, I explained, “well you see, English is my second language after all” to great guffaws from my partner, as we both know that my proficiency in the English language surpasses my proficiency in my mother tongue of French by a wee bit after a 33 year career working mostly in English.
In my defense, in suburban and city life, I’ve never really had to be more descriptive than that because I simply didn’t encounter such a wide range of vehicles.
But I have come to understand that my lack of proper wording is a bit of an impediment when trying to read the community newspaper or listening to an anecdote told by a fellow villager when having no point of reference to what a “combine” is.
Once we change topics and move on to discussing the garden, I realize that my description of the “red and white thing growing next to the rain barrel” doesn’t really cut it either. Alas, there as well, there is much room for improvement for me.
In my defense (again!), back in my childhood home, I remember that we had a huge weeping willow, a maple, an apple tree, a crab-apple tree and a cedar hedge. If it wasn’t for the blue spruce Christmas trees, I wouldn’t have been able to pick one out of a police line-up if I had to.
In our flower beds, we had petunias and a rose bush. We had more flowers, I am pretty sure of it, but I have no recollection of them. That was about the extent of my memory (and frankly, my boyhood interest) in retaining the names of the flora around our house.
Fast forward twenty years later to my own house, my garden was perhaps 3 feet by 6 feet, containing a few low-maintenance perennials, but not enough variety to build a great vocabulary.
I found the solution by getting the “Picture This” app for my iPhone (by the way, this is not intended as an ad for the app, and I say this without compensation). For someone with so little knowledge of plants and co-owning a property where new ones I’ve seemingly never seen before spring up every day, it is a quick way to take a shot of a plant, a tree or a weed, and just like a “CSI: Horticulture” episode, it identifies the plant and tells you everything you need to know about it.
After a few days of the free trial, I decided that I would pay to hang on to it, as this will fill a big void and will help me to develop an ability to pick out the good plants versus the weeds. Also, this would be a great help in identifying the plants that might be unsafe for Ivy the Wonder Cat for her outdoor adventures.
As the conversation continues and my partner refers to the finch he saw in the bird bath or the cardinal that was sitting on the rear view mirror of my car, you probably guessed it, when my partner wasn’t looking, I would Google them to see which bird he was referring to. Ornithology is unfortunately not my thing either.
Even though I remember in my younger school days we took out our crayons to colour pictures of birds, I don’t remember much beyond the robin and the owl. Again, I’d suck at the police office line-up if I had to pick out a bird that perpetrated a murder of crows.
I don’t have an app for that yet, but then again our feathered friends aren’t likely to sit still long enough or closely enough for a Kodak moment for an app to decipher who they are. I’ll eventually figure it out.
Just the same, I found it surprising that my move and my adjustment to life in the country would require an upgrade in the speech module of my brain to be fully conversant with friends and neighbours.
If I was able to gain proficiency in four languages over the course of this lifetime, I should not be daunted by the idea of learning the language of flora, fauna and farm machinery, for my life in the country to be truly complete.
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Have a great day,