Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Scythe

Last week my friend asked if she could borrow a tool to cut long grass. She told me her grass and brush was too tough and long for a weedeater. She said "Do you have a sickle? I know you have a lot of tools." I don't have a sickle but I have a scythe. The scythe is not only an ancient tool, it is a great tool. It ranks with the binder and the combine in the march of agricultural harvesting technology. I lent her my scythe and a stone. You can maintain a scythe's sharpness with a stone, but from time to time, if not used much it needs a grindstone for starters. Nowadays, it is sadly not used much! When I was 17 and 18, I worked for the CNR as a section man in the Touchwood Hills for my summer job. Our June job was to cut the long grass on the right-of-way. Five men would move along, cutting between two telephone poles, and then leapfrog ahead to the next available interval. After each cut we'd roll a cigarette of course! Because the right-of-way is a downward slope and we were responsible for six miles of track, we always cut on the downward slope side since it was easy and fast . Once you got going in tandem there was some irregularity in 'smoke time' determined by the fastest man. Of the five of us, no one wanted to be the slowest man but after an hour the pace evened out. When you have six miles out and six miles back the only time you hurry is the last 10 yards or the last ten minutes in any job. The important thing about the scythe is to keep it sharp. The stone has to be used in the correct way! It takes time to learn to sharpen the blade to make the job easy. No job , however so humble, is simple. To cut effectively, one develops a rythym much like a golf swing, with the back stoke equally important as the cutting stroke. The swing becomes relaxing! The blade of the scythe leads at a 15 degree angle from your coronal plane. I haven't seen my friend since she borrowed the scythe but I hope she enjoyed it. There is no finer feeling than a sharp tool, slicing through long grass, which lies down in geometric windrows at your bidding.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The World, A condominium oceanliner

It must be a growth industry! The cruise ships get larger and longer and higher and the amenities proliferate like fruit flies! Now, ships like The World, whose time has apparently come, are floating condominiums with a permanent cliental that are citizens of the world at large! Living aboard all or part of the time, visiting and observing the sights of the world by water. Wow! The World moored off our little, possibly exotic to some, certainly funky to many, island in the Salish Sea. There are no docking facilities for boats of cruise ship size on Lotus Island, so The World anchored out a mile and a half from the the town in Ganges Harbour. We locals and yokels spent the weekend gawking at her! The ship's tender plyed the water back and forth on an hourly basis with its condo cargo as they visited the town, and the market, all weekend. They have licked their lips, those sellers in the trinket market, but the passenger-owners were here to simply absorb the bucolic atmosphere. Lotus Island is not a destination for the Isla Cozumel crowd, two weeks and home. We may have arrived for bucolic viewing, but no Mardi Gras like ambience exists as a destination for the lively. I guess cruising ship condominium-owners would be older and more sedate than the two week bunch. A battle anew about our role in the tourist industry is about to occur with the Nimbys and the Progressives . The Progressives will prevail. Money, like water, flows to the lowest level. I am not self rightous. I like money and water too, but Eco Tourism is what we have been largely all about. Our strong point! How much to sacrifice to get the right balance? Those of us who live here and have done so for a long time have deep roots. We are not exactly spectators. We are the inspected. I'm not really sure that a condominium on the ocean ,with many ports of call, and a rootless existence is all that appealing. Shubert wrote of Der Wanderer. Says the song "Where are you my beloved land?" I can answer that because I am a 'stick in the mud'!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Leonard Cohen

For my 75th birthday my daughter gave me a 2 part disc of the essential songs of Leonard Cohen. He chose from his repertoire and though I am not sure why, he didn't include some of the favorites. I suppose he's entitled, since he is my age and therefore taking the long view, thinking elegiac thoughts and trying to clean up his legacy. He is my favorite poet. He sings from the heart; he is not obscure;he pronounces his words so you understand easily; and his music is exciting and novel. His books are a diary of his life and the changes that have been wrought as he has evolved into a Canadian Icon. Though some of his poetry is dirty and some opaque, there is a constant sense of honesty and humanity, a constant sense of humility, uxoriousness and at times despair with the world and himself. Welcome to the world of candour, I say. That's why he speaks to so many! Who would have 'thunk' that success would be reinvented for him in this day and age with it's love of virtual reality. Few, and then, least of all him! His modesty becomes him at the present time. The pianist makes fun of his voice and says his songs are for men. A man's songster! That may be the case, but Jennifer Warnes and kd Lang are acolytes as well. That may be the case but the attendance at his concerts belie that opinion. Whatever he has, he has it in spades!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Touchwood Hills

Though not as well known as the Cypress Hills, the Touchwood Hills in Saskatchewan are another height of land left by the glacier as it receded. The Touchwood Hills are the point of land at which Henry Kelsey, the great overland explorer, turned back east after his epic travel (1690-1692), a century before any other white man visited the area. There is a cairn to mark his furthest point of exploration. I grew up in the Touchwood Hills. Our little town became sequestered from the Muskowekwan Reserve when the Grand Trunk Railway was built and a depot was needed. The original land treaty was signed by the Cree Chief Muscowequan in 1874 at Fort Qu'Appelle with the other Chiefs of Little and Big Touchwood Hills! Ken Edwards and I, both of us from town, played midget hockey with the Indian team from the Oblate Fathers Mission school. The Cree Nation boys from the Muskowekwan reserve welcomed the two of us and we felt part of things! We never felt white when we were there. There is nothing like sport, to unite young men. We were a good team, but we only had two forward lines and two defense men. We must have been in good shape. The outdoor rink we practiced on was at the Mission and the roads were not good in the winter. A farmer, Lyle Reichert, used to take us out to practice, on the back of his tractor, in November. He went to "the coast" after November for the winter. He told us it didn't snow in Burnaby. I remember thinking about Burnaby as we bucked through the drifts and the wind and driving snow whistled by our cheeks as we stood behind him on the tractor, holding onto the tractor seat for dear life. One day, I said to myself, I will go to Burnaby!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pelagic Buses for Scholars

About 100 high school students, every weekday, make a journey of an hour or so each way, to and from the high school back to their island homes by water. We are island people and water is our highway. We live in a Southern Gulf Island area with four outer islands and the larger Lotus Island with the high school serving the entire area. These Gulf Islands lie, or more properly, bask, in what is now called The Salish Sea. Every day the pianist and I watch the two large water buses, The Scholar and the Graduate, transporting their precious cargo too and fro, passing our harbour window, beginning to leave for the outer islands at 6: 45 am, returning at 8:15 am and transporting the students home later in the afternoon. The commitment of society on these islands to education and scholarship is enormous. The commitment of the youth is exemplified by the sacrifice of time due to the travel required. The Winter in the northern waters, while largely inshore waters, is still periodically rough, and cold and dark at the times of coming and going ! If you are prepared to put that much time and effort into getting an education, it follows that you take yourself seriously. You have the right to be taken seriously by everyone else as well. The curious thing about it all is the trip through the islands is one of the country's, nay, one of the world's major beauty spots, even from time to time in the winter, but the students, so take it for granted, that it's old hat. As they get older and depart the islands, they will come to realize, I am sure, the incredible nature of their school journeys. In the meantime have fun, talk a lot,text a lot, do your homework and never bother to look out the window.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


My neighbor has a large stand of West Coast Maples and Cottonwoods between our properties.In addition I have Holly and Hawthorns on the property line, as he has. These trees are a safe repository for nesting crows, particularly the thorn bearing trees where the nests are well hidden from marauders. I have an orchard with cherries and small fruits, amongst others. The crow's bedrooms, nursery, and living room appears to be largely the inter property area and my neighbor's property. The kitchen, dining room and toilet is the pianist's and my property. This seems to be fledgling time and the constant cacophony is frightful. There seems to be a crisis of ownership between the humans and the crows. The kitchen also doubles as the toilet. When eating a cherry, or a small red plum, the crow , after picking a juicy one in the garden, brings the cherry to the kitchen. The kitchen is a branch near us where some food preparation goes on. Positioning the cherry or the plum between the toes, on the branch,tenderizing the skin, pitting, and finally swallowing following stone removal. The crow's gastrocolic reflex is triggered by the meal . They appear to have a repeatedly sensitive trigger prompting the gastrocolic event. Possibly the shorter distance from the stomach to the rectum than yours or mine. Since the favorite place to eat is perching on a branch of a Western Red Cedar overlooking our painted deck, we are greeted with abundant guano that seems to have remarkable adherent properties. This gastrocolic event is accompanied, dare I say, by enthusiastic crowing. Maybe even derisive! Each time I leave the house to toil in the soil the watchbird announces my progress. If I bring my pressure washer to remove hardened and adherent guano, I am greeted with a chorus of insults. They don't seem to care! The variety of vocalizations they have is remarkable. It's just they are so darned intrusive, or maybe it's me.


I no longer worry about the exclusionary principle of rational people, promoting exclusively rational things, to other exclusively rational people. Particularly troublesome is the attitude of dismissiveness toward anything that cannot be accounted for by a mechanistic view of life. I'm sure when it comes to things like how long it takes to cook a loaf of bread, or a bus schedule, that approach makes sense. Rationality is then an appropriate assertion. What about the big questions of life? Rationality is never certain therein. There is always the next unexplained phenomenon. Religion is never certain,because many things are inexplicable and undermining, despite faith. We all live by the seat of our pants, and faith is omnipresent, religious or irreligious. If rationality is a step in the twilight, with things undiscovered but faith that they will be, religion is a step in the dark with things yet undiscovered but faith that they will be. No one I think, has a choke hold on truth. Most have given up abstract thought or existential reasoning as too opaque and too troubling. Leave it to the experts,the philosophers, they say. Why leave the most important aspects of our time to experts and seek diversions that buffer your reality? Truth, from whatever standpoint, only exists for those with a candle, and candle power is only so bright. It is however, bright enough to let some walk the path, but where they are going is at best, only glimpsed. There is no place for dogma on either side of the big questions of life. We have to deal with uncertainty as a matter of humanness. It encourages us to explore , think and grow. Better to know what you don't know than know what you can't know. Pity the person who has arrived at the full knowledge of the God filled or Godless universe. A portion of humility and a capacity to listen to the world, your neighbor,or the Ground of all Being may serve you in good stead.I have found that each step of insight seems to raise more questions than more knowledge. I suppose it's better to know what questions you'd like answered than not knowing what questions there are to ask.

Shrinking and expanding

If you ever watched a time lapse cartoon of the ageing process you would know what I am going to say! I have weighed and taken the height of hundreds of patients over the years. They always think they are taller than they are, and weigh less than they do. It's not a cheerful job. We have considerably more than a baker's dozen intervertebral disks in our back contributing to spinal length and a bunch of vertebral bodies as well. Over time, these plump and resilient disks dehydrate and narrow. This loss of height is a result of a natural degenerative process. The vertebrae flatten as well, as we age, and so we lose several millimeters of height from each disk and from each vertebral body. In addition, because they flatten more in the front of the vertebrae than the back, the spine bends a bit forward, contributing to the loss of height from the shoulders to the pelvis. That's why my mother's head eventually sank below the top of the car seat when she was driving, and my mother-in-law ended up eating at the table with her chin near her place mat. They lived much longer than their males. The limbs, on the other hand, do not vertically shrink, so that the shortening, when sitting ,is the more dramatic and the foreshortened can reach their knees without bending forward. Since for me, I'm now in that group, the loss of several centimeters in shoulder- pelvic length decreases the vertical volume available in the abdomen for our guts, so we expand sideways. Egad! Ergo, I've become more potbellied. Couple that partly facile excuse, with the substitution of muscle bulk by fibrous tissue and fat, and one's legs become skinnier and skinnier. Man becomes globular stick man. A nurse friend watching me walk down the hall in a hospital gown one day said " You know ,my father would have said you look like a fat man being carried by a chicken." Pretty smart, blaming her father for her tart observation. If there is anything more revealing, less concealing, than a hospital gown I don't know what it is. This is a fertile source for an intelligent couture, to make a bundle, recreating cloth for the new, old shapely!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Standing in the wind

Over the years I have served as President and Chairman and Warden, and other things in various organizations. I was basically a committee man only because I find it hard to say no. If you serve long enough and don't make too many mistakes you will eventually become top dog, till they realize you aren't. I'm inherently lazy and therefore developed, early, a penchant for delegation and, honorably, a reluctance to take credit for other's good work. This was not altruistic, but in fact a continuation of my self interest in doing less, by encouraging others to do more. I confess I've felt guilty in the past for some of this lassitude, since others of a more skeptical bent have seen through my subterfuge. The one redeeming factor is, however, my ability to stand in the wind, however stiff. Someone needs to do it. It isn't thick skin because often suffering arises and bruises are inflicted. Hopefully if you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the right reasons, you can at least keep your balance in the wind. If you do the wrong thing. for the wrong reasons, you are toast and deserve what you will eventually get, which is blown away. I can remember my father saying to me once , if he said it a hundred times, " Jim, you have an excuse for everything, all of the time". I know that about myself. I was a dreamy boy growing up who was always optimistic about himself and everyone else. If you always think things will work out in the end and you haven't absorbed the fact that they don't, then the wind is not a problem to you. This feeble minded guy is standing in a hurricane smiling and saying, "At least it's not a tornado." Blows your mind!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bee Bumbling

Wild bees had made a nest under the seat of my rowboat in the styroform float. They had hollowed out a home in the styrofoam which was not accessible to sprays since it was hidden from view, and they weren't too pleased to see a face near their home. The boat sits on a ramp down to the beach. Our property is for sale, and I didn't want a PP (putative purchaser) to get stung, at least by insects. I elected to drown them because I knew no other safe way to get rid of them. Access prevented spraying and I didn't want to burn my boat seat. I hate doing this to bees. It's so contrary to Mother Nature's grand design. My son-in-law and I manoevered the boat at gingerly intervals onto the beach. We pulled it down a foot or two and then ran away when the angry bees looked around for the enemy. Pulling and scattering eventually got the boat off the ramp and on to the beach and relatively level so it could be filled completely.We then filled the boat with water from the hose. The tide came in but thankfully it was calm. I went down in the evening to see the results. All the day time foragers were back, and were angry and hanging around the ramp. I couldn't ramp the boat up since it was full of water and they wouldn't let me near the ramp or boat, so I, in securing it for a further tide, was stung and fell over on the beach. No problem. The following morning I was going to work and searched high and low for my cell phone. I'm never without it. I phoned myself in various locations. No luck. I finally went down to the beach where I fell. There it was, lying on a pile of seaweed. It had rained that night. I was sure it was trash. Then it rang. The pianist was calling me. This whole epistle sounds like an episode with the Keystone Cops at work. They always seemed to get their man the hard way!