Monday, August 31, 2009

community vegetable garden

Lotus City provided parcels of vacant land for people who wished to grow their own vegetables and didn't have access to any appropriate land. These parcels provided individual plots that were 20 by 50 feet. There was piped in water and an atmosphere of comaraderie and competition thoughout the growing year. The plots were highly individualistic and reflected the personalities of those that toil in the soil. The plot the pianist and I had one year was in a community garden that was surrounded by a newly developed subdivision of houses. In an effort to improve my plot I answered an ad for manure. The man who answered said he would provide good pig manure. I asked him if it was mature and well composted. He assured me that it was, so I ordered a full truck load. When he arrived I came to meet him and show him my plot. It was a dump truck and when the product began to slide out, and I mean slide, it was apparent that "dump" truck was the apt description of the vehicle. The pig manure was of recent origin. Shortly after the dump, I could see the windows of my proximate neighbors open and then quickly close. The smell was evil! I raced home and engaged my son with gum boots to dig in the manure before we were cited for olfactory offense. He did a good job. I impressed upon him the urgency of the matter! I confess the cauliflower and broccoli that year were of winning quality. The offence was never repeated.

The AHA Experience

The first time I saw Edinburgh was when I was convalescing from putting my hand in a lawnmower. It is a beautiful and ancient city and has a deep association with medicine. The pianist and I were there for the Festival and for a meeting of the English speaking Orthopedic Association. It was the culmination of several months off for me, recovering from my mangled hand. The hour I put my hand in a running lawnmower, the family was in the living room, watching Nadia Comaneci doing gymnastics on the balance bar in the 1976 Olympics. I had been agitated and rushing around, repairing our boat with caulk,anticipating being late with rounds,my son had not cut the lawn as promised, and I was quitting smoking for the umpteenth time. The grass was moist and the mower became plugged. It was a hard mower to restart. I was in a hurry and it seemed like the outlet just needed a little quick clearing. You may not know, but if you have a major injury , in the first few minutes, there is no pain and things can be reduced or set on the field, but time is of the essence. Similarly with the lawnmower, I felt no pain but I could hear my fingers rattling against the rotating blades. When I went to the hospital, Ralph, the orderly in the OR told me later it took him half an hour to wash my hand and clean off the boat caulk, the dog shit and the grass mash. Things did work out well. My fingers ended up a bit shorter and a trifle twisted, but functional. I couldn't do any surgery till the healing was complete! The point of all this is, the months I had off were an AHA Experience for me, since hitherto, I had not imagined a life in which one did not live in a hurry up and fragmented fashion. My son, the only male issue, who lives with his family near Edinburgh, said to me very much later, how mellow I have become, and how he would have loved to have experienced that then! Too soon old, too late smart!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

UBS (Ugly But Satisfactory)

My golf mentor described my usual shot as this! Particularly so if I hit a tree, bounced on the rough and ended up in the middle of the fairway. The pianist described the pies I make as this! She says they taste as good as hers, but she carefully makes her pastry of even thickness and scallops the edges with geometric evenness which I, of course, do not do. I had an old Toyota truck that rusted out because I hauled seaweed in it from the beach, augmenting my compost pile. One day I went to the dump with a bunch of garbage and as I was backing up, the corner of my front bumper caught the front end loader that was parked on the dump road. It bent the end of my bumper forward about 70 degrees. It wasn't that big a deal for me because my truck over the years had become a "beater". It fitted in with a lot of the vehicles on Lotus Island. It gave me a sense of belonging! I ignored the appearance but the pianist was after me to fix my UBS bumper. We , at that time did not have an auto bodyshop on the island that I knew about, so I pulled in to the service station and asked the mechanic if there was a local place to take it. He looked at the bumper and then at me and said abruptly, "Get out"! I felt a bit cowed, as he seemed stern. I got out with alacrity. I didn't want him to be mad at me. He got in the truck and drove it a short distance to a telephone pole, positioned the bent bumper against the pole and gunned the truck. My bumper was bent back almost perfectly! " There you are !" he said with a smirk. The pianist still considered my truck a UBS truck, but with an acceptable bumper!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Boarding House

What ever happened to the boarding house? In the 50's all the out of town students I knew stayed in boarding houses. The boarding houses where I lived in Winnipeg usually had a variety of single working people and students. No student I knew rented an apartment with a friend or friends. I don't see how a student can combine the work of study and the work of maintaining a household to the same advantage! It has to be furnished, usually with "early attic". The boarding house was often more comfortable. I am not lamenting the demise of the boarding house. There was a sacrifice of privacy for the benefits. Most of them were better than the boarding house of Major and Martha Hoople, but they certainly varied in quality. In Winnipeg in the 50's there were hundreds of boarding houses. The boarding house I finally found as a student was a Godsend. Mrs. Hall raised her two daughters in a ten room boarding house of mixed students and white collar workers. We had two good meals a day, clean surroundings and quiet living. It was hugely conducive to study and other than keeping your little room tidy there was no other task to do. It did however require a regimented life style with respect to meals and the needs of others. So, what's new? Women could make a living running a boarding house. There was no lease to sign and no damage deposit. It was relatively cheap for its day and housekeeping was always at a minimum for the boarder. If you worked at a regular job and took the bus, you could save money. If you were a student and close to the school you had a lot more study time. If it was a big boarding house you had company at meal times. My grandchildren are students and they all rent apartments with friends to share the cost. It works for them. I guess it's true that the past really is a foreign country.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bowel movement

When your mother finally persuaded,cajoled or bribed you, to produce a poop in the potty, this seminal event meant, for you, a showering of approval, a sense of providing great pleasure for your parent, and a newly found esteem. It is no wonder that in the recesses of our adult mind the appearance of the bowel movement gives a certain guilty pleasure in the assessment of length and breadth and color. Our cranial software retains that old imprint of wonder at that childhood event and the pleasure principle reappears. Growing up on the bald prairie as a youth, I was often denied this pleasure, since the two holer was dark and dank. Inspection was difficult. The scatological merriment that often appears, is, when matters such as these are considered, in the pianist's opinion is confined to males only. And pointedly, some males! I guess this is so. There was a time in medical history when detailed inspection of the lowly poop was serious business and one of the few diagnostic tools available. Appearance,color,consistency,odor, all engendered diagnostic debate. It became the 'ne plus ultra' tool of the good physician. Now augmented by fiber-optics and colonoscopy, poopology is confined to the laboratory. The reasons for continuing personal interest by males is unclear, but, it cannot be attributed to the signal event of infancy which is gender neutral. The lowly but interesting poop may still be a fertile source of psychological inquiry, and a genuine provider of male amusement.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It ain't about Deservin'

When Little Bill was layin' on the floor and said to William Munny, "I don't deserve this!" William said, as I recall, "Deservin' ain't it!" or, "It ain't about deservin'! ". Then William blew Little Bill away! In point of fact, Little Bill deserved everything that he got! Which makes me think about deservin' and entitlement and what happens if we are "good", or have the right genes, or the right stuff, or the right deep pockets. People, and I include myself, though I can be self-righteous, take entitlements for granted. My prayers for example, though rarely formatted, are prayers of request rather than thankfulness. None of us has entitlement or deservin' as a given. I don't know whether there is a master plan the the Almighty has for me or I am simply to exist in the wonderful world he has created, and to love , survive and endure. Whatever comes will test you and your will to do good. There is no entitlement or deservin' here. William, to be charitable, despite his chequered career, did a bad thing for a noble purpose and I like to fantasize that it was redemptive. Perhaps William Munny was not one of the Unforgiven.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Fraser River Delta

When you leave the Salish Islands and drive through the Fraser river delta in October to Olympic City, the fields, off the highway, in the river delta are spectacularly red. These are cranberry and blueberry fields turning to their fall colors. You see very little if you stick to the highway, your eye on the ferry traffic ahead, but if you take a few minutes and wander a back road or two you are in for an enormous treat. There is nothing better than miles of orange and red and brown for the short magical period Mother Nature and the berry farmer provide. Both berries grow best in the peaty, boggy, delta soil, supplied over the centuries by the flooding of the Fraser and the rotting vegetation! The sight of the fields is thrilling and at the same time sobering, knowing that the Fraser undergoes a major flood every 50 years. I remember feeling the same sense of colorful magnificence, seeing miles of heather and fern massed in the hills of Caithness and Perthshire. The capacity of Mother Nature to provide the vegetation that will thrive in the particular soil types that are difficult allows the uniformity of design from a duoculture, whether planned by man or Mother Nature, that is an interesting departure from the mixed vegetation we usually see. Seems there is a plant for every location. Darwin would be pleased with the adaption ! So would Mendel!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Golden Apple, Quince

Quince, the fruiting tree, not the flowering shrub, was a Mediterranean origin. It grew best there, but worked it's way northward over the centuries and also grows in the islands in the Salish sea. Here it ripens in November and is golden.
The apple, the Greeks and others of the Levant refer to, is undoubtedly the quince, since apples as we know them would find that climate unacceptable. The pianist's and my greeting and thankyou card, is a reflection of the fact that here, both the apple and quince and for that matter, the medlar , all flourish in this small collection of islands in the Salish Sea.
Here find a reference: Euripedes, Greek,484-406 BC , " I would fly to the coast of apples of which many tales are told,the far Hesperian shore where the mighty Lord of ocean forbids all further voyaging and marks the sacred limits of heaven, which Atlas holds.There the immortal streams flow fresh by the couch of God where he lies with his lovely ones-and earth, the mother of life, yields up blessings of harvest to enrich a bliss that never ends." Can you blame me for liking it here?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Humble Access

It's Sunday and church this morning. It reminds me of the little bedtime prayer our mother taught us years ago and my brothers and I were required to say. It went, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." You know, when you think about that prayer, it requests about everything that you really need for yourself in a general way. It, however, only covers the important stuff you need for yourself as an individual. It's narcissistic, but fits in well with the Ego Development of most children, if they are honest. The only other concession is the quick God Bless to cover the parents and siblings and any other support staff ! I was 14 and my brothers were 10 and 6. We all slept in the same room, but went to bed at different times. Our mother made sure Philip, the 6 year old knelt at the bed in an attitude of humble access, like the good Anglicans we were. He had to say the prayer out loud. Ken, who at 10, went to bed a little later , was permitted to say his prayers on his knees without supervision. I, at 14, said my prayers silently, and instead of kneeling in an attitude of humble access, I confess, I lay in bed and made a feeble concession to access by putting one foot on the floor. God is good. He didn't hold it against me. SO FAR! He knew I was just a kid.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Propylaea, a gateway like no other

When Dr. Elliot taught the archaeology of the Athenian Acropolis at UBC in the late 50's, he told us that some architrave blocks on the Propylaea were hollowed out. Well, so what? If you walk through the Propylaea onto the Acropolis hill, you will go under the stone beams that are supported by large columns. The beams are load bearing. So far, so what? I cannot confirm this hollowing out in my literature search of the architrave blocks, but Dr Elliot became the head of the American School of Archaeology in Athens later in his career. I rely on him. It is hard to tell much , if you are standing under the beams now, as the temple has undergone many changes. The Propylaea had the first ,or as was believed at that time, the first, known load bearing beam where the architect understood that, weight for weight, a hollow beam is stronger than a solid beam. Thats what! If you understand that, with a load in the center of a beam, there is distraction force on the bottom surface of the beam and compression force on the top surface of the beam, then in the centre of the beam there must be no force, and therefore no need for material. Picture the 60 odd slaves, trying to haul up, with rudimentary winches, a solid block, vis-a- vis a hollow block, and you get the idea. Of course our long bones are hollow for the same reasons. If they were solid we would all weigh 600 pounds. The surgical implants for fractures are hollow as well. We build with I- beams these days, which are functionally analagous. The Propylaea may be the lamp that led the way. The architect in the 5th century BC was a genius.

The four elements

I was watering and turning my compost the other day and thinking of Empedocles. He, according to Will Durant, lived 500 to 430 BC. You may know, that he was the first to describe the four elements of which the world is composed, and no other. It's still true, and my compost tells me that is so. The four elements are fire, water, earth, and air. This understanding was foundational to the classical philosophers that followed Empedocles. As I attended my compost, which was mostly straw and green vegetable matter, I provided water and the pile was very hot as it was turned. Deep down it was breaking up and becoming soil , was warm and richly brown and particulate. It was loosely piled by me, as it requires to breath, in order to work. It is true that the four elements are extraordinarily complex in their developed state, but the compost is the great leveller. Even you and I will be returned to dust, and if we are burned in the undertakers compost bin , the heat will be much faster than my compost. So the compost pile, through air and water and heat, becomes earth, as does all else. Empedocles died in the fashion of his philosophy ironically. He became convinced that he was a god and could fly, and hurled himself into the mouth of a volcano. He couldn't fly, and so hurtled through the air and heat and undoubtedly,since he was juicy, returned to dust.