Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Grinches and the Olympic Flame

It's Halloween on Lotus island and the Olympic flame is arriving here at 2.30 pm by seaplane. It will be here for half an hour or so and the many young people and families will get to see it and are thrilled to be part of it. However, we have a large number of home grown Grinches on Lotus Island. We are not Whoville! The Raging Grannies , The Marxist Leninists,the disaffected and the tax revolters will be out in force competing for the annual award of the Cup for the most Churlish. A waste of money they say! What about the arts, the health, the climate, the war and the corruption? All probably true, but please, let's at least have a little joy. I was going to go down to the dock to watch the plane come in the harbour and cheer but I'm afraid it will just make me cross with the protesters. I'm staying home and making Jack-O- Lanterns for tonight and putting batteries in my Singing Fish. The pianist has made about 20 candy coated apples and put our label on them so the mothers will not worry about razor blades. What a world! The pianist thinks my Singing Fish might be scary but that's what Halloween is all about. All Hallows Eve! The small children are protected and hallowed on All Saints Day by the saints called Parents.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Contract to tease

When my children were small I told many stories in which they were often the principal character. The events of the story were not prethought but simply unfolded at random , generally had a happy ending in which the characters had a somewhat heroic role. They often began with the generic "Once upon a time ", and the contract to tease initially went like this! " Once upon a time , ( Pause )," when the pigs chewed tobacco and the hens drank wine!" ( Laughter) . "No , come on, tell us a story." " OK , now I will. Once upon a time," ( Longer pause ) ( tantalizing smile ), when the pigs chewed tobacco and the hens drank wine". ( Loud Laughter ). Then the story would truly begin with "Once upon a time" . Then later, " Tell another story." " OK I'll tell you a story, ( Pause ) about Jack Mc Nory, and now my story's begun. I'll tell you another about his brother and now my story's done ". (Laughter ) "Please tell another story". "Ok, this time I will. There once was a calf, and that's half. They hung it on the wall. And that's all ". (More laughter and pleadings) Then the second story would begin. At the young age they were, the familiar teasing was always funny though totally predictable and was an expected ritual . If it was not done in this fashion there was a sense of loss. The teaser and the teased were bonded in the silliness of it all. Thank God for silly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Moxie (Savvy) (Street smarts)

Elderly eclectic gentleman may be too prideful an eponym for me. Doddering old fool would be too much self abasement as yet. On the spectrum of these descriptions, the development of moxie is essential. How the old are advised by the young entrepreneur in matters of business,needs intelligent dissection. The pianist has more moxie than me when it comes to ascertaining who is helping us and who is helping himself helping us. Thank God for the pianist! My adult children and to some extent the adult grandchildren also lend a portion of good advice. This enables me to proceed merrily along the financial road with the guarantee of a buffer against foolish or precipitate action. What do those without a pianist or children do, in a world that has certain pitfalls for the elderly with means? What happens with lack of moxie, savvy, street smarts, that may have been present at one time, but are now lost with the desire to "fit in" and to appear "with it"? We want to believe that people have our best interests at heart. We have had the same accountant since 1966 and the same lawyer since about the same time. The pianist and I have relied on them but they are retiring now. We're going to have to take stock. Self reliance is fine but you have to find people to assist who share your values. You may not always be as self reliant as you hope. As a Christian we are to value connectedness and see the good in everyone. It doesn't however, jibe with reality. People who are alone, at a certain age, must protect themselves somewhere along the spectrum before EEG becomes DOF.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Tortoise and the Hare

This morning the tree men came. They scampered up a 40 foot plum tree with many dead branches that thankfully could still be identified, from the live branches, as the leaves have not all fallen yet. I was impressed with the agility of the tree men and had initially worried about damage because of all the rhododendrons under the tree. They took the branches off in incremental portions and not a rhododendron was crushed. Then they did a tidy up of some of the very tall Western Red Cedars. Tree fallers rarely clean up the mess. They are high flyers! They finished their work in less than an hour and now the elderly eclectic gentleman has to cut up the debris with his loppers and tote it off to his shredder. It's going to take me two days. I enjoy shredding! The family will not allow me to have a chain saw as they believe I will chop off a finger or another part. They might be right! I prefer to shred rather than burn branches as it seems more organic. Cellulose gives body to the compost though it decomposes slowly. All the dead branches are also identifiable by the presence of Aaron's Beard. That probably makes it appropriate for me to deal with them at my stage in life. If you think this is a plaintive post it is not. It's just the contrast between the young and the old, the strong and the feeble. I can celebrate that! At the same time we all have our strengths and one of mine, that I have learned the hard way, is time and patience will accomplish much. The tortoise and the hare!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fauna change

Today the Oregon Junco has returned en masse to Lotus Island. They are slipping and flitting everywhere, reexploring the locale. Next will be the Rufus sided Towhees. They, like their cousins are our winter bird. They fly so close to the ground in the underbrush I have momentarily mistaken them for a rat. Startling! The Black Tailed Mule deer have lost their smooth caramel coats for a heavier grey brown and the young bucks are starting to rut and have already slashed my declining Gunnera to pieces and soon will sharpen up on the bark of various defenseless trees. The pianist and I watched a river otter run across the lawn from the harbour yesterday and it flushed out a bunny that it startled. I don't really think an otter would eat a bunny but the bunny obviously wasn't taking chances. The otter with a long body and tail and short legs runs in a sinuous, loping fashion,quite ungainly. The California quail walnuts are now large but still clinging together and listening to mum and dad. There are a few runty sized deer still around, late gestations, and I fear for them this winter as they have little flesh. There is often a corpse or so later, under the tool shed, frozen stiff. The deer here are endemic as there are virtually no predators. We have all adapted to the deer and they to us. This is a great spider season. The webs in the morning with the dew are fantastic and if you don't duck, wherever you walk outside you get a face full of web. We are careful around the old woodpile for the "Widow and the Brown Recuse". A large empty wasp nest we finally took down from the top of a pear tree, wasps long gone. The nests are beautifully made. The fruit flies in the compost generate at an unbelievable rate and it is not surprising that the ancients believed in spontaneous generation.Thank goodness the fruit is soon finished, however there is an interesting observation to make. The fruit in the house has a myriad of fruit flies, whereas the supermarket fruit section has no fruit flies. Tells you something doesn't it?

Rink Rats

Skating behind and pushing a ice scraper between the periods and after the hockey game was a job done by the rink rats. In the olden days of the late forties there were no Zamboni's. The rink rats, of which I was a member, were proud to be noticed as we skated up and down the ice , caroming against one another,pushing our snow load to the big door at the end of the Kindersley arena. The biggest rat shoveled it out the door. We got to watch all the hockey games free. The Kindersley Klippers were a great Intermediate B team. We all had a certain pride with our small identification. I lived on 3rd Avenue east ,a half block from the rink and like all small town rinks, it was available most of the time. Rink rats did lots of other little go-fer jobs as well. The whole management was volunteer. It seems in retrospect we practically lived in the rink in the winter. There were PeeWee, Midget and Juvenile teams and there was nightly shinny in between times when the ice was occupied, usually on the road near the rink in front of our place. I don't remember any Junior teams of ours at that time. If we had anyone that was good at Junior age, they usually went to MooseJaw. Hockey was as natural for us as skiing for an Austrian and swimming for an Aussie. There was no money in those days for the players who made it big. It was love of the game. Players like the Bentleys and Geordie Howe and the Huculs would have made more money staying on the farm in those days. What was it that drove us? The pure love of the game, and the sure knowledge that it was our game, and still is in all of small town Canada. It had everything to do with participation and dreams. We played it in our sleep.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The aftermath of war

stalaag 8B

My father's mother died on December the 23rd 1932 and was buried on Christmas day. She left his youngest brother,who was 15 years old at that time to be raised in a family of adult brothers and father. It was the height of the depression. My father's brother was Edgerton, known to his nephews and nieces as Uncle Edgie. He joined the Canadian army after schooling and was shipped to England as a corporal in the Canadian 2nd Infantry Division. He was part of the Dieppe raid on August 19, 1942 and was captured by the German army after 4 days inland. He was to remain a prisoner of war in Stalag 8 b for the remainder of the war. I must have written to him when I was 8 years old because he wrote to me thanking me for the carton of cigarettes and the chewing gum. I still have the letter from Stalag 8 b with the censor stamp. When he was repatriated he tried a variety of jobs in the Okanagan where his brother and sister lived, but he was rootless. He became an alcoholic and was convicted of manslaughter and jailed when he had a drunken car accident with a friend, who died. He was jailed again for cheque passing and forgery. Thoughout the time we knew Uncle Edgie he was sweet and kind to his nieces and nephews and always interested in us. There was a Jekyll and Hyde quality to him in retrospect. He eventually came to realize that he couldn't cope with the "civilized world of the 60's" and learned to cook and spent the rest of his life working in the mining camps of northern Alberta and the Yukon. He wrote to us at Christmas and more often to his sister. My father received a letter sometime in the 80's from a friend of Edgie in Edmonton who reported that he had been in hospital with TB and had died several weeks earlier. He left no possessions of value and he had no issue. He had enough money to pay for his burial. His family had eventually despaired of him and came to try to forget, as much as one can.Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not defined in Edgie's time. We were black and white people in those days and wondered why they didn't, "just get on with things!"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The anatomy lab

I entered first year Medicine in September 1953. The first year of medicine at the University of Manitoba, and in the Canadian schools at that time, entailed long hours in the anatomy dissection laboratory. Our class of sixty four had twenty one bodies to dissect and it required a full academic year to do so. The first day we entered the lab room was an awe inspiring event. Twenty one cadavers, each on a separate table, encased in vaseline and wrapped like a mummy in muslin. The enormity of it was awe inspiring. Each three students were given one body to dissect for the year. We started on the back muscles. Prior to beginning, the Professor, Ian MacLaren Thompson, gave us a lecture on the need for decorum and respect of the persons who had donated their bodies to science. The ethical responsibility he stressed would serve us well in practice, to learn to be respectful of both life and death. He well knew he was addressing a collection of spirited twenty and thirty year olds. The teaching of Anatomy has completely changed with the evolution of virtual reality,modeling, imaging, and fragmented anatomy teaching, concurrent as pathology and clinical work is linked. The volume of required medical knowledge has increased considerably, since my day, and I am sure the current methods are geared to more rapid and comprehensive learning. What is lost, I suspect, is the intimacy and connectedness you develop with a once human structure, over the year. The doggedness that is necessary to display a perfect dissection and teasing out of anatomical structures common to all of us. A respect for an authentic person we called a cadaver but knew that once their's was a life. The patience required to persist, slowly and carefully, laid the ground work for a surgical career. Most of the science in Medicine is rapidly subject to change. What you learned ten years ago is often wrong with new knowledge gained. Gross anatomy does not change. You learn it once for all time. Ethics don't change. You retain, or don't retain them, for all time.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gandy dancer

In 1952 and 53 my summer job was working as a sectionman on the CN railway. The official title was a Maintainence of Way employee and the job was to maintain the track and right of way in good condition. The jobs included correcting the inevitable heaving of track on the mainline due to winter and summer extremes, changing deteriorated ties, and constant inspection for track defects. It was hard and heavy work and in that era the bulk of workers were of middle European origin. The job was critical to the smooth running of the railway and the track was aligned by educated eyeball at that time.Though some of the workers were married, many were not, and lived in bunkhouses in the small prairie towns we lived in. The wage was small but adequate for bunkhouse living, if that was your fate. I of course, was still living with my mum and dad and brothers so I had a family and all my needs met. I tried sharing the bunkhouse for a few days at the start, since it was more convenient to the workplace but I guess I was spoiled. I was content to walk the 5 miles back home after work.To call the railway track workers, gandy dancers, seems to me a derogation provided by someone who never did such a job but wanted to give it a romantic spin . It seems it arose in an earlier time for black railway workers in the south and Chinese workers in the west. Neither of those groups would have believed the job had a romantic spin. For me it served a useful purpose in that I knew what I didn't want to do. Why is it we try to color the reality a brighter picture than it really was? It may have been part of Jump Jim Crow originally. It may have been part of John Henry, the steel driving man. Gandy dancer indeed!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Homemade wine

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. It coincides with the Christian, Harvest Festival. My daughter is a nurse and worked a twelve hour shift, last night. She will work again tonight, so her family, who usually come to Lotus Island for Thanksgiving, are unwilling to leave her. Well, Mohammed this time will go to the mountain, so the pianist and I are going there with the cooked turkey. It's a bit complicated as it's over the pond by ferry. Food transport in a critical warm mass is a consideration. Our daughter asked in an E-mail this morning, when she went to bed, if we would bring some of our homemade fruit wine from the celler. It's not rotgut, but it is not stellar either. I usually use that wine with family, but this time it got me thinking, that we often take the people we love best for granted and don't always provide what we prize most, because we don't need to. Why should we reserve our VQA quality wine for the dinner party with friends who we like, but do not love, and settle for less with some of the most important people in our lives? The answer to that is obvious. Because we can! Perhaps we should reevaluate where we put our first fruits. It's kind of a useful question to pose as a Thanksgiving Day thought!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Runcible spoon

Just to contribute to the conjecture on the nature of the runcible spoon, I had a few thoughts. It seems to me that Edward Lear may well have loved the sibilant quality of the word, since his poetry was really meant to be spoken as well as read. Primarily spoken in my view! The hissing quality that runcible and spoon and pussy bring, has that vocalization one can hear from a cat in distress. Certainly the owl and the pussy cat would require a special tool to eat both mince and quince at the same sitting. If you have tackled a quince you will know they are as hard as rocks unless mercilessly cooked, so a sharp serrated edged spoon coupled with a three pronged fork tip of a broad nature, might be just the ticket to carve the quince into fragments, spear them, and chew. Lear does not address the nature of the quince, cooked or ripe! The spoon like quality would, at the same time, contain the mince so it did not fall through the cracks. The wide spread use of runcible of course was not confined by Lear to the spoon. I can only think the word produced the sounds which pleased him. What do I know? Etymology is not my bag! Phonation also, not my bag! I have never allowed lack of knowledge of the facts however, from giving my opinion on a variety of subjects.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


In this small island in the Salish Sea, one of the questions frequently asked is "How long have you lived here?" That passing conversational gambit, innocent enough, places you in a category. When, if ever, does one become a "local" ? If you were born here you are a local in island terms, but some places may require generations of you as a necessity to be a "local". Otherwise you are "fromaway". Much as I love this place I am glad to be a "fromaway". Thirty two years here does not entitle me to use the term "local". When we moved to the island there were barely four thousand people and now there are over ten thousand. Some are part-timers as we were then, and often now, houses that are cottage country places of part-time repose, remain empty for extended periods. This is not particularly healthy for a neighborhood. Notwithstanding that, the influx of "fromaways" has contributed enormously to the welfare of the island and it's cultural mix, bringing diversity and economic wellbeing . "Local " may in fact be better described as the degree of engagement and contribution to the welfare of your community, rather than the time you spent on the cracker barrel ! In the meantime, my best nature suggests I celebrate the commingling of the locals and the fromaways. A drink, blended well, is worth celebrating and will bear repeating.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nitpicking nattering nabobs of negativism

William Safire died recently (Sept. 27 ), and The Economist obituary recorded some of his lexicographical tidbits which I have taken liberty with, as above. He analyzed nabobs, nattering, and negativism. He may or may not have seriously studied nitpicking. Certainly in politics at the Federal level in Canada today the opposition, all three of them, are guilty of a certain degree of this. I don't think the present government was any less guilty when it was in opposition. When you are in the business of government, whatever stripe, it is so easy to fall into the habit of the four N's. What if, wonder of wonders, electability was put on the back burner for a period of time in order that the public good is served by positive and collaborative action on the part of our politicians. Things are bad enough for many Canadians that selective criticism, with a bent that can lead somewhere cooperatively, would be a blessing. The voting public is less and less enamoured these days with nitpicking nattering nabobs of negativism. Just a thought!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

the mixed hedgerow

The hedgerow that separates our property from the beach was, to my knowledge, always there. All the hedge shrubs are indigenous to the area. It consists of snowberry (Symphocarpus Albus), ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor), Nootka rose ( Rosa Nutkana), Bigleaf maple (Acer Macrophyllum ), red alder (Alnus Rubra) and common hawthorn (Crateagus Douglasii). We only remove the new growth to avoid disturbing the nests in the hedge structure. When this hedge is pruned annually or twice annually at four feet on the property side and twelve feet on the beach side it still has a look that belongs, rather than cultivated. The diversity of plants , however, does provide a certain amount of chaos and informality that a diverse population of people also display. Varying growth rates both in time and season, varying production of flowers and fruits, early and late, deciduous dropping at different times gives a kaleidoscopic aspect to the hedge. The presence of a diverse indigenous mix provided by Mother Nature rather than the pianist and I, gives a greater sense of durability than we could achieve. I have resisted the temptation to monkey with it. "Don't just do something, stand there!" It, I think, represents the strength of a country like ours and a province like British Columbia, where strength,durability and color is present in its diversity. It just takes a little more work to manage than monoculture.