Tuesday, December 29, 2009

End of life as we knew it

Doing Christmas cards this year reminds us once again that old friends and relatives are dropping off, one by one. When your cousins and friends are in their 70s the attrition rate starts to undergo a geometric progression. This year my younger cousin's husband died of bladder cancer and a cousin of my vintage, 75, had her husband die of heart failure. There is nothing that can be said that is any emollient to the grief that comes with these partings. In the card you could say, as Percy Bysshe Shelley did, " When winter comes, can spring be far behind ?" Time does heal, and spring does arrive again. Moreover, so many of our friends now, are developing chronic and debilitating illness. Though many complain, or at least need a sounding board, or compare joints and joint replacements, there is usually, in time, an acceptance of where you are. Accepting things is what it is all about. Living with your disability and adapting your life to fit. None of this, as Dylan Thomas wrote, " Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.". There is so much stress to attempt to modify the aging process that we have lost the reality of the nature of life, and illness, and death, and see it as a battle to be fought. Hopefully with age, comes understanding before dementia sets in. Think on it as "Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer "( Richard the third). Despite the risk of irritating the purists, I twisted Shakespeare's meaning around, to think of the "summer" as a return to joy in what we have left, and what we will be. If you think this is Pollyannaish, tell me something better?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Deer Damage Prevention

On Lotus island the deer have free "reign". They are medium sized mule deer and no more skittish than cows in a pasture. There are virtually no predators other than cars, except a few hunters in the fall, but even here, there are no trophy bucks. The odd hunter claims to be after meat. Whatever! One of the reasons the deer are bolder is that dogs do not run free on Lotus island. There are many sheep farmers and they shoot any dog that harrasses their sheep. Often any pretext will do! Dog lovers contain their animals. The garden damage the deer do is confined to a few species, so most of us have avoided planting the vulnerable. In my garden I have not followed my own advice. At risk are Japanese Laurel ( Aucuba japonica), Camellia, Cedar (Smaragd), Azalea,and small leaf Rhododendron. Also, most spring bulbs other than Daffodils, Bergenia and some Sedum. They occasionally chew Dahlia. Since they browse and are alert, they seldom stay more than a few minutes in any one place. Their pattern of trailwalking is absolutely consistant and predictable in time and space. I use that evil smelling deer repellant, Plantskydd, which is expensive but I dilute it plenty in a sprayer since I am parsimonious. If you spray on sunnier days it lasts one or two months. Once they've tasted a leaf with it on, they change their pattern of browse. If you leave the Plantskyddd container open it becomes even more foul and effective. Care must be taken because it stains the house siding. The stink around the house lasts for a day so don't do it before a party. The presence of the deer on your lot, within proximity, is a delight you can only enjoy if you don't fence them out. Plan to buy your vegetables from an organic marketer! I always think a home vegetable gardener spends a hundred dollars of effort and seed to grow ten dollars worth of produce.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Mentors

I had in my lifetime two men who were truly my mentors and both of them were teachers. Years ago, I went on a men's retreat to a local Anglican camp. There were about thirty men for a weekend and we had teaching sessions. The leader asked us to consider someone, or two, other than a parent, who had been a mentor in our life, and why. Virtually all the men choose a teacher who had served such a role in their lives. I often wonder if teachers really know the power for good that they have. I don't believe a parent can be a mentor. In my case there was too much baggage. I loved my dad unconditionly, and did not love my mentors, but the avuncular role they served, and the interest they took in me, made me want to emulate them. The pianist said to me once, that I even started to walk like my Consultant chief for whom I was Registrar. He was an Australian batchelor in Plymouth who was more English than the English. My other mentor was my small town high school teacher in Grade ten, eleven, and twelve. He had dignity and treated us with the same dignity, and respect, but never raised his voice because he didn't have to.I'm sure the seriousness he felt towards us was key to my desire to succeed. My son had a mentor when he first started his career as a young Anglican priest in Montreal . I am grateful to that man ,as I never questioned my son's love for me, but we had too much baggage for a mentorship role. The son must move away. Mentorship is a symbiotic role. The Mentor benefits as much as the" Mented." Mentorship is not an art, it comes from the heart !

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My father betrayed

My mother loved roast lamb and my father had a strong aversion to it! He was "unable" to eat a sheep or lamb of any sort due to his experience when farming as a young man, during the great depression. Most of his sheep sickened, and were infested with maggots. He was scarred forever from this experience. When the pianist first met my mother, before our marriage, she was told that we had " veal" from time to time that was really lamb and it was to be regarded as veal because of my fathers sensitivity! The trouble was the poor benighted gentleman was unaware of this charade. It was not the case that he simply went along with the game of denial. He thought that the veal she prepared from time to time was awfully good. He had a simple and uncompromising faith in my mothers veracity. My beloved was simply appraised of the fact that my fathers children, nudge nudge, wink wink, were familiar with that deception over the years. My mother operated on the basis of," what you don't know, won't hurt you". She provided her children with the love of lamb for all time, and a somewhat tarnished sense of ethics. I am still a little guilty of my part in the duplicity. I don't think he ever found out!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Homeless in Paradise

This season on Lotus island there are about forty homeless, almost all men. They flee the cold part of the country to survive outside here. We have had inclement weather lately and particularly cold and wet weather. Here we are in one of the worlds most wealthy countries and the best part of that country and we have this disconnect! The Community Services provides shelter for six of seven men if the temperature is below 0 degrees Centigrade. Otherwise they are on their own. Funding is always the problem. We have a food bank and soup kitchen and a Copper Kettle, but the nights are cold and wet and there is no room at the Inn. In our Anglican church we have a deck, lighted at night, over a Creche of the Holy Family at the Stable. The figures are mounted on a straw bale. It is a windbreak. Underneath the Creche or around it, sleep five or so homeless at night. We worry about cigarette butts and the "piddling pail" and the bedclothes they leave for the next night. Our janitor has a problem with maintenance of the area but, it is no accident that there is some shelter under the Bethlehem scene. We just have to live with the ambivalence, and hope the bale doesn't catch on fire and our insurance go up in smoke. It's little enough that we can do. It is another form of figurative comfort to the dispossessed !

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


When I was working hard in a career that spanned fifty odd years, time was always in short supply. The demands of work, family, income ,debt and frantic fun took up most of the day and there was little room for that state of mind that leads to discovery. Protecting ones Ego remained a important piece of the puzzle then. Now that I am seventy five I have the time since most of the demands have disappeared. I'm not too old to make a new start. Ego matters are not as problematic, as it becomes less and less important to" amount to something." There is less drive to play to the crowd. I probably had an hour a day of "out of the box" thinking time, when I worked . That meant, over fifty years of working life, gave me 18,250 hours of discovery time. If at seventy five, I am blessed with six hours a day of thinking time, over eight years, that gives me 17,520 hours. All I'm saying to myself is that " there is still time to get serious about yourself if you want to ". Things don't go on forever. " Time , like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away :They fly, forgotten as a dream, dies at the opening day". Perhaps I expect too much, to hope that dementia will hold off for eight years. The pianist and I sit every morning and guzzle coffee and look out the window, east, into the darkness, as the sun rises, and as the planes begin to fly over the Salish sea. Busyness is beginning in the sky ! Boat traffic begins to rumble. Busyness begins on the water! For us it is a seemingly slow and serene beginning but it is a necessary daily renewal! Time stands still for that hour or two!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Snow load

The bane of a gardeners life can be a wet snow load followed by a sharp frost. The evergreens here on the Wet Coast, Rhododendrons,evergreen Magnolia,Sweet Bay and Heath undergo breakage if the snowload is on brittle branches. Trying to brush the snow off, adds to the breakage. Best is to pray! Over the last several years I have had two mature prune plums completely topple over, due to inadequate pruning planning on my part, and heavy wet snow load, with wind. They are a shallow rooted tree here, and the above ground growth has to match the underground growth. Gardening 101! I lost this battle with my usually, very good fruit tree pruner. I have a Victoria plum that has an off balance growth habit and I think it will be next to bite the dust. That plum is not plumb. I couldn't resist that! There is nothing so revealing in the winter than the lovely tracery that the deciduous trees create against the sky. When they are in full leaf they do not reveal their true shape and the unique nature and variety of the species. Having a garden or wilderness tramp on a nice day when the snow is off the branches is so exciting and a visual treat. Also, if you look down rather than up, you can read the diary left by all your little visitors, and where they went.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Copenhagen Bells

The Anglican church bells in Lotus island tolled three hundred and fifty times yesterday in support of the Copenhagen Conference on climate change. Other churches on the island chimed in, but we have the only bell tower. The bell ringers came from far and near, including many of the community and their children. All participated! This was a World Council of Churches initiative. When you think of John Donne's famous phrasing, buried in his Meditation seventeen, it is as gripping and as relevant now, as then. " No man is an island, entire of itself: every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main: if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee . " When you think of the exchange between Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley, ( Scrooge) "But you were always a good man of business, Jacob!" (Marley) " Business! Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business: charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence". It's no accident that Scrooges awakening was signalled by the striking of the heavy bells. As the pianist observed to me, the bell is an archetypal marker, that always has, and always will, signal to us, to come.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


The first two years I was at the University of Manitoba, I shipped my laundry home by baggage, for my mother to wash and press. My dad was a station agent in our little town in Saskatchewan so I had a railway pass. I used my pass as a ticket and sent my dirty clothing by baggage as luggage. My dad would pick it up from the baggage car and, when it was laundered, send it back by baggage. Clearly there was no cost in this transaction. It was transported by the Transcontinental passenger train that didn't normally stop between Winnipeg and Saskatoon, other than Rivers and Melville. We called it the "Flyer". It normally bypassed all fifty odd hamlets on the line. When it stopped to unload my baggage, no doubt all the passengers looked out and wondered why the train stopped at a place like this. "Who would be getting off here ?", was doubtless on their mind. No one! I had three dress shirts for good but I took them to Quinton's, the cleaner, in Winnipeg, and used them sparingly. My mum always put in cookies when she sent my laundry back. I think the baggage trick was an abuse of the CNR at the time and, if one factored in the cost of stopping and starting the Flyer, it was an edgy act at best. My brothers, who were still at home at the time, told me recently that they resented the fact that I always got the good cookies, and the broken ones were left for them. What a callow youth I was, underestimating the blessings I was afforded! I think now, that there was then, and still is, a sense of entitlement that allows us, erroneously, to take liberties with an institution, because, they seem to have lots, and we don't!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prepared for snow

Lotus island, on the Salish sea, often gets two weeks of snow around Christmas time. Because we are a hilly island, it's tough to get around. Because we are part of the Wet Coast, the precipitation is sometimes huge. The pianist and I are ready! We are accumulating a reserve of foodstuffs to sustain us and our guests through the period of sequestration. We have purchased a scoop shovel. Our four wheel drive SUV has new snow tires. Wood is cut, and kindling ,for our air tight and our fireplace.Four bags of road salt have been purchased, and stored. Candles and flashlights and a wind up radio are at the ready. A small generator is in the basement with gas available. The liquor cabinet has been fortified. I have wrapped all the outside taps in burlap and the standpipes have been drained. The lining in our jackets has been inserted That's the benefit of being an old fart as you have time on your hands and obsession on your mind. Having done all this of course, is a guarantee that it won't snow. If you don't want something to happen, prepare! If you want the telephone to ring with an important subject, don't hover around the phone, sit on the toilet, it'll ring. I am unlikely to receive much in the way of thanks from the denizens of Lotus island for preventing the snow from coming, since they don't resort to magical thinking. After all they probably don't believe that King Canute could hold back the tides with his hand either!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tidy Hair

Appearances are crucial for todays young teenagers I know, particularly hair styles, bespeak who you are. I speak only for boys as I was never blessed with a sister, so girls always had a mysterious and intimidating quality for me at that age. In our home, hair was a low priority for myself and my brothers. I was verging on voice change, and hair elsewhere than the head, but I was still a boy and unconscious of style. It was the era before Brylcreem. We all still smelled like boys. We had a large quart sealer that my mother made up, what we called "green stuff". It was some sort of gel that was pale green and she made it from a powder that one mixed with water. It probably was a wave set of some sort. In the morning before school we would put our hand in the wide mouth sealer and plaster our hair with "green stuff" and comb it. It set in about five minutes. Over time and many cursorily washed hands in the jar, the green stuff became a little more like "grey stuff". It still worked well and by the time we got to school our hair was hard as a rock. Particularly in the winter it caked like cement. In the normal rough and tumble at school, someone would inevitably pass a strong hand though my hair and it would stick up like thatch. There was something quite liberating in that period of life, before Narcissus entered in, when we didn't worry about that sort of thing. If I mention "green stuff" to my brothers they cackle with laughter!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Whitewash coverup

The pianist and I live on a moraine soil that of course has a plethora of rocks of all sizes. In over thirty two years of tillage and digging and raking a large part of this acre, many of these treasures have been uncovered. I never found a rock I didn't like. They are almost always round, since they were ground up and rolled down the mountain in days of yore to create the moraine. I use the rocks "au naturel" to bank flower beds ,slopes for interplanting and to outline my homely little features. When I was a boy it was "de rigeur" on the prairies to whitewash your rocks. Every civic center, all the railway terminals,RCMP stations ,centenary parks and many businesses had whitewashed rocks. They were supposed, then, to be ugly in their natural state, so were covered up by liming! This was a job I did at the stations we lived in. Whitewash became part of the lexicon for coverup of things you wanted to hide( Matthew 23,25). It is an old variety of "lipstick on the pig" . Whitewashing structures, as well as sins, must have extended well beyond our little prairie towns, since Tom Sawyer was whitewashing Aunt Polly's fence, even before my days of yore. I cannot now ,get over how prissy that convention of whitewashed rock gardens gave. What's more, you had to whitewash repeatedly, or the truth eventually became exposed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Two holers and the Honeyman

The science of waste disposal had a local flavor, if you will, in the olden days. As a young boy I always had an intense interest in this art. In the small towns I lived in as a boy, we had outhouses over pits. When I was a young teenager and living as we did, in the railway station we had a two holer. I never gave it much thought but considering it now, why a two holer? I can't imagine a duo sitting and chatting for the duration of their action. There was no partition. It was a two holer but the same pit. In the winter we had an indoor toilet with a can to haul out to the two holer, to empty. That was my job, as well as cutting kindling and taking out the ashes. It may have been a scam but I was paid by the CNR, twenty dollars a month, to be custodian of the two holer. Put in lime periodically, clean up, and make sure toilet paper was available. Eaton's catalogue was a myth. In the medium sized towns we lived in, there was the Honey man. There were both indoor toilets with cans that you leave out for the pickup by the Honeyman with his tank,horse drawn, or you had a outhouse with a back flap to access the can, wherein the Honeyman went down the lane to pick up your waste. In the winter the tank was not very stinky so you could hitch your sleigh to the Honeyman's tank, carefully avoiding the brown icicles. I am not making this up! These for me are fond memories. It was not girl activity.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Eating Beaver

The Scots' heraldry is the Rampant Lion. The Imperial Eagle is the American emblem, as it was for Napoleon and the Roman Legion and the Holy Roman Empire. Canadians have the Beaver. I think we may be the only country I can think of with a rodent, albeit a big rodent, as emblematic of the country. Industrious, hunkered down in the winter, hypervigilant and easily made into hats, is that us? Some time ago the pianist and I went with our son to a festive dinner and Anglican service in James Bay Cree land near Waswanipi in Quebec . My son was the incumbent priest in the district and conducted the service in the Cree language to a good degree. As it was, we had an in! It was frankly a wonderful experience and unforgetable. We had a culturally correct meal consisting of, amongst other things , chunks cut from a pit- fired beaver and a bread- cake topped with bear grease! Our normal capacity to eat lavishly was tempered, but our hosts were forgiving, after the first tentative tidbits were tried. Both the Anglican and the Catholic church proselytized in the north in the early days, including writing biblical translations and hymns in Cree. For us it was a privilege to listen in to the service, conducted with our son's mandolin and a Cree musician's guitar. I am reminded of similar, recent gastronomical episodes in the far north, with our Governor General, and later, the Tory caucus, tasting seal meat . Seal may become Canadian haute cuisine, but what about beaver! Take that Brigitte Bardot and your European Union!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Eagle attack

A while back we were watching a bevy of ducks, Buffleheads, in the harbor, with an eagle cruising above them. These were diving ducks. Suddenly the eagle spiraled down and the ducks scattered. The eagle seemed initially to have missed its strike but a lone duck, left, didn't fly off and remained on the surface. The eagle made a lazy circle over the area and then a long sloping descent onto the lone duck. The duck dived at just the right moment and the eagle seemed to have missed. This scenario was repeated at least five times and each time the duck dived for shorter and shorter periods. The eagle was relentless. It appeared to rake the duck on its last foray and then returned to pick up the duck, who could, it seemed, no longer dive.The eagle flew off with its prey in the talons. I felt a sense of horror for the duck. Even though I know this is part of life, I am always struck with the brutality of reality. Predators have to eat and supply their family. Eagles are large birds with big appetites that eat a variety of land and marine life including ducks. Still, I find it sad. I can't be a hypocrite however, since I too am part of the food chain and I am omniverous. My meat eating is at arms length from the killing fields so, as many others, my action is sanitized. I see it as acceptable. I seem to thrive on denial. Cognitive dissonance!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dressing down

The Haberdasheries of Lotus city in the 60's provided a superb stock of good men's clothing! I can't remember ever seeing a physician at work, then, without a white shirt and tie. Everyone wore a suit or jacket and pressed trousers. Men shaved. They certainly didn't wear a constant five day beard. We shined our shoes. Even the "suits" who are forced into jackets, wear an open dress shirt these days without a tie. The exception is politicians in Question Period! Are we saying appearance doesn't matter? Maybe we are saying "comfort rules".The current crop are clean and smart no doubt! But, why do they dress down? It must be a conundrum to the clothing industry to keep up with this change in fashion. It was always hard with women's clothing, but men ? When I look in to to the offices , none of my colleagues is in a jacket. I'm sure I look to them like the anachronism I probably am. When I go to church, virtually none of my colleagues is in a suit jacket! ! At least they shave. Lotus city used to have six or seven good men's clothing stores. Now they have one! I still have four worsted suits in my closet that I can fit, but there is unfortunately little occasion for them now. I could throw them out but I am still governed by "waste not, want not" . I guess I lament the passing of what I believed was propriety. I wear blue jeans a lot when I garden. They cost 20 dollars at Work Warehouse (sic). I am not against jeans! I am against four hundred dollar jeans! Seniors don't rule.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Board Games

I'm particularly poor at board games. I never win! Others feel sorry for my ineptitude and try to help. That is even more humiliating! Christmas is coming, and when our families gather, board games will be in full swing. I can see it now. Poised around the table,eyes darting here and there, almost visible cognition, racing along, trembling with anticipation to make the ultimate move, and me, an old duff, sitting out of the circle,feeling like the nursing home is just around the corner. The pianist, her grandchildren and daughters and son in law love board games and are good at it. They are not at all unkind to me as they know it is not my shtick, but what they don't know is I avoid board games because clearly there is a part of my brain that either won't, or can't, measure up to the competition, and I have a certain amount of pride that won't let my guard down. There is a particularly loathsome game called Bop-it that involves hand auditory coordination that they are all good at, and that I am a total bust at. I am lousy at crosswords and other acrostic pursuits as well. I am resigned to be at the edge of this kind of action. Lord knows I've been at the center for much of my share of life so I am not going to whinge. In the meantime the pianist will have a splendid gaming interlude that she has been denied for most of the year .