Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weeding and squatting

Weeding for prolonged periods in a fully flexed knee position, particularly with strapped kneelers, is dangerous. Popliteal artery occlusion, peroneal nerve compression and thrombophlebitis are all reported, particularly in Asian literature. I thought of this yesterday as I was weeding my permanent strawberry patch. It is a flat patch in the grassy orchard and Mother Nature's plants, consisting of various grasses, plantain ,dandelion,daisy,knotweed,speedwell and clover along with the worst, bindweed and quackgrass are a tough little bunch. I'm sure it is better to have an elevated strawberry bed or, strawberry rows, but one needs space for this. As it is, I will probably, after this patch crops in the late summer, dig the whole works up and select and replant the best plants. In the meantime I avoid a prolonged deep knee bend by going to another job every half hour or so, but it is darned hard to get up from the deep knee squat. I carry the burden of rectitude by using elbow grease rather than herbicides to deal with the unwanted. Some of he unwanted make good compost and the grasses can be used here and there to stamp into bald spots on the so-called lawn. The so-called lawn is mixed grasses so it doesn't mind added variety. So, vary your workload; don't stay too long in this squat position and know that kneeling for short intense periods is good for the soul as well as the strawberries.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The lady and the gardener

Dr Bill T. was an oldtime doctor who was a member of the establishment in Lotus City when I first arrived in the 60's. In a moment of utter madness he had purchased a large, old Tudor mansion on a seaside acreage in the high end district of the city. It was a beautifully landscaped property and he did the gardening work himself rather than hiring, as the rest of his neighbors were wont to do. He gardened in baggy, cast off trousers and an old slouch hat. Pruning, spraying, weeding , mountains of fertilizer and mulch . He toiled in the soil with his customary efficiency. A newcomer to the district seemed to take a particular interest in his work habits and eventually she came to Bill's fence and hailed him. She said, " I've noticed how you work and wondered if you might consider working for me as well. I'm close by. What do you charge? " Bill thought for a moment and said, "The standard amount, but the lady here feeds me lunch." "Oh ", said the newcomer, "I can feed you lunch"! "But", said Bill, " The lady here lets me sleep with her !" I don't know whether it was the slouch hat or the dirty baggy pants but that seemed to be the cessation of the negotiations. This is part of Lotus City lore, and for me it is hearsay, not of my own knowledge. It may be apocryphal, and is undoubtedly not original. It was said that despite the perhaps infelicity, at the time, they became good friends and enjoyed a laugh. It is however likely, that she was hesitant to become his patient.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Random width siding

An old, longstanding technique of clading houses on the wet coast is board and batten. Houses built 100 years ago have this kind of vertical siding using vertical cedar boards with the joins overlapped with vertical battens. The use of random width boards is a means whereby cutting planks from the diminishing widths of the entire log , one uses all of the log as a result, for your boards. The illusion provided by the randomized siding is a pleasing and gives not so obvious an appearance of randomness. It gave me a sense of having provided a green contribution in the utilization of materials to the maximum. When we built our house in 1995 the architect and builder had the use of 30 large Douglas fir and Western red cedar trees from our property, felled, skidded off and resting at the sawmill for eight months. The logs were custom cut for the framing of the timber frame building plus the randomized siding and battens. We had the lengths cut as we needed in the sequential building process. I was an innocent in the building matters but loved the idea of using our own wood to the maximum. They like to say, in houses with large picture windows, that "The design of this house brings the beautiful outside into the house!" In this case you could say, "The design of this house brings the beautiful outside onto the house!" Probably there was no real cost saving but the idea of recycling your little plot onto the house had an aura of romance. That this matter of clading used a time honored tradition, and British Columbia's unique wood resource, was for me an authentic expression of my roots. There is no place like home!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rat race

In November 1963 I went to Montreal to do the two day oral examinations for the Royal College of Surgeons degree. This was a followup to having passed the written examinations in the fall of '63. These exams were the culmination of five years of specialist training for the hundred odd aspirants to the higher degree. The pianist was home with two children and one, almost done, in the oven.The risk of failure was high and meant another year of training and impecunity. At the end of the two days the results were provided by hand, in the evening, in a large auditorium in the Montreal General Hospital. Adjacent to the auditorium was a large room used for catering. We all gathered in the auditorium awaiting our name to be called in alphabetic order. The wait seemed interminable! It was then that I envied Aaron Aardvark, and felt sorry for Zoltan Zolotony.! When called, the candidate walked down the stairs to receive a sealed envelope. The candidates were initially, either greeted with a handshake and directed to the catering room to the right or, greeted with a nod and an envelope, and directed left, out of the auditorium. Later, as those of us who were successful drank sherry in the room to the right, through the window, in the darkening gloom, we watched the unsuccessful trudging along the snowy path! "Mans inhumanity to man !" They should have never served sherry to the so-called 'select' and left the unsuccessful that year, some dignity to bear their grief privately! I hope they don't do that now!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Puberty, Jim has hair.

As a very young teenager I was shy about my incipient physical attributes of change. Though I slept in the same room as my brothers, I was careful. One of my young brothers however, caught me unawares one day and ran down stairs with the loud announcement to all that "Jim has hair!" My father raced up the stairs in great anticipation and pulled down my pajamas, greeting my wisps of hair with satisfaction. It's amazing that I was able to avoid detection up to that time as we, in those days, were still using the galvanized tub in the kitchen for Saturday night bathing. I was the oldest boy and probably the dirtiest, so tended to bath last, when everyone else was clean and in pajamas. I must have been stealthy as we had only a kitchen and a living room in the railway station living quarters on the main floor. The close quarters and the intense exposure of all of our habits to one another, was such a departure from today's separation and the demands of privacy as a way of life. Everyone in the family knew everyone's business because of the physical nature of the living quarters. The only one who was able to achieve a modicum of privacy was my mother, but even that was marginal. Gives new meaning to, "they were a very close family."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Crow world revisited

Three Ravens visited our plot this morning prompting a collective pursuit by the Crows who really own the place! The Ravens (Corvus corax) appear to produce extraordinary rage on the part of the crows (Corvus Caurinus ). The crows do not seem to mind the Eagles, Heron or Seagulls, though they do maintain distance. However there is something about the Raven that always produces a noisy pursuit. The Crows have a congregational life and the teamwork they display is remarkable. They always have a watchbird and a distant early warning system to alert the pianist and me to the presence of the enemy. The Crows play frequently, diving and wheeling and rotating with one another at regular intervals. Life for them is not always serious.The Raven tends to be a more solitary bird and seems more of an outsider, largely unwelcome, at least here. The range of vocalization of the Crow is rather outstanding, though I cannot tell precisely what they are saying. Certain phrasing seems consistent in certain identifiable situations. They have learned from the Seagulls how to crack clams by dropping them from height onto the rocks. and they have no trouble competing with the gulls for shore side delicacies. I think the Seagulls are too stupid to learn anything from the crows. The gulls seem to have no time for one another and though they congregate together they are always competing. The Crows know precisely when the smaller tree fruits ripen so they eat them completely, two weeks before ripening, thwarting the now empty handed orchardist. I wonder at the choice of the Stellar's Jay (Cyanacitta stelleri) as the provincial bird. They do not have any skill or "savoir faire" to compare with the Northwestern Crow. They may be beautiful, but they are noisy, obnoxious, and have attention deficit disorder. I frankly cannot think of any bird that could compete with the brains of the Crow. It seems "Beauty before Brains" was the operative phrase when the unfortunate choice was made by the B.C. Committee.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dinosaur Rhubarb

The Gunnera at the moment is resting. In the summer, it is arresting. Now, it lies in a bed of mixed leaves, its own and maple and plum leaves. The leaf covering is three feet thick and needed as Gunnera is tender to a sharp frost. The leaf covering will compost down over the winter and the wonderful shoots will push the rotted leaves aside and emerge. The growth of this plant is phenomenal if given the ample moisture it requires. It has been in this spot 20 or so years and will take over a garden if you let it. I had it in another spot in the garden for about eight years so when we transplanted it to this spot, I needed a front end loader to move the monster root balls. I have not investigated the underground stems of this plant, but Brian Minter said, on his radio show that I listen to, that you need a chain saw to cut them.My variety is Gunnera manicata.They say it may be eaten and is used for food in Brazil ,but I am dubious. The deer in rutting season will savage some of the leaves. They seem to see it as a challenge. I don't mind, as it is starting to decline by then and it saves them attacking the Dahlias. I never bother to fertilize the Gunnera as it is buried in leaf mold. The photos are January and early June. That foolish gardener doesn't appear to be fearful of dinosaurs.

Monday, January 11, 2010

One, a figure of speech

I worked for a man for a period of time, fortunately brief, who referred to himself as, One! Not I, or Me, or even the collective ,We, meaning those of us in the business, but solely and deliberately ,One. As in, " One thinks this", or "One does this", or "One has no patience with ". It might have been forgiveable if he referred to himself as Oneself. At least it would be a recognition that he was saying more about himself than the subject he thought he was talking about.The pronouns we use may be a marker, revealing of our inner self. It occurred to me at that time that we could classify people, in one form of measure, as those wanting to please, and those wanting to be pleased! It's not that he was difficult to work with because he wasn't, he just saw himself as not one of the "little people". I am occasionally astounded at the boundless self confidence of those in command. " What is good for General Bullmoose ,is good for the country!" The wanting to please may be seen as a "toadying" by some, or reflective of a wish to get ahead by any means, or at all cost, by others. Undoubtedly this may be so, but it fails to account for the dictum that, he who would lead must first be a servant to all. If you follow that dictum it doesn't mean you should discard your boundaries. It just means hard work! The lofty outlook of One, who saw himself as exercising "Noblesse Oblige"at every opportunity was, in fact, a social innocent. Needing to be pleased may be a precarious and fragile walk of life. The hounds will be at your heels.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Three Sisters

The three Sisters this morning are backed by fog on the opposite harbor side and so, look like floating islands, discreet and resplendent in brown and green. They are unimaginatively named, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Sister. They are mostly uninhabited since they have no potable water . They are not parks ,but we all treat them as such for excursions to what is called Chocolate Beach, on the middle Sister. The beach is completely composed of finely, tide deposited, ground sea shell, as the islands were used as a Salish aboriginal gathering place for shellfish processing in the long distant past. Chocolate beach is not named for the chocolate candy, but for the Chocolate Lily, (Frittillaria camschatsensis), that grows there. The Salish first nations used the bulbs as a food source. Woe betide anyone who picks this protected species now. The beach is a favorite spot for novice tourist kayakers. For the pianist and me, it used to be 700 pulls of the rowboat oars to the Chocolate beach. Our kids used to explore the islands since there were several haunted squatter's shacks at one time. Now we have no kids, there are no shacks ,and we only watch. Since we have moved toward renaming, what still is the Gulf of Georgia, to call it the Salish Sea, we could give the Sisters more romantic Salish names in keeping with their centuries of use. Since George the third lost, to the now, Americans, in the Revolutionary war, I think it reasonable that we change the Gulf of Georgia along with these islands to names reflective of those original inhabitants. John Ralston Saul, in his most recent book, A Fair Country, makes the point that Canadian identity is greatly influenced by the aboriginal healing circles, justice and mediation. Maybe we need to acknowledge that, by having these historic islands renamed by our First Nations!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Deer Feeding Station

When we have surplus apples , so does everyone else on the island. What to do? The Community Services has a glut of donated apples. So does everyone else I know. The deer are a different matter. There is a shortage of their preferred food and I am not about to plant things that they enjoy. It's a perfect use for the apples as long as the deer balance their diet. I used to spread apples on their customary pathways but these feeding troughs keep the place a little neater. They are under cover so the apples don't drown. After a while they contain lots of deer slobber and grotty bits. The deer don't seem to mind. I have just cleaned up and blow dried the area and will pull the cans back under cover. In the past I have also composted old apples and they add a lot of speed to the rotting process. We also make cider in the summer, in volume ,so there is lots of mash for compost as well. I am still troubled by "Waste not, Want not " so I avoid being agitated as a result of these useful alternatives for surplus fruit. We never fully outlive our backgrounds. Growing up on the bald prairie, an apple was a thing of wonder in the grocery store. My brother ,age five, stole an apple from Clem Reid's grocery store in Kindersley . My mother sent him right back with the apple to apologize. Clem said to her, " I told him, if he was going to steal an apple, he should steal a good one. " I don't think that my mother was satisfied with Clem's admonition. She would have resorted to the hair brush.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Need for Certainty

A psychiatrist friend of mine said that the measure of maturity of a person was their ability to deal with uncertainty. I think there is some truth in this assertion. If, as a physician you promise certainty to a patient, it may be consoling but you are probably stretching the truth! Some physicians, now a days, give patients such a long and exhaustive list of possible complications that they frighten them to death, in order to cover their own ass. Some offer alternatives of treatment to patients who aren't really equipped to make such a decision . An abrogation of responsibility I believe. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine , said in his book of Aphorisms, "cure occasionally, comfort always." We have a lot more tools to cure now than we had in 400 B.C. but it still applies. You can comfort a patient without lying, outline risks without frightening them to death, and can admit that you aren't always certain, but are prepared to offer the course of action you recommend.
And yet, many people are attracted to the dogmatic amongst us because of the strong certainty that they appear to provide. Down deep everybody knows we take one step at the time in the dark and despite someone holding your hand, they are also taking one step in the dark. Life has no guarantees. My friend and colleague was a very careful man in many ways. I used to kid him that he always kept his trousers up with both a belt and suspenders. If you never take a chance, avoid risk at all cost, you will probably miss opportunities. I suppose there needs to be an ability to handle some tension and anxiety and have a clear alternative exit strategy. There needs to be intelligent risk assessment. Having done that, you then must then, "go for it ". Dealing with uncertainty is not for control freaks!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Surgeon's lounge

There was always a certain amount of ribald humor in the lounge, and in the change room in particular, that I am hesitant to write about. This story is relatively safe. If you do a job that has a certain amount of tension and stress, humor is a useful relief valve and probably helps you to stay on your feet in good order. As more and more women have entered the surgical field there has been some modification of the worst of it. Where sexes are separated in change rooms,even with so-called adults, there are fewer restraints on either sex. Dr MM was an old time, busy, general surgeon in the 60's when I first started. He was famous for his surgical skills but even more famous for his long penis. It was a source of admiration and considerable conjecture as to it's measurement. Some, of a more envious nature, postulated that it was partially an optical illusion, since he had short femora. When he operated at that time he wore a very identifiable pair of white surgical rubber boots. They were unmistakeable. Someone, no one knows who, put his boots neatly together in front of one of the toilets and behind the swinging door. If , in the process of changing for a case, two colleagues were to gossip about another, it was customary to look under the floor space of the swinging door to ensure privacy and avoid offending. Dr. MM's boots sat neatly in front of the toilet for several hours, casually checked by successive surgeons 'til one, who had observed the boots earlier, panicked and hollered out to call the arrest team, before he swung the door open to find nothing but a pair of empty boots. The cardiac arrest team mobilized for naught! It added to the legend of Dr. MM who had been long gone from the operating room !