Friday, February 26, 2010

The Talisman

In the Middle English poem- saga Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain is given a sash which purports to guard him from death. A form of Talisman! It corrupted the pure honour to be expected of a knight of the Round Table in the encounter with danger. In their early childhood all three children of the pianist and I had little blankets. Each child reposed in safety only when the blanket was in place. A form of Talisman. Each child had a unique ritual with the blanket which was required to give it power. The first born carefully wrapped the satin edging around his index finger and massaged his upper lip, with the opposite thumb in the mouth. The second born massaged the nostrils with the satin edging, and as well, tickled her nostrils with her hair. The third born tickled her nostrils with a frayed edge of the satin border, and up to age six had one of the pianist's slips later subsituted for the satin lined blanket, often provided by her older sister or the pianist. The ritualistic application of the Talisman provided a refuge from evil. Think of it! We all have a Talisman in some form. Sir Gawain was not immune to his own human nature. There is always a visible representation to an invisible part of us. When I was a little boy my blanket was a part of me I am told.It was ,like the others, an extension of my body; an integral part of me. My mother went on a holiday when I was three and left me in the care of my father's sister Mildred. She apparently said, "You are a big boy now Jim, and you don't need your blanket." Mother gone, blanket gone, I must have grieved and faced the danger alone!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Observing myself in the mirror, as I frequently do when going out, there are frequently food stains on my shirt or sweater or tie that I had previously overlooked. The pianist has a sharp eye for this sort of mussiness so I am careful to take premptive action. My shape over the years has begun to approach that of Pickwick, and as a result, the frontage I display has become more horizontal than vertical. As such, I rarely get food stains on my trousers because of the overhang. The value of the neck tie has been largely over looked as to its use to clean one's glasses, but more importantly to intercept food droppings on one's shirt. The tendency to avoid ties today amongst public men, who wish to appear like one of the "people", has unfortunately resulted in discarding a useful bib. Pickwick was a man of a particularly mild nature, as I find is generally the case in the plumper members of the human race. Dickens' genial characters in all his novels seem to me to have always been of a more rotund physique than the lean, hungry and intense nature of the villains or the troubled. Compare Mr. Tubman and the fat boy with Mr. Jingle. Reflect on Fagin and Bill Sikes and Daniel Quilp. Not one of them a fat man. Then recall sweet, plump, Mr. Brownlow. This proposition of course could be a rationalization on my part and on the part of Dickens. But, ask yourself, can a man who loves juicy food and eats with relish and joy and dribbles on his clothing be skinny and cranky? I think not! Food and satisfaction are aligned in the psyche!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shred and Burn

Living as we do in a bucolic rural area, the potential to burn or shred the cellulose we accumulate is optional. The noise of my Bearcat shredder doesn't bother anyone and the smoke raised by the burning of larger wooden limbs and trash wood is not offensive to my distant neighbors. I usually do it on the beach. I like the shredded material because it returns fibre to the soil when composted and it also allows making little pathways which are A -OK on the wet coast. In the wet months I can burn all the paper trash in the incinerator and use the ash in the compost for phosphorous, etc. All told this is a pretty good system if you live in the country. I love power tools for gardening. I couldn't shred or use a blower or my weedeater or power washer in Lotus city without constantly irritating my neighbors who are mostly urban green. I hand turn my compost heap but also use a five horse power Honda tiller to mix it when it starts to return to black. I have to watch that I don't topple off the compost heap with the tiller on top of me. Having the capacity to turn most of the degradable junk back into the ground gives me a feeling of replenishment that is somewhat satisfying. I suppose there is a certain noise pollution and nose pollution and constantly dirty overalls but it's a labor of love. The family will not let me have a chainsaw because they think I will be careless and cut myself so I have given in on that subject with a bit of reluctance. Four fifths of a loaf is better than no loaf.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sex in the Island

It's spring in Lotus Island and the harbour is abuzz with incipient love making activity! The Oyster Catchers have returned. They never are apart from one another and there is never, ever, group sex among them. They always announce their return with high piping whistling. The Blue Herons are battling for tree space for nesting in the same large Douglas Fir over our studio. My daughter and her friend counted six herons squabbling about which branch should be allotted to them. The pianist thinks some of them are yearlings longing to return to the nest and being kicked out. I'm not sure how many herons constitute a heronry. The diving ducks and mergansers are still waiting the herring return so they can fatten up and go elsewhere for nesting. In the meantime the herring that are on the way to this spawning harbour are getting ready to lay their eggs on the Eel Grass and then be eaten. The harbour seals are about to take pleasure in one another and eat all the herring and any other fish that think there is an easy ride here. If you have a dog in your walk on the beach, the seals follow you with great interest. The small birds in the hedgerow at the beach are busy nest building in the hedge and the little males stand a vigilant guard on top of the spent Black Bamboo stakes that I leave for them. The dabbling ducks (American Widgeons) will eat the Eelgrass with relish once the herring eggs are on it and the gulls and crows, the loose eggs lapping at the shoreline. The pianist is the eagle expert and tells me they are now in the process of nest renewal and refurbishing and will soon continue their connubial relationship. I don't have the time or inclination to subsitute watching Sex in the City.

Monday, February 22, 2010

collagen or cojones

The more euphemistic of us would describe a metaphor for the strong and resilient as in possession of "lots of fibre" (Collagen). It is not sexist and is a more rounded description of the inner toughness of either sex, a feature that many strong women have in spades. I don't just refer to " moral fibre", though that also, but fibre, that is Collagen, is what maintains and provides strength for our structure. It's what holds us together! How really, can " having balls or cojones" provide any quality in describing the strength of the beautiful gender, let alone men? I suppose "having backbone" is an alternative that is apt, as a similar expression, for both men and women. For the orthopedic surgeon, "collagen and backbone" are part of our language and are preferable to the urological terms for toughness or staying power. The orthopedic terms just don't have as much colour. How about "having good ground substance ?" Ground substance is the intercellular material in which the collagen lies. We could say the the strong and resilient have good ground substance. They are "well grounded"! The term "balls " applied to women seems to me a derogation or, if not generally considered so, it should be. Having strong daughters and an equally strong wife I wouldn't dare say they had "cojones". I do know there is always a time to speak and a time to shut up. That time is now! I don't have the cojones!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Saltpetre,gunpowder and libido

I remember from my youth, two brushes of a totally different nature with saltpetre ! There was an abiding mythology in the residences at the university that the food supplied to students in residence was adulterated with saltpetre. That, coupled with the equal myth that saltpetre reduced the libido of the young, was enough to foster a seasoning of mistrust! I was so shy in my first years of university that I would not have recognized saltpetres effect, real or fanciful. Moreover there is no scientific evidence of saltpetre producing a diminution of libidinous height or its implementation. More likely, worry, late nights, loneliness, maladaption and culture shock of the young, were the proximate causes. We never talked much about the suspicion because, in the early fifties we all still did exactly as we were told by our teachers and the institution and believed that they were always right, at least on the surface. The other contact with saltpetre and a more exciting remembrance, is making gunpowder in grade eight with my friends. We mixed saltpetre , ground charcoal, and powdered sulfur in equal proportion 'til the color was a dark and dirty green. I can still see in my mind today the color of our recipe . Little boys blowing up things in the town garbage dump ! What was the druggist,as he was known then, thinking of when he gave us those ingredients? In some ways it must have been a much freer time with less supervision. How we could have avoided blowing ourselves up is even more mysterious. Saltpetre and Brimstone, Sex, and Violence in the dump, Naivety and Innocence in the pediatric age.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The hockey referee

My dad in the 1940's was a hockey referee for intermediate hockey throughout the Province of Saskatchewan, one of the cradles of hockey excellence. He was busy with this job every winter through this period and, though the war was on, there were still first class hockey players of an older and largely, farm generation, that were exempted for various reasons. You can't farm in the winter in Saskatchewan but you can skate, curl, play hockey, listen to the wartime radio news and watch the Movietone News. We lived for sport in the winter. My dad knew the hockey rule book backwards. We lived in Kindersley which was a hotbed for sports. My dad was one of the smoothest skaters I ever saw, and you could see it when he went back and forth following the play. He was totally impartial and on the face of that, his counterparts developed the same degree of resistance to being a "homer". He played hockey as a young man but I don't think he was particularly good, though he would never admit it. Having said all this,if you watch hockey on TV these days, the referees are usually invisible unless they are enjoined in some sort of dispute. Watching the referees when the game is particularly boring; if you focus and make the players invisible, is an interesting gestalt. There is a parallel activity going on, with a novel content, that no one short of the supervisor of referees probably ever sees. The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. This applies to most stuff! Peripheral vision! Try it! I don't recommend it as a steady diet, but it is an eye-opener. In every job there is an undergirding that performs a unsung and rarely noticed role!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


She had been sitting for a fairly long period and had to go to the bathroom and her leg kept going to sleep. "Can we take a break?"she asked." " Just a couple of minutes." he said, " I'm tidying up something." A trace of amusement passes her face and she shifts slightly to wait. He looked up just as the wisp of amusement was there and it was imprinted on his unconscious memory. He painted it in. He later showed the portrait to the Pope. "Very average painting " the Pope observed, " but there is something intriguing about the face". Then later he made a fuller comment on the portrait and observed that the enigmatic smile was significant as it reflected a deep, both sorrow and joy, that life and death and goodness and sin were omnipresent as part of the human condition. Centuries later the enigma of the smile continued to confound as gallery travelers marveled at what they were told to see. So, dear Brutus, let us not be airy-fairy, if you hear a chirping in the bush, it's probably a sparrow and not a canary.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fly Fishing Fiasco

A number of years ago I was captured by the idea of the romance of fly fishing. The thought of immersing myself in the wilds of nature ,wading a small stream, with the finesse brought by casting a dry fly to a rising trout, seemed an experience "du jour" for one of my precious sensibility. Accordingly, I purchased fly fishing tackle for dry fly fishing including the recommended flies for our area. Since I had not done any such casting before, having only experienced trolling a wet fly behind a row boat in the high lakes of the B.C. interior, I resolved to practise casting on our lawn. After several weeks of diligent work I was pleased with my progress and no longer wrapped my line around my head or snagged myself in the trousers. I could cast a fair length and hit a modestly small target area. The pianist and our children arranged a picnic at the Sooke River where trout were known to lurk. Before the picnic meal I donned my gear for wading and proceeded with my tackle and flies. Resting against a tree in the little park were two farmers in coveralls watching me as I cast to and fro with considerable aplomb. I thought they were probably admiring my technique and, perhaps it was, for them, a learning experience. It was clearly a poor fishing day and my efforts were not rewarded. I repaired to the family for our picnic. As the sun started to go down one could see little circles on the smooth flowing river appear. The farmers took off their coveralls and waded into the river under the observant view of my children. They cast hither and yon with practised skill, rendering my feeble efforts a dash of reality. They left as it got dark with several trout each. I was properly chastened, and on a practical note, abandoned further fly fishing to my son.

Friday, February 5, 2010

memory or money

The pianist and I are getting decrepit but not demented. We have "stuff" to unload eventually, whose value is memory, not monetary. Whose memory? Mostly ours. That is the trouble with "stuff". Our stuff becomes a legend in my own mind chiefly because it is a reminder of the events of our life ,ever present icons of the fragments of our existence. "How", someone might say, "can you worship your stuff as you do? You must be some sort of materialist, placing an inordinate value on 'things', rather than proper Christian principals." When we acquired the prized possession of old so-and-so, our relative, in the olden days, we wondered why she made such a fuss of this "thing"! Now I know. Most of the stuff the pianist and I will leave has little monetary value but it is difficult for me to part with it since it contains so many memories. Yet, it will have little value for others. In the mobile society we have today, and the disposable culture we have fostered, there is not an abundance of genuine heirlooms with intrinsic value that are one's own heritage. Sure, if you have enough money you can buy someone else's heirloom, but so what? It comes without your genes attached. I don't want to burden our children with the icons of my memory. I say "fuggedaboudit!" As I have recorded before and bears repeating, (paraphrased) "Don't be like as ass, whose back with heavy ingots bowed,you carry them but a journey, 'till death unloads you." Easier said than avoided!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gladiolus and Mums

Thirty or forty years ago the gladiolus was a stunning exhibition flower that engaged the best of growers in producing, propagating and hybridizing a truly noble species! The demise of the exhibition gladiolus, and its retreat to third rate florist varieties, is caused by and accompanied with, the demise of the home vegetable and cut flower garden. The gladiolus was never a suitable plant in a landscaping scene and landscaping is now all the rage. Landscaping sells! Zeitgeist rules! It's too bad and the end of an era. Sure, the fall fairs always have a few little exceptions but they really do not rate. In the days of yore my dad could buy large corms of Red Charm from Milton Jack for $ 4.00 a hundred and Elizabeth the Queen for $5.00 a hundred. and so on. With that volume you could produce champion specimens. The range of varieties was huge. Now the only class bulb farm I know of is Summerville's in New Jersey and similar bulbs are that much each. That price just reflects the market and the paucity of fanciers. It's the same with the Chrysanthemum aficionados. The Mum group in Lotus City are a small and talented bunch who grow the most beautiful muted Disbuds you ever saw, but their ranks thin every year despite the extraordinary attempts to recruit new enthusiasts. Again the popularity falls short, due to the need for a vegetable and cut flower garden for champion mums rather than everything dedicated to landscape. It is sad to see a skill sacrificed to the altar of landscape cosmetics. Surely there is room for both styles. If more people were encouraged to grow these flowers again, the cost would be affordable, and the beauty pageants would flower, and the standards would be maintained.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Impetuous gardening

A man without a plan is like Don Quixote mounting his horse and riding off on all directions. A man with a bad plan, is even less better off! I had a wet spot in my garden that was marshy in the winter and so, some time ago, thought I would plant cranberries since they grow well here. The peaty bogs in the Fraser delta grow beautiful blueberries and cranberries and the fields are spectacular in the fall when they turn deep reddish orange. If you are on your way to "Olympic City" from the south, take a detour through the Delta side roads for a visual treat. I phoned a commercial grower to ask what to do to plant a bog and he said they mowed the plants after harvest and I was welcome to cuttings since they threw them away. There is nothing better than free, and he gave me two full garbage bags from his mowing. I built a bed with substantial soil addition in my wet area and spent a long time planting my cuttings in a bed 5 feet by 30 feet. The cuttings were about 4 to 6 inches high. Most of them took but so did the weeds . It was frightful. My little transplants were inundated. The task of weeding was daunting and after a half day of labor and scant inroads I realized I was defeated. Too impetuous. Bad planning. I should have summer fallowed for one or two seasons before starting such a project. Too big a hand in the cookie jar. Eyes too big for the stomache. Besides, I rationalized, "How many cranberries do you really need?" It was really just the idea! Another fruit to grow! Another idea to try! I transplanted my Gunnera into the erstwhile cranberry bed. It's much more user friendly.