Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Struck by Lightning

Our family of four were struck by lightning when anchored just off shore in the Salish Sea. The pianist and I were in the cabin cruiser with our 13 year old and our 11 year old and the youngest of 8 was on shore in a tree house with her friend. The weather had been unsettled that day and we were sleeping aboard that night when a savage storm struck with both forked and sheet lightning. Our family friends, in their cottage, rescued the tree dwellers and watched us through their windows as the storm surged around them and us. Janet, our friend said, with each lightning strike the entire bottom of the bay was lighted up. The four of us, trapped , formed a ring in the boat, held hands, and prayed. It's a certain sign of extreme anxiety when you can get a 13 year old and an 11 year old to pray aloud and fervently for salvation! The roof leak on the cabin cruiser drenched us but we didn't notice. The boat was anchored in the bay on the mud floor with a heavy chain since it was pretty shallow anchorage. Then, at the height of the storm, we were struck by a bolt of lightning and an instant clap of loud thunder. The boat shook! We shook! There was an instant smell of ozone throughout the boat. The boat must have been grounded by the anchor chain. That was all we noticed, though a fresh downpour made us wetter by the minute. It would have been dangerous to try to make shore in a dingy in that storm. We simply had to wait it out. In the morning we observed the drinking water in our galvanized tank under the floor boards had gone from clear and clean, to the color of 2% milk. In the aftermath we, and our old boat, were unhurt. Janet said, as they watched us in the storm, they thought we might be "goners", because they saw the lightning strike the boat. Certainly our 8 year old, safe in the house, told us she was praying with us. A number of trees were downed in that storm and a cottage destroyed. Though this happened almost 40 years ago, it is etched in our collective memories, the dangers of the sea, and the weather, and the power of prayer.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tilling Fallow Ground

In this week's Economist, the book reviewer, in reference to elegiac writing says, "...the very possibility of death's approach gives a new urgency and a new energy to the apprehending eye. Everything to be seen and heard becomes precious and surprising". It strikes me that it's not too late to recreate the state of time you need, to unwind the things less sublime, and address your world anew, if you need to. It just takes a bit of work. It's tempting to hide inward because there is so much reportage of bad news these days. It may make you want to weave a web of spit around you and hang upside down and let it harden. If you make a cocoon for yourself you will still eventually emerge a worm, a worm by any other name a worm, but with wings. I'm "long of time" these days, so have tackled a job that has been put off for years. The pianist has done a lot of it, but I confess, with very little input and even less effort on my part. The job consists of going through fifty years of photographs, slides, 8 millimeter movies and stereo slides, some in a state of relative disrepair and often not well edited. Far too many photos of landscapes, without people. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but if there aren't people, there's little sentiment. If we don't tackle the job now, it won't get done, as all our offspring and their children are too busy. We also have the older generation's pictures . We are the only ones who know who many of the people pictured from our prior generations are. We need mega-albums and captioning! Who else has time for this sort of stuff, other than a geezer? This is fallow ground that needs urgent tillage and the more I look at these images, the more enthused I get about putting them in order for those who will follow. These seeds have been sitting in the cupboard for a long time ,but they'll still germinate, and we're getting the ground ready for them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

squirrel scraps

The little brown squirrel that is part owner of this ground is not easily taught to clean up his mess. In the fall he spends a lot of time pulling off the scales on the Douglas Fir cones and eating the seeds, leaving the scales strewn about. Now he has clearly stored last years maple husks somewhere at home, resurrected them, is cracking the husks and eating the seeds. Home for the little brown squirrel according to my neighbor Dennis is in our woodpile. Not the new one but the old punky one that we have given up on and is slowly slipping back to nature with it's mix of apartment dwellers of furry and carapace nature, four, six and eight legs, maybe more for all I know. Why the squirrel stores in one place and then transports them up to our barbeque and eats under the barbeque cover, I am not sure. What you can see are the scraps he leaves behind, all the seeds removed and he neither cleans the table, or wipes up after himself. His table manners seem atrocious. I clean up after him at least once a week. I say him, because she wouldn't leave such a mess out of maternal caution as well as just, doing it right!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gospel music

Last Saturday the pianist and I went to a performance of Chor Leoni. They are a noted Canadian men's choir from "Olympic City" and usually sing classical music, what ever that is. The pianist says "Common practice period". I like that term better since my tastes are more eclectic, or maybe more vulgar, I'm not sure which. Whatever! We often get good musical performances at Lotus Island since our theatre is excellent and they are well attended. Chor Leoni gave a program of Gospel music that was outstanding.It got me thinking widely about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Stephen Foster, the compelling nature of Gospel music and that genre of thinking, and the ovum that is buried in Everyman that seeks to be penetrated by a chord of truth and beauty! I went away from the performance thinking that there is little or no distinction between the secular and the religious in many ways. Classical or not, Stephen Foster in his short and desperate life provided soul music that lifted his nation and struck a chord in Everyman. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a story that shocked and revolutionized an attitude that cracked barriers forever.Technically, they may not have produced so-called great literature or music but they touched the spirit. Both were criticized mightily in their life time, and Uncle Tom's Cabin was shunned, up to modern times. How would these two have known the influence they provided has lasted up to this time? When you walk away from a performance with a warm glow in your heart, and resolve for the umpteenth time, to crank up your "anima", you can celebrate both classical and classy! Religious is, as religious does!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Clam digging

Today my neighbor Roland and I dug clams. Actually we raked clams as they are only 3 to 4 inches below the surface. Butter clams and Little Neck clams are abundant on our beach, since there are very few people now that care to harvest them. I don't know why that is so, since they are delicious in chowder, which I am about to make.I picked up 50 clams in a 3 square foot area with about 20 minutes of work, if you don't add in 40 minutes of talking time. I'm soaking them in water now to encourage them to get rid if the sand. I'll steam them up in order to to facilitate shucking them tomorrow, and then make Manhatten clam chowder a la Joy of Cooking, one of the pianist's bibles. She doesn't like clams so it's all for me. If I steam them outside on the barbeque the kitchen won't smell like a cannery.They have to be strained for sand and washed several times. It's messy and best done outside which is my domain. Once you start to collect clams there is a natural tendency to take more than you really need. Some restraint is good, only because you can get yourself in a mess cooking in factory like volumes, chopping vegetables, straining the liquid, packaging, labeling,freezing and washing up. Now that I think of it , maybe people are smart to avoid clam digging. This is the first week in 3 months that we have had day-time low tides so" make hay while the sun shines" they say,whoever they are. Despite the fact that Roland and I could never make a good living manufacturing clam chowder, it is a satisfying pursuit to cycle what we think is our own resource. Of course, "our own resource" is nonsense. In Canada, the people own the beach to the average high tide mark. Properly so! Forgive me for saying "our beach";only a manner of speaking!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Garden Bones

The bones within the established enclosure we call the garden, are dry bones and living bones. The presence of mighty conifers, old orchard trees and venerable ornamentals have "ruah" and are living bones. If they are well placed it is unwise to disturb the skeleton created by Mother Nature and embellished by earlier man. They carry their own sinews and flesh and lift them up as a risen testament to life. The dry bones are another matter. Not withstanding Ezekiel, these dry bones will not rise again, they will not be covered with sinew and flesh , and they are expendable. The thoughtful gardener will work with the living skeleton to complement its beauty and only flesh out the bed on which it rests. The dry, man made bones, of terraces, lattice works, fences, new beds and structures can be changed or modified to suit the palate of the current garden custodian. You can add sinews and flesh to these structures, and you should, but they will never grow sinews or flesh themselves, nor will they have "ruah". No tree can be replaced in a gardener's lifetime. No birds of a variety will frequent your enclosure without trees. No sweet or otherwise songs will fill your air with passion! Your exhilaration in meandering will be muted. " Thus there are two books from whence I collect my divinity:besides that written one of God, another of his servant Nature,that universal and public manuscript, that lies expansed unto the eyes of all; those that never saw him in the One, have discovered him in the Other". (Religio Medici)"Don't change what aint broke!" There is an infinite number of shorter term things you can do to put your own imprimatur in place on the page. Just don't change the parchment!

Friday, March 19, 2010

An Ugly Boat

Our family owned what was one of the more ugly boats on the wet coast. It was a wooden planked, twenty-six and a half foot, semi-planing hull with a smoky and loud diesel engine. It was a single- screw and it ran at seven and a half knots at best. I bought it for two and a half thousand dollars in 1968. It was the kind of boat you could hammer a nail in anywhere to hang anything you wanted. The pianist got curtains for it and nice mattresses for the bunk beds and made it homey, as best she could, but much of it remained "dressed up ugly " ! We were very fond of our boat as a family of five and used it constantly so it never let us down. A boat in constant use remains a faithful companion. If you don't "use it, you lose it". Every time I went down to paint it at the marina, I went fishing instead. If it needed caulking, I was a fast caulker, so it remained ugly through its life. We had it for almost twenty years. We went for a summer cruise in the Salish Sea one summer week and the weather was squally. We were caught at sea in the squall and our clothing became wet since our cabin had a roof leak. The pianist jury rigged a clothes line and we hung our clothes out to dry when the sun came out and put into the nearest harbor which was Bedwell harbor! Bedwell is aptly named as it is a secluded refuge for overnighters. As we pulled into the harbor we could see a flotilla of large, white, sleek, beautiful boats, with a clutch of glistening people in whites and deck shoes and big hair, cooking steaks on the Hibachi at wharfside. My 14 year old son said, "Shit ,we should get out of here!" I'm sure he spoke for all of us, but by then we were committed. As I eased our smoking, ugly stinkpot into the moorage, the disdain from the boaters was palpable. Certainly the pianists clothesline added to the picture: the flags of the Beverly Hillbillies.I did think however that in all probability, we were the only one's there that owned our boat! Maybe the only one's that could manage a single- screw!


I have been labouring under the illusion for years that gynoecious cucumbers produced cukes in the absence of any need for male flowers. Apparently that is not so! I am now given to understand that the seed sellers include a marked, male flower producing cucumber seed, or two, to grow up to be a big boy and fertilize the gynecological crowd. This seems eminently more sensible, but why didn't I clue into this before? I think it is because when I ordered seeds of Carmen,a cuke that has performed well for me in the greenhouse,it costed out at about $2.00 a seed and there were only 5 seeds in a packet. Which seed ,if any, was the male flower producer? If "he" didn't germinate was I stuck? The answer in fact is that Carmen is a parthenogenic cuke! There is no need for a male! What we have in some plants and some lower order animals and some experimental species is a looming crisis to the "drones" of the world. It's been coming for a long time , slowly and inexorably. Boys, you had better get to work to find your niche before it's too late! You may have thought the sperm bank would be your nemesis. but there is now even a larger cloud over the horizon, Parthenogenesis. And moreover, the offspring of these cucumbers, Carmen, are all sweet females. Prolific and nonbitter!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gophers (Prairie Dogs)

My brother Ken told me he took his son to the Saskatchewan prairies several years ago and they stopped enroute and shot prairie dogs as a part of his nostalgic return to the past. Gophers, as we knew them in the olden days, and now, are always a pest to the farmers in Saskatchewan. The number of varieties of species of gopher are quite overwhelming, but for us as children, they were just "gophers". The current measures of gopher control in Saskatchewan include various poisons like Strychnine and others, and shooting as a sort of control sport . Living in the then, small town of Kindersley, the bald prairie was close at hand and in the spring the sloughs were full of water. It was easy to haul a pail of water from the slough to the burrow hole, fill the burrow with water, and guard both the front and rear burrow entrances. When the poor bedraggled gopher emerged we would club it to death and cut off the tail. We got one cent per tail and deceitful or not, if the tail was particularly long, we cut it in half. Our family left Kindersley when I was 13, so this was a little boy business. We tried the snare technique, waiting for them to pop up as they did, looking for danger, but this was a slow and ineffective way to deal in the tail business world. We were too young for guns, and too innocent for poison. The tail production was not substantial, but a penny is a penny. It dismays me now that the rather grotesque nature of our work seems to indicate we were bereft of finer feelings. I think now of the seal hunt and the animal rights group and harken back to that earlier time. Certainly there is no distancing of the act of killing when you club a little animal to death.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bird Feeders

My Italian friend, studying in Plymouth, England, liked to eat small birds. It apparently was a custom in Milan. He and I studied together in the same house and, when he studied, he set a food trap for small birds, starlings and others, and then would hang them in the basement for a few days, cook them whole on a spit and invite his friends for a dinner party. The pianist and my children were living upstairs in the council house with me and were aghast at this barbarity. It was contrary to her teaching that "God sees the little sparrow fall". I attended once by myself, when invited, and found it interesting but unusual.Of course the English neighbors found this small bird feeding custom offensive, but he persisted. It reminded me however, of my culinary endeavors as a boy in Kindersley, Saskatchewan in the 1940's. We had a dam adjacent to the town and it was a favorite place for 10 year olds to play. The dam was the only water source around in the arid, bald prairie so it attracted much bird life around it and in the spillway. It also served as the power source for Reddy Kilowatt which preceeded Sask. Power, providing electricity to the town. Jimmy Mac farlane had a Red Ryder BB gun and we shot, over time, a few small birds, sparrows and red wing blackbirds, and cooked them at the dam site. Our stove as I recall was an oil can turned upside down with wood burning as fuel and we boiled the breasts of the small birds in a can. I also remember cooking fried eggs on the flat surface of the oil can. I cannot remember the taste of our product but it probably left something to be desired. I cannot remember any other small bird dining parties. What we bird feeders have to answer for!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bad Breath Soup

A variety of soup the pianist occasionally prepared, much to the horror of some of our children, was Bad Breath Soup. The soup was a derivative of the previous meal, which was always New England Boiled Dinner. A large ham , boiled with onion, cabbage ,carrots and spuds was the original meal, and then the soup was made with the leftovers and with the "held over" boiling water. A big dollop of split peas was added to the soup with seasoning. The boiled New England dinner is best served as big chunks to give a sense of rotundity. The chunks can then be diced more finely for the soup. There is always enough to freeze several soup packets for later. It is clear that the nose and tongue,though aligned and working together, are neurologically autonomous as well. The tongue taste buds are mediated by the 7th, 9th, and 10th cranial nerves and the olfactory role of the nose by the 1st cranial nerve. What an object smells like then, is a scent that is slightly different, than what it tastes like. The wine and cheese people who are tasters know this, but they may not know why! However, Bad Breath Soup is a misnomer. It smells like onion and cabbage, both hearty and strong vegetables, and giving a superb smell only exceeded by the taste, conducted by an orchestra of cranial nerves. As adults, our mature children have now developed a keen relish for Bad Breath Soup, though it continues to be called by it's traditional name. Our children learned to eat this soup by the admonition that, "Bad breath is better than no breath at all!"

Sunday, March 14, 2010


When my mother died and we planned her funeral, my brother Ken was elected to do a eulogy because the rest of us would have cried. He said, in his remembrance, that she was famous amongst her friends and acquaintances for her turkey gravy! We,her family, didn't know that! Sure, we knew her turkey gravy was good as we had eaten it many times, but we did not know that her fame had known few bounds. Ken said she was also somewhat less famous, but not much less, for her small soft buns and lemon curd tarts. When I married the pianist years ago, she made gravy like her mother did. The pianist's mother was a careful cook who followed a recipe exactly and was vigilant to avoid ingredients that could lead to obesity or heart disease. She was well ahead of her time. Her turkey gravy method was, to spoon off virtually all of the fat, and add premixed flour and water to the turkey brownings. Then she boiled the gravy vigorously while stirring, adding her vegetable water and seasoning as required. My mother, never to my knowledge, followed a recipe, at least as I remember. Her construction of turkey gravy consisted of adding the dry flour to the brownings and drippings without removing the fat. She would stir and scrape the molten mass into a brown, boggy, glob, whereupon she added nonvegetable water,stirred more vigorously, boiling to reduce. She only seasoned with pepper and salt. Of course, the gravy flavour arose not only from the turkey, but from the dressing as well. The pianist is now famous for her turkey, and has adopted the excellence of both of her mentors. She gets rid of much of the fat but adds the dry flour directly. The best of both worlds. But, more importantly, she indignantly decries the amount of water in the turkeys these days due to the processing methods. This requires extraordinary culinary efforts on her part to produce the same sublime result.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Road to Beulah

My father's family farmed in Isabella, Manitoba from the mid 1800's. A town near them, was Beulah. This area of Manitoba was the best farmland in the province. Deep dirt was deposited from the prehistoric flooding of the area by the Assiniboine River. The pioneers came to northern Ontario as part of the Clearances in the earlier 1800's and then homesteaded in Manitoba later, in search of more and better land. My dad often made fun of Beulah with us, because in the heyday of these towns, Isabella always had a better hockey and baseball team than did, hapless Beulah. Isabella has disappeared with the changing times. It has a couple of vacant buildings and a small farm museum. I think Beulah is in the same boat. The first pioneers who homesteaded in Beulah would have named it as the community developed. It must have seemed like heaven to the landless, who built the first sod house on the property. I have a picture of my great grandfather by his sod house. He doesn't look like he is in heaven! The road to Beulah is long and winding with many side roads. There is not a lot of people on the road these days. The pianist and I are on the road to Beulah. We have taken a lot of side roads at one time but there are fewer roads now we wish to travel. After 52 years of marriage we are not interested in playing hockey or baseball. The deep dirt is still there, and the sod huts are gone. I'm just hoping that there is still a place for gardening in Beulahland!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Foods of yesteryear

When you look at today's foods, the ethnic cooking, the diet cooking, the cosmopolitan choices of ingredients available, the prepared foods, the restaurant meals, the foodstuffs of yesteryear are frequently forgotten ! The things we ate during the 2nd world war and the pioneer food and the poor person foodstuffs are of some interest,at least to me. I have tried some of these recipes to take a fresh look at what we ate in those days. Raisin pie was as common as apple pie when I was a kid. No one I know eats raisin pie today but it is an old taste and a good taste, as I found out when I made one. The danger is the pounds it will add. How about Shoo Fly Pie! The pianist and I tried it once. Brown sugar and molasses! When that was what you had, that's what you used. I tried Irish Soda Bread once and cooked it in the fireplace on a grate insert over wood coals. It wasn't bad for someone without yeast. Just a bit labor intensive. Colcannon, I never tried, but I grew lots of kale one year and mixed it in with mashed potato. Delicious. Mock apple pie my mother made a few times. Soda crackers with lemon juice and sugar,a substitute for apples. I made that as well, experimentally . It's a poor substitute for apple pie, but it is surprisingly deceptive. If we were still hungry after supper my mother would say we could have bread and milk. I remember eating bread and milk laced with sugar. It was filling and I liked it. I never had Brewis till we went to Nova Scotia last year and ordered it at a restaurant. It wasn't too bad. I can't make it here on Lotus Island since salt cod is not readily available . I guess when some people talk about plain cooking, at least in those times the plain cooks cooked, which may not always be the case today. Seems to me the more shiny copper tools hanging from the show kitchen rafters, the less cooking is being done. Maybe this inverse assumption is my hangup! I admit it! Let's just say that a standing rib roast with gravy, tarragon roasted potatoes , broccoli cooked "al dente", and deep dish Gravenstein apple pie, cooked in a country kitchen, is not plain cooking by any definition!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Whither Fritz Perls?

I often wonder what remnants of the sixties still can be found in the litter of today's world and its ethos. If you throw enough mud against the wall, will some of it stick? Was it all in vain? Did anything that Fritz Perls talked about at Big Sur result in any long term influence and change our present way of looking at relationships, or was it just jargon? Did Easy Rider or Fellini Satyricon or Blowup strike anyone with a sense of changed perception that lasted? Did Alan Watts, poor man, make any sense to the world, grappling with his identity issues and ours? What about Robert Bly and his male concepts in Iron John? Did this speak to any males seeking to redefine themselves? Is it only Leonard Cohen that is left carrying an old torch? I think not. He still speaks to many. Are there still subversives in the underground that see a way out of today's polarized and hugely structured, in the box thinking? Yes! What ever happened to love when success took over? What ever happened to peace when gratuitous violence took over? What ever happened to freedom when regulation returned? Sure, there was lots wrong with all that earlier stuff. Some people would say, "You must be an old hippy." It was often impractical ,but it had some of the right stuff. It included seeing the divine in your neighbor for all his and your own warts, and caring about it. I hope we can look at the mosaic that is the world and pick out bits and pieces of it that we can say," Here is , 'I have a dream!' " and another that says " Ich bin ein Berliner !" 'The church I go to is trying to get out of the box and seek the core values of loving your neighbor as yourself, and the neighbor is the world and the whole community. It's a start . We want to be part of the mosaic. We are beset with naysayers these days. Whether we can work out of our packaged ideas and open up to life hinges on blind exploration of all parts of the elephant!

Tickle your bum

When I was five years old, my brother Ken had been born, and I went from good, to naughty. I was no longer the center of my mother's universe. We lived at that time, in 1939, in Melfort Saskatchewan, and my father was mostly out of town at work. My mother had a daytime girl to help with the household. At the back of our lot was the outhouse where we did our "business". The outhouse was a one holer and not over a pit but rather over a can that was emptied by the frequent visits of the honeyman. The access to the can was a flap that lifted up on hinges, at the back of the outhouse. The daytime girl who helped my mother came out to do a bit of "business" herself when I and my small friend were playing in the lane. The scene I am about to describe is as vivid now in my mind's eye, as it was at the time! When the day girl was in the outhouse, my little friend and I lifted the back flap, and he held it while we inspected. I can see now, that big bum hanging through the one holer, as if it was yesterday. I tickled it with a long piece of grass which was within easy reach. Then we ran. I can remember her racing out of the outhouse and yelling "I'm going to tell your mother! " I don't remember the outcome. Memory is selective.

Monday, March 8, 2010


The phenomenon of mind- body interaction is mysterious. When the pianist and I bought our piece of ground on Lotus Island the first job was to look for water. We had use of a jointly owned well but we needed a backup plan. We hired a witcher. There is a reason it is called witching. Moreover, I had seen, " Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." The dowser came with a witching rod of willow and dowsed in the most likely of places. I expected the process to be amusing and primitive. Sure enough, his dowser dipped and water was found near the surface. Actually, too near the surface to be of use other than a cribbed shallow well for watering the plants. We never bothered to crib it. However I was intrigued and started to dowse myself. I tried forked willow, forked vine maple and a wire coat hanger. If I approached a likely part of the lot where water was possible, all of my witching tools would dip easily and strongly. What was this phenomenon? I do not know. As a scientist it is easy to be skeptical, particularly about other people's inexplicable experiences.One can say,"What benefit will accrue to this person if they are convincing, and is it worth their while to fudge the truth?" Or, one can say, "Is this person sincere but credulous?" Or one can accept that there is a realm of phenomena that appear for which we have no logical explanation. Speculation is not a substitute for explanation. It may be like the Ouija board. A mind-body phenomenon. I am convinced that though my mind said this was nonsense, the body responded as if it wasn't. Cognitive dissonance!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mother Nature's Garden

In the more bucolic parts of Lotus Island, Mother Nature's handiwork is in full display this morning. The Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) is in full flower. This small tree or shrub is the first of Mother Nature's to flower. The plum is widespread throughout the island and like us, is not spectacularly beautiful, but is plentiful, durable and fruitful. The Red Alders are abundantly present throughout Mother Nature's plot and the red male catkins are in full bloom. Though the Red Alder (Alnus rubra) is so named because of its red bark, the catkins, when a grove of Alders is seen from a distance, give a beautiful red hue to the landscape. The westerly view from the Fulford harbour ferry is fantastic. Once the leaves emerge the red hue goes. The wild American plum, (Prunus americana) is also in bloom,white flowered,beautiful and abundant. It maybe more of "an escape" rather than Mother Nature's baby. But then, in a way, I suppose we are all "an escape". Over our painted deck the three Western Red Cedars (Thuja plicata) have been dropping their pollen cones for the last two weeks as the little cones detach from the leaf tips. The tiny cones stick to the deck because of the little irregular scalelike shape. They don't seem to provoke much interest from the Oregon Juncos that are making the rounds right now. The cones are so adherent to the deck I can't blow them off with the blower. The air is thick with pollen, the pianist commented to me on the walk yesterday. It has to be the Alders and the Indian Plum as the Maples and Cottonwoods are not in bloom yet. Last year's maple seed cases winged their way onto our shingle roof in the fall and have split and produced hundreds of seedlings growing in the shingle intervals. I hate to disappoint them but the first few dry sunny days and it's curtains for them. Thank goodness!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Knowledge and Judgement

When I was a young man and came to Lotus City to work, I was singled out by some older men after a while ,who told me that I may have current knowledge but that was no substitute for experience, from whence comes judgement. They, of course, had experience! I toiled away and by hook or crook got experience. We surely learn more from our mistakes than our triumphs and it is a leavening experience if you avoid operating by denial. Now that I am old, the young men that surround me are kind, but insist that experience as no useful substitute for current knowledge. What goes around, comes around! At the moment I am reading Harvey Cushing's "Life of Sir William Osler". It was a labor of love since they were contemporaries in the late 19th and early 20th century. The detail of Osler's professional life in the biography is profound. Osler addressed the relationship of knowledge and judgement in this aphoristic style. He said," To study the phenomenon of disease without books, is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients, is not to go to sea at all". You can substitute patients with farming, building, designing or any other work. We used to say in assessing physicians for registration that they should, " have the skill and knowledge necessary for the practice of medicine". At some point in order to assess judgement as well as knowledge it became necessary to change the phrase to read " bring the skill and knowledge necessary for the practice of medicine". A subtle word change but immense in application. I can recognize the point that Osler has made for me at this stage. I need now to sit on the sea shore, and watch the sailboats negotiate the charted seas.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A place for everything.

If my father said it to me once, he said it a hundred times ," A place for everything and everything in its place!" Since I am now old and haven't much to do,I am able, finally, to follow his advice. In fact, I am now able to deliver the same message to others without a scintilla of shame. "Too soon old, too late smart. " as some crusty sage said. When I was young and busy I never finished a job fully, since the subsequent demands seemed more imperative.I thought I was doing everyone a favor. Things and objects got left behind or lost and the efficency of my work suffered accordingly. No one was getting a favor! The very tool you needed, the essential report that needed finishing, disappeared into the woodwork. Once you found it you didn't need it. The ability to lay your hand on any object, at any time, gives a head start that is invaluable. It can only be done if you avoid fragmentation, learn to say no, and value your time and output. We can only do so much well, and that requires focus. Work habits are as important as knowledge. They go hand in hand. That means work smart. That means " be prepared ". Lord Baden-Powell told us that. Prioritization and finishing the job, at all cost, will give great success. I have seen executives with a desk top full of papers that look like hurricane Katrina has gone by and they seem pleased to display how impressively busy they appear. I know how busy they must be just sorting out what they should have already done. I have seen many an Emergency Room Physician so burdened with competing demands that they become fragmented and make mistakes. In that situation the answer is to slow down, not speed up, triage and keep your cool. Don't let yourself be pushed where you don't want to go. You will end up being the fall guy and no one will thank you.My dad was a railway telegrapher and there were no train crashes on his watch, in his lifetime!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rags to Riches

When I was about thirteen my father gave me a copy of " Jed, the Poorhouse Boy ". He found it in his father's possessions after the funeral. Horatio Alger Junior had written dozens upon dozens of similar formulaic stories with the theme of rags to riches, or at least, rags to wellbeing, achieved because of goodness and decency. The modern equivalent of "entitlement to advance" is the antithesis of the Alger tale. The Alger theme is embedded in the human psyche, deeply evocative of justice and reward. Many of us are moved by rags to riches stories and want to identify with them, parlously close to fibbing about our origins in order to connect. I remember competing with my colleagues about who came from the most straited circumstances, as a badge of honor. Who walked the furthest through snow to school and who had the most spartan lunch, or for that matter who had lunch at all. Who struggled despite adversity and conquered. It was all more or less sham. There were few Abe Lincolns amongst us. Living in this country, Canada, the adversity is only relative. Horatio Alger's heros were always assisted by a kind and interested older gentleman, an avuncular father figure who selected, our little lad, out of all the other, more ragamuffin, newsboys. One might have considered,given the thematic nature and repetitive story line of needy boy, generous older man, no girls allowed, that Horatio Alger Junior may well have had pederasty as a unconscious subtheme. Living vicariously! We know he took Greek at Harvard. It is pretty certain that he battled his own demons! Still ,at thirteen, I loved the book!