Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Video your mum

I took a video of my mum in conversation with me about ten years ago when she was ninety. She did not have senile dementia at that stage.I did not do it for me or her, but for the two or three generations to follow my children. It wasn't really like an interview, but just a conversation of the things we had in common. The salient events of one's life are obtainable without a video deposition, but the character of the person, how they looked, spoke, gestured,laughed and pondered are not available in print or a static photo. I envision today that my great grandchildren, who will never know her, will get an inkling of, not just who they are, but a scintilla of, how they are, what they are. It's all very well to say, "I am an individual and I am what I am because of my own efforts ", but we are also a link in the great chain of continuity. An old grandmother says," Little Mary has my mother's nose. She is her spitting image!" What spit has to do with it I do not know, but I do know that though physical characteristics are handed down, much more is handed down in terms of manner of communication, body language, thinking and expression that is not available without recording it. It only really becomes important to the succeeding generations as they age, because life is like that. The time to do this record becomes urgent before you realize it. I missed the opportunity with my dad. He had the prescience to write his life story in old age but a recitation of the facts is not a holistic expression of the person. Your great grandchildren deserve such a blessing, to express some indication of HOW they are.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


This dreadful disease can render the aging Homo sapiens inhabitants confined to a cage of green that requires stooping at frequent intervals to avoid hitting their head. One sees them sweeping their arms constantly in front of them to advance! The light gradually dims and the view disappears. The wet becomes wetter! Animal droppings increase and if you don't step on them from below, they drop on you from above. The house windows eventually seal over and the vines penetrate your siding and enjoy the interior humidity. The plants no longer have to fruit or flower since reproduction is low on the agenda for the unrestrained. They don't need sex. I confess Pruneophobia has always afflicted me. The pianist and I have a continuing issue over this matter. I never promised her a rose garden. I have avidly read self -help books on pruning to cure my condition but I still debride plants in a surgical manner. Pruning and debridement are not the same. Gardening on the Wet Coast consists of controlling things from growing. Gardening on the Bald Prairie consisted of encouraging things to grow. Surgical debridement of plants would consist of, removing broken branches, diseased branches,crowded ingrowing branches, dead wood wounds and drainage of pockets of debris. That comes naturally to me. Shortening something to fit, or cutting to encourage fruiting or flowering is not part of my surgical lexicon. It seems anathema to me and yet I know,down deep, it's necessary. I still get anxiety if I have to cut for non debridement reasons. If the saw or clippers cut through normal tissue I hear a small still voice that says " Are you doing this for me, or you? Cognitive dissonance!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


A Canadian friend of mine of Egyptian origin began, after retirement, to read in Arabic again, something he had set aside for many years. The pianist I live with has plunged into her Celtic roots, genealogy, music and literature, after 70 years of relative indifference. She and my daughter are off to the amateur music camp for a week to do piano and fiddling and bodhran! It's in their collagen. I have embarked on random posting that includes rooting up old truffles of prairie life. It may be trite but it seems to me that the more you have become history, the more you appreciate history, including your own! My brothers, I suspect, have better and more replete memories of past events than I do, but they are younger and are not yet pursued by the Spectre of Dementia and the need to get it down before it is lost. The biggest thing one has going for oneself at this stage is available time. The more those remember of the past, the more they're doomed to report it! The pianist and I spent 5 days in Argyll and the Islands. Her family left from Tobermory on the Pilgrim in 1822. We were in Iona as well. I can appreciate her embrace of her roots and the feeling it invokes, but I reserve the right to tease. These Celtic roots for instance! I can't think of another word where "e" follows "c" that is pronounced with a hard "c" (k). Think Boston Celtics. Think celebrate, certainty, etc. All soft "c ". I kid her that there are no rules for English language up there in the Argyll. Gaelic I guess!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Father's day

I don't ever remember celebrating Father's day in the past much. Lately it seems more de riguere! On Sunday my son-in law and I were treated to a celebration by the available wives and offspring! It was nice. My present from my daughter was a scroll that had an outline of her hands, and she wrote," For you, helping hands!" She is going to help me paint the decks on Monday and Tuesday next. I have had to get cracking this week, since on the Wet Coast there is a coating of algae and loose paint with a bit of rot here and there on the deck and abundant crow guano despite frequent washing. Preparation for painting is necessary. I power washed yesterday and today I sanded and scraped,treated,replaced and filled. I have my own power washer but I rented a large, stand up, oscillating sander. The rental guy looked at me and said "Are you sure you want this one, it's kind of heavy. "Oh sure" , I said, " I prefer to stand rather than work on my hands and knees." Well, I got home and I could hardly lift it. It's 80 pounds. The pianist said to me, "You shouldn't be lifting that. You'll hurt your back!" I didn't want to admit I couldn't manage it, but it was apparent that I couldn't. The pianist is too gracious to say, "You're a damned old fool to try to lug around a machine that is virtually only slightly heavier in pounds,than your age in years!" I knew however, what she was thinking! I went for a small belt sander and worked on my hands and knees.I ate crow at the rental shop.I guess it's not true that "father knows best". I'm looking forward to Monday and Tuesday and reaping the benefit of my Father's day present.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the car

Our family never had a car when I was growing up. In 1950, in small towns, there was no need for a car, and no other families,that I recall,had a car. You could walk everywhere in no time flat in Lestock, Saskatchewan, where we lived. The width and length of the town would have been about six stone throws by a husky boy with a good right arm. My mother and I went to Regina with Joe Lucas in his truck to buy our family their first car. It was a year old, 1949 Meteor. For me it was amazing! I never thought of us as "car people". I had never seen my mother drive. That was amazing too. I remember thinking she wouldn't be able to do it. I felt as proud as punch about her that day. She was nervous about being alone on the country roads so took me along for company. I was 16, and in her mind, capable of protecting her. We never, ever felt the lack of having a, car prior to that, I believe. The farmers all had trucks and in big towns some people had cars, but we always had the train to travel on and since my dad was a railroader we had passes. Walking was our principal means of locomotion which is why most of us still are healthy. After we got the car our life didn't really change much, though we could go to the Touchwood Hills to swim in the lakes and pick wild strawberries. We could drive ourselves to Regina to watch the Saskatchewan Roughriders. That was about all of the car's usefulness. Nothing changed. The next year I left for University and was car-less for most of the next decade.It didn't seem to matter. The buses were good in Winnipeg! They are always good when cars are scarce. The car has destroyed public transport. I am not afflicted with car love.l

Sunday, June 20, 2010

First Nation's Spirit

It has become increasingly apparent that the First Nations in this country have deep spirituality and equally deep appreciation of their roots. Such is hardship, that gives birth to these expressions of continuity with the Earth and the Spirit! They were of course always there with First Nations, but there is an increasing awareness that they are providing a leadership in these matters that a fragmented and increasingly secular world has lost. They have a new strength and the Spirit is moving amongst them. They are unabashedly celebrating the Spirit and the Roots they have taken ownership of. It is uniquely theirs. This is an unabashed willingness to proclaim a heritage that was undermined for centuries. There is not always blame, in my mind, for the past injustice that was perpetrated on the First Nations since it was often out of ignorance rather than malice on the part of our "white culture". We can really never walk in ancient shoes! Cultural genocide, ignorant or evil, is" a darkness", by any other name." a darkness". The current forgiveness they have provided is a blessing to us, but we should never forget! The strong sense of a coming together of First Nations seems to have gained a momentum that will grow like the snowball down the hill. What a turnabout, that the former, that we proselytized in the old days, have now provided a new, strong and needed example to the rest of us. Would that we would listen!

clods and furrows

The ground we walk on, the field we traverse, may not be disked or harrowed. You will trip on the clods and sink into the furrows! In the past I may have thought, in an idle moment, that a fine tilth might be going to be laid for me.If it were,I wondered if I might have run a little faster, and got a little further over the field than I did. At least I said that to myself then. The pianist and I began by trying to make sure we used a disk harrow and a spike harrow for our kids, but the harrows both disappeared in the busyness of our life before they were used, and so the kids had their own clods and furrows to manage.I realize now, thank God for that! To have it otherwise is an insult to the connective tissue your issue naturally bring into the world. You can't raise your children in a greenhouse. The growth becomes rank and sappy! I'm not sure that entitlement isn't still present in our affluent world. If it is, there's going to be unseasonable weather outside the greenhouse and some of these sweet plants will eventually either toughen or fail. "It's the way of the world", some say. There is another way. You don't have to toughen. It is a blessing to finally know that you are not entitled. That, in fact, the more entitled you feel you are, the more impervious to the truth you become. Someone says ," I have come to the end of my rope. I can do no more!" I say," Hallelujah, now you have the chance to give up and grow!" Thank God for clods and furrows!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Goal or Process?

My friend Alistair liked to cut his lawn in two directions in order to give diamond shapes within the cut lawn. Most of my other friends just wanted to get the lawn cut, process be damned. I often, at some early point, read the end of a book so as to avoid reading it quickly, just to find out how it ends. I enjoy the leisurely process of reading good writing. Getting to the end doesn't seem then, to be so important. The quilters in our church hope they will not produce the completed product too soon as they have a lot of fun in the process. If you enjoy what you do, and can savour every moment, why would you want the process to end? When you engage the process, you are living in the present. In fact, in reality, there is only the present. If you are focused only on the goal, you are living for the future, and if dissatisfied , you may be fleeing the past. Neither of these entities, the past and the future, are real. I don't mean to say there should be no goals, or to minimize the importance of goals , but it may be a barrier to engaging the process fully. Moreover if the process is fully embraced, and it is rational, the goal may change or useful surprises may be discovered. Goals achieved, mean you have to start on something new toward a further goal. Someone says " That person is a go-getter!" If you extend your process because you enjoy doing it, the risk is, someone says," Are you still working on that?" Fortunate is the person that embraces both the process and the goal. Doubly fortunate is the person that the process enlarges or multiplies or changes the goals that can be achieved! Some of mankind's greatest discoveries unexpectedly arose as a result of a process originally directed at something entirely different. It is possible to overlook that serendipity if the focus is not on the process and only on the assumed goal. What this approach to process requires is time and patience, in short supply for the young, brilliant, and impatient!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Humanities

My friend and teacher turns 80 this month. He guides a group of acolytes, including me, in Middle English literature. He is a young 80, and his style of teaching is Socratic. We gather every week for the morning, and our curriculum is chosen with care to provide a broad understanding of the world as it is, not really, just as it was. All good literature of any age is contemporary. Some of us have finally come to experience the right brain as well ! The burden of largely left brain functioning over the years has now been put to rest! He is addressing, for us, the deficiency of the new world of technology that has cut out the humanities. I suppose that it is more out of necessity, due to the competitive edge needed to uber-succeed in one's vocation. Sadly the time and cost and stress of obtaining a higher education has led to this. We say facetiously, "The specialist knows more and more about less and less until he knows almost everything about nothing much! The generalist knows less and less about more and more until he knows almost nothing about everything! " This mentor has opened a new world for some of us, especially me. I spent a lifetime in the rat race and though I was, I profess, useful, I didn't look after the whole man. Now is my chance, though I'm not so blind as to think I can ever achieve wholeness! The teacher , I am sure, has mellowed since his active professorial years, but his Socratic style allows the initiates to develop critical thinking with wonder and discovery, rather than burdened with didactic instruction. Good literature leads to self discovery and good company leads to respect for diversity! May we continue to grow together.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

organic slug bait.

As I sit here pounding my keys in the computer room I see the Northwestern Crow is busy eating my so-called organic slug bait just after I scattered it. It's a commercial ferric phosphate compound and when spread it looks like short little rice grains and the crows, I guess, suppose it is a somewhat bland, but interesting carbohydrate meal. So much for my feeble efforts to control the slugs eating my dahlias to the ground. I am about to commit to poison warfare instead, and reject this fruitless, politically correct,organic stand. Let the chips fall ! I'm tired of always being good. I'm tired of being a fall guy. It's for the birds! That's the trouble, it is for the birds! All it gets me is stubs and poor little tubers, trying again. They do not tell you this, about crow food, on the product box. I have long suspected I was providing a mineral meal for my feathered enemies but was never sure until I observed first hand this blatant act of aggression. If only the manufacturers would " 'fess up", if they knew, we could have saved ourselves some effort and expense. Unfortunately, the only time good news sells, is in the marketing and advertising game! I'm not going to complain to the manufacturer since they must know. I don't want to be a whiny crank, but I am going to alert the blogosphere. Forewarned is forearmed!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fortunate bullet wound

Some years ago a male patient in his forties came to the office with a hard swelling in the left buttock. He stated that it had been present for several years but had become larger over the latter few months and it was becoming more and more painful to sit. My examination revealed a hard, tender, localized swelling over the ischial tuberosity, the boney prominence that bears the seated weight in the normal buttock. It was much more prominent than the tuberosity on the right side. The history the man provided initially, was vague and seemed evasive, or at least uncertain. He had never seen a doctor about the complaint until his general practitioner referred him to me. I obtained an xray of the pelvis which showed a 22 bullet situated within the ischial tuberosity and surrounded by an expanding intraosseous cyst in a reactive shell of bone. Having established the diagnosis without any doubt, it was apparent that the history needed better disclosure if a surgical cure was to be undertaken. The patient confided that he had been surreptitiously visiting the wife of another, who rightly suspected her of a sexual liaison. The irate husband waited for proof and receiving it, then opened the bedroom door, in a rage, with his 22 rifle. My patient was frantically clearing out of the bedroom window when he received the gunshot wound in his buttock. This man was fortunate on several counts. The offended male never saw his face and couldn't describe any identifying features of his buttocks. He was shot with merely a 22, and so was able to still run on the fuel of adrenaline and avoided a hospital or clinic. The bullet remained intraosseous because of it's low velocity and the high resistance of bone. It did not stray into the bowel and bladder area where much damage could ensue. We booked his surgery with the generic description of, "Removal of foreign body", to avoid any further embarrassment. Salutary for mind and body!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Prairie Harness Racer

My great grandfather owned a livery barn in Miniota, Manitoba in the first and second decades of the 20th century. He raced in various harness racing events throughout the province into his fifties and sixties. He was Irish and had the love of trotting and pacing horses that enchanted many of the northern Irish, along with horse racing. His grandfather came to Canada from Belfast in 1830 and my great grandfather was Irish Presbyterian to the core. My great grandfather had his own colours and sulky and of course, had ready access to Standardbred horses as a livery barn owner. The pianist and I visited Miniota a few years back. Like most small prairie towns it is now a hamlet with a few old pioneers! They have a museum from the heyday of Miniota when it was a bustling town with a weekly paper, the Miniota Herald. We drove in on a Sunday in the summer and all the windows in the houses opened up and they peered at us, and then a lady came out and asked us what we were there for! A visitor was clearly an event! She offered to open the museum for us if we were interested, which we were. We browsed for a while at the artifacts of a time now gone, when the pianist came across a newspaper of 1912, the Miniota Herald, and the headline was, " James Wellington Warren has 18 good driving horses for sale". What a find and no Hobson's choice in that notice! In 1950 I travelled with my father to visit my great grandfather who was in his 90's. He was lying in a bed in an old nursing home ,by himself ,in Miniota. Mary MacDonald his wife was long gone. He had his leg amputated and a long term urinary catheter in place and was alone in a room that was dingy, with a bare light bulb, and the room was ten by ten feet. He told my father and me that he prayed every day that he would be " taken away, but his heart was too strong". The early photo's I have of him show a vibrant and engaging and dapper man! At fifteen, I came to realize that we can live too long!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Self Deception

How often do we eventually come to believe what we have told ourselves so often, in the face of the bald facts? Mea culpa! This is not really news. Shakespeare covered it pretty clearly in Prospero's observation about his brother, to Miranda! "--like one, who having, into truth, by telling it, made such a sinner of his memory, to credit his own lie, he did believe---". You could paraphrase this by saying " Who's kidding who?" I often am impressed with the capacity of the mind that eventually comes to believe it's own P. R. The standard we hold for others, we must hold ourselves to, and that may take some digging deep. I watched Part Five of the series, the Civil War, on PBS the other day. It included the Gettysburg Address of President Lincoln. He stated "--the world will little note nor long remember what we say here--". How wrong he was! One of the worlds great speeches in a paragraph. There was no confabulation, no overweening pride, no self serving adulation, and no certainty. There was vision and humility and generosity without a carapace of false optimism. The issue was too important for Lincoln to come to believe in any lies about himself. He knew he was simply a player in an uncertain world.He knew what he was, and more importantly, he knew what he wasn't! Would that candor towards one another, and towards oneself, delivered with kindness, succeed, where belief in our own mythology has failed.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tree Crop Failure

This spring on the wet coast has been unusually wet for prolonged periods and the tree fruit crop on Lotus Island is almost non-existent.I see a pitiful apple crop on the Gravensteins,Transparent and Red Delicious. Cox's Orange has nothing. The Italian prune plums are completely free of any fruit. Same with the Damson and Victoria plum though they don't perform well for me in any year. I suppose I should follow the Biblical suggestion and dung the plums for three years and give them the heave-ho if they don't produce. The pears have a few fruits as they seem to tolerate the wet a little better. Clapp's Favorite is early and caught the warm weather in the two weeks of April and has some fruit but Bartlett, Angou, and Conference have little or none. They bloom later.A few Montmorency cherries are present. The sweet Cherries we never get because of the birds. I'm not whining about all of this since the processing of that much fruit is a lot of work and now I don't need to feel guilty about wasting the product. All the small fruits, which are doing OK, will keep us busy. THere is no shortage of bees at the moment since the weather has now turned, but too late! I don't blame them for not working in the rain. I understand they don't really care about my apple appetite. It is just that I need them because apple pollen is too heavy for the wind and needs the bees to lug it from tree to tree. I guess the old farmer adage about it always being a next year season is true. Just give it a rest! Hope springs eternal!

Friday, June 4, 2010


My daughter in law in Scotland has ducks. They produce eggs. I had not had the pleasure of eating duck eggs before our trip in May. They were good, smooth and large but the curious thing about her duck eggs is that when they were poached they retained the original ellipsoidal shape like a rugby ball. Now, if you poach a chicken egg it becomes round. I assume it is a function of the viscosity of the duck egg versus the chicken egg. Speaking further of eggs generally, I love eggs. In the forties my father always got the egg at breakfast and we boys had to settle for toast and cereal. He was the working man and needed his protein. My brother Phil reminded me dad called them, "hen fruit". He always had eggs on the farm when he was a youth. I remember the pleasure of receiving an occasional egg in those days. Now, the pianist frequently has eggs. Boiled, fried or poached. I love eggs with a runny yolk and over easy. The pianist likes her eggs well done. We get our eggs from the farmer. They are free range and orange from the bugs the chickens eat. Some say that the orange yolk is produced in the factory chickens by feeding them with a dye in the food. I can't say whether this is true or not. The pianist says our eggs that we obtain from the farm are of superior quality. I accept she must know. For those who are experienced cooks, eggs are seen as much as an ingredient, as a stand alone food. This provides a much different and broad perspective to the egg. And practical! For me, yellow or orange, I don't care. Round or ellipsoid, I don't care! What is of significance to me is that one who is an egg eater at breakfast, has arrived! Eggs as a breakfast staple give me me a sense of affluence! I am not just a cereal and toast man any more. I am an egg and bacon man! Voila!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Dream

I have a recurrent dream that I have had for much of my adult life. I think there are significant dreams and there are idle dreams that one can simply enjoy and ignore. The recurrent dream of mine is that I am in an urban crowd of people and am in my underwear shorts, trying to find my clothing. The people observe me but make no comment. I do not recognize any of the people in my dream. They are generic. I feel exposed and embarrassed and have a sense of urgency to get dressed. The dream is accompanied by some anxiety that I will not find my clothes.In the dream of course, there is no resolution because the resolution to the awkward dream comes from the outside, not within the dream. As a result, I never find my clothes and the dream fades. Clothing can be both a cloak and a statement. How much of each, the individual will come to decide! One's inner man and one's outer man are hand in hand. Leonard's song about My Secret Life is a touchstone. You can fool most of the people most of the time, but you cannot fool the inner man. I don't pretend to be much of an expert of Jungian ideas but he was always clear that aside from the principles of interpretation, the ultimate testing came from the individual whose dream experience it was. I think,in my case, that you could take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mother Nature, 1, Jim, 0.

You can't defeat Mother Nature! She always bests you in the end! The pianist and I came back from a Scottish holiday of three weeks of beautiful weather, to the wet coast. We have had almost a solid month of rain here while we were away. I put my dahlias in early before we left for Scotland. Those that have not rotted in waterlogged ground have been beset by a monumental attack of slugs and appear as a sorry lot, stripped of leaf and revealing tiny, bare, gelatinous stalks, some eaten to ground level. Moreover there is a epidemic of feral bunnies now on Lotus Island. Dumped by would be pet owners that couldn't cope and couldn't euthanize! They also enjoy eating the few dahlias that have survived the slug assault. Every morning I get up in the rain at 7 am and armed with my scissors, I chop the night-shift slugs in half. I may be winning but it's touch and go and Mother Nature has me on the floor in an arm lock at the moment. Well, it's not that my life depends on great dahlias. I feel sorry for the strawberry farms since they will be facing a rotted crop if it doesn't stop soon, and they make a living at it. I'm just another dilettante! Still I have an ace in the hand for Mother Nature . I potted up about 50 dahlias for a reserve so, if the monsoon stops, and the slugs are conquered, and my neighbor shoots the bunnies as he has threatened to do, I may rise from the floor and survive the old girl again, after a fashion!