Sunday, September 26, 2010

Peony Leaves

It's curious how often a visible sign reminds of an invisible presence! Now that fall is here, the peony leaves are turning to a russety, red and beige, that melds with the still vivid dahlias! They remind me of Laura, now departed, who first suggested to me the combination of these materials, to produce the spectacular flower arrangements she routinely produced for the Altar Guild. The peony leaves are of such a color in the fall that the entire spectrum of dahlia colors read with them, and of course, the seasons bring them both hand in hand to the flower lover. They belong together and are only accompanied from time to time with Michaelmas daisies. Laura was our neighbor, and the pianist acted as her church ward since Laura became significantly confused over the latter few years before her death. She never lost her discerning eye however, for an incompetent flower arrangement. Moreover she was always able, to the last, to read music and sing the complicated choir arrangements with considerable skill, as long as the songs were prepared for her in sequence , the pages turned for her,and an adjacent finger identified the line from time to time as she got lost. What an interesting software we have for a brain that allows a savant area, retaining our favorite and valued aspects, despite the failure of the rest. I never walk by the turning peony leaves without a moment of thought for Laura. They will come again!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kee Heep

My dad was a farm boy and the phrase "kee heep" was used to call the cows! It was a peculiar throat sound! The shrieking and shrill "e" sound of kee heep carries a distance and was invariably pleasing to the recipients since it meant food and drink. If one of us boys was at a distance and he wanted to get our attention he also hollered "kee heep." Often it was also for food and drink. My dad was not a soft spoken man. I don't think either the farm or the railroad environment lent itself to being easily heard, given the distances, or the noise levels. If dad made himself available, he always said "Holler if you need me." He was not hard of hearing. Holler was a figure of speech, but for him it was literal as well. It was particularly useful in hockey and ball games, then generally fashioned with some colorful phrasing. My dad always whistled while he worked as a young man and particularly when he rode his bicycle to and from work. As he became older he stopped whistling as he worked, but could still whistle a little if he sat and caught his breath. He stopped hollering and stopped calling "kee heep". You need breath to holler kee heep and to whistle. The cigarettes had finally caught up with him and he became progressively disabled with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD in the lingo! He was still cheerful, but quieter! He latterly was largely confined to his chair and the oxygen tank. The day before he fell and cracked his hip, and two days before he died, the oxygen man who visited him to replace his tank observed," Mr.W is cheerful and doing well,in his slippers, washing the breakfast dishes." Wellness is relative! He has been dead some 20 years, but I still think back to the hollering "kee heep" and whistling merrily the same monotonous tune . You could always tell he was coming on his bicycle from a long way off.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Watchbird

When I was a little boy in the forties, the cartoon, The Watchbird, appeared in The Ladies Home Journal,a magazine to which my mother subscribed! The cartoon always featured a bad boy being observed by the Watchbird. The cartoonist would draw and describe the naughty,or whiney,or stingy bad boy being surveilled by the Watchbird, drawn in profile, the boy caught in the sinful act, and then the clincher would come! "This is the Watchbird watching a Sneaky". Named and shamed by his sin! A second bird would be drawn, facing the young reader. The heading read, "This is the Watchbird watching YOU"! Pediatric ethics 101 at the foot of The Ladies Home Journal! What was always most interesting was the naughty activity, which provided the young reader a certain vicarious pleasure. The Watchbird was a simple line drawn, fat little cartoon bird,peering at the offender and then at me. The assumption that we all bore close scrutiny at six or eight for our dirty little secrets was never really challenged in those days. My mother told me she occasionally spanked me with the hairbrush for no definable reason other than the gut feeling that I deserved it. She was probably right. She was a stay at home mum and probably knew far more than the Watchbird. I don't think the cartoon had any lasting ethical benefit because even in those days, naughty was more interesting to watch than goody-two shoes.I guess it wasn't the enlightened child raising that we see today, but there was never a feeling that I was short changed in the love game. We are still under scrutiny today by Watchbirds of a different name!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Garden Party

My oldest and dearest friends came over to Lotus Island from Lotus City to put my garden to bed,one weekend in October of 2001. That year I had broken my tibia in July and it had not healed by September. The plates and screws had broken and the screws extruded. The fracture was freely mobile and progressively angulating. It was re-operated on in September and bone grafted ,re-plated and re-screwed.I was six months non-weight bearing, in a three wheeled electric scooter, from July until Christmas. I was able to do some gardening from the scooter but it was pretty limited. My friend Janet planned and organized a work party of a dozen old friends with whom we had had many adventures. They were a group that we had hitherto often celebrated Halloween weekend at Janet's country home. The party came with tools and zest and worked like Trojans! Cutting down the perennial beds, cutting down the Gunnera, raking , blowing and hauling an enormous leaf fall from the big leaf maples. They buried a deer discovered under the leaf fall during the rake up period. Work included covering the Gunnera with 3 feet of leaves for the winter, and filling the compost. It was like the old time barn raising. I was on the scooter and raced from post to post giving free advice and exhilarated by the help. I needed to do something without getting in the way of good work. The pianist capped things off with a big turkey dinner and liberal libation. I can't remember a time when I was more touched than by this good natured and spontaneous act of generosity from my friends. It may seem strange that in the midst of my limb disaster I would be so happy, but I was. At the end of it all, I graduated to crutches, partial weight bearing in December, and became "right as rain" by the spring. That was the best garden party I have ever been to!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sensory Adaptation

My parents, my brothers and I lived in the railway station for years. It was our home. We lived on the mainline of the Canadian National Railway.There was, in the fifties, a train every hour or so on the main line, day and night. In our little town the trains went through at close to full speed and they whistled twice at the level crossings, 400 yards and 200 yards from the railway station. The track was about 25 feet from the station and our bedrooms shook when it whistled through. Many were very long freight trains. The station shook because the platform attached to the station was like the leg bone connected to the hip bone. Though most of the train traffic were long freights,two transcontinental passenger trains at night came thundering through as well. We never woke up at night with the trains running, the shaking and the noise. My mother, who was a light sleeper under certain circumstances never woke up! Fred Schmidt came in the station at 4 am and lit the fire in the pot belled stove in the waiting room right beneath us, and met the way-freight that stopped and unloaded mail and manhandled jangling cream cans, and we never woke up ! Sensory adaptation! However,when the running employees went on strike and the trains stopped for a few days,the silence was eerie! We all woke up repeatedly during the night ,alert because of the silence. We adapt to the familiar, however unusual, but change, however seemingly innocuous, brings sensory adaptation to a halt. Unconsciously alert to danger!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Relish and onions

As I witness the engagement of those I love in the throes of planning a life's work, I think of the aspect of jobs that one relishes and the portion of the same job that is onions. No job always provides the piquancy of relish, or is free from the shedding of tears from the onions! We are privileged to soar on the high moments, and given, to drudge through the low moments. I am a man under orders! They may be my own orders due to an Oath, formal in my case; but frequently an informal oath for those who pursue their own muse! The jobs may be under orders from others, where both relish, and duty bound onions, are also the expected case. Give me the person each time, who works through the duty bound process, rather than depends on the piquant flavor provided by the high spots. We all want to be useful and to be thought of as useful! There are few jobs in life that are not useful in the hands of motivated people. Usefulness does not have a pecking order! Usefulness is created within the job. The changing nature of jobs or the seeking of new horizons will not avoid relish and onions! There is no escape! Thank goodness for that! Walking uphill is healthier for you than going downhill! Retirement may mean continuing to try to walk a gentle uphill slope. The hallmark of the successful is the staying power that knows a job includes embracing the role of slicing the onions! The beginning of exposing yourself to all the elements starts with rolling up your sleeves!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


The lichen grows on bare rock,

no earth, little sustenance,

a tenuous foothold to life.

It asks for sun and time,

and grows,defeated, grows again.

It rains, it grows, the summer drought comes,

it dies, to grow again with rain,

and when it dies, it leaves a ghost behind.

Soil? Or is it the merest memory of lichen

becoming soil?

So,mosses grow, a different plant,

thicker, greener, richer,

withstanding drought a little more,

because of it's poor precursor

which took a foothold where no other could.

Atom and Leave

Some might say," From atom you became and to atom you shall return!" Certainly, some have said , from compost to atom in an expanding universe until you disappear down , or up, the black hole. These are systems of belief. It's a mechanistic view of the world, fit for today's need for certainty.It smacks of a Tinker Toy world. Some say, "Though from dust you came and to dust you shall return, there is more!" Elysian fields, Happy hunting grounds, a mansion over the hillside with streets of purest gold? It smacks of a Fuzzy Wuzzy world! What is it about people who really know? Not even St. Paul,with all his bombast, had the temerity to really know. He said so! He saw through a glass darkly. For the Elderly Eclectic Gentleman the glass is darkly. It is enough for me to believe that I will eventually find out, and it's intriguing! In the meantime live your life with uncertainty. It's a lot more interesting and authentic than fanciful theories! What I can't control, I had best let go! I do suppose that I can prepare a Whereafter Kit! Certainly Tutankhamun took heavy baggage on his trip in case! Things he prized! Useful accessories! My Whereafter Kit might include a small vial of tears that the pianist and I have shed over the years, a can of laughter and endearments that we listened to with one another, and a photo of our dear ones. I'm going to travel light! I won't need shoes, but I don't think I'm going to be an atom and leave! If you wait and listen closely, you will know that there is something going on! It's soft and nuanced, but when you think back, it's always been there. That too, is a system of belief! It's harmless! I might get to see my dear ones! I can hardly wait!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Harrow your Roadway

If you have a small gravel driveway on your bucolic property it will become compacted over time, and become pack-ugly! The fine material comes to the top and the stones descend to the nether! The fluffiness is lost, as well as that wonderful crepitus we hear as the wheels move over the loosened gravel, greeting our return. The characteristics of the gravel driveway lends itself to better traction, and less runoff, and less slipperiness than a smooth driveway surface of any material. The structure of the pack-ugly roadway however, is lost in a picture of homogenized banality, and adopts the physical characteristics of the smooth surfaced applications. My neighbor Dennis has a garden tractor and recently, a coilspring-loaded harrow he purchased from the catalogue. He harrowed my driveway and parking area with considerable assiduity to a Zen-like creation! The theory is the 3/4 inch stones will, with repeated harrowing, rise to the surface with the loosening of the packed powder and small stones. The first rains that arrive will drive the powder below the larger particulate matter and give rise to a renewed, bold, formed structure of gravel. Physics 101! Dennis is a master of tractor control and wove his way like an artist as I watched with admiration. His price to do this work was some earthworms for trout fishing from my rhubarb patch.I was anxious to retain the center grass down the driveway that adds to the gum boot essence of our hidden treasure, which he skillfully preserved. I look forward to seeing the end result, following the monsoons to come on the wet coast. A petroleum free, Zen, roadway!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

a parentis loci

In the movie Scent of a Woman, when Al Pacino became 'a parentis loci' to the student, Chris O'Donell, he simply returned the parental love he had been given the previous few days. Parenting may be a role but 'a parentis loci' is a choice and therefore, often a gift of Grace! When you give that gift to your old parent, your failing friend, the stranger on the corner, you have returned favor you have been given. We all have been given a spoon to take from the bowl what we need. To use your spoon to feed another, when you have been fed, is to take the step of faith that the bowl will be filled again! It's always a risk! The cynic in Al Pacino's role, smacked of, "Life is a series of missed opportunities, and then you die"! He was fed from the bowl and then found his spoon! He fed someone else. Then he could feed himself!

Monday, September 6, 2010


The top drawer of my dresser is the sock drawer. Socks are one of the more interesting and under rated items of apparel. They, in most cases, are only glimpsed after application to the foot and ankle, so you may get away with one or more of them inside out. or slightly mismatched, particularly common if you put them on quickly in the semi-dark. No one else, who has anything important to do, will probably notice. The club I belong to, forbids the wearing of ankle socks with plus fours. Gauche I guess! Here, socks are part of your statement. When floors are too precious for shoes, when one remembers, they can be accommodated with slippers,a ego saver in case of a previously unnoticed hole in the toe of one's sock. I have a number of singletons, the match having disappeared in some black hole of an unknown nature. Currently, store bought socks are cheap and expendable. They are never darned in this day and age as I observe, though my mother used to darn socks in the olden days. When I was a student I tried to darn, but I ended up simply sewing the edges of the hole together and the sock became progressively smaller. The alternative I learned was to cut your toenails. It's a curious business that the sock manufacturers always provide a slight change in the shade in the dyeing process so that in good light you can rarely combine singletons if you care. In the process of examining feet, I found people are often reluctant to remove their socks. In fact if they have come with a single foot problem I always removed the other sock and compared and contrasted, to the discomforture of the occasional patient who took the precaution to wash only the problematic foot. My father had a fetish about socks that drooped around the ankle and throughout his life always wore calf garters. My mother said to me years ago that " It's getting harder and harder to find garters for dad. I went to Eaton's the other day and they only had two left in the warehouse. I bought them both!" The pianist provides frequent useful commentary on my customary state of dishabille, but rarely, if ever, about my socks.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bee Cradle

Some of the honey bees,"overnight", on selected flowers. Some flower's anatomy provide a quality cradle along with a nearby pantry. The bees are choosy where they sleep! Jomanda is a ball dahlia that has smallish upturned edges to the petals that is form -fitting for a demanding bee and suitable for an overnight retreat. They are worker bees so they don't have to go home at night to the wife. If they don't bother going home they can start working in the early morning, which is admirable in the eyes of the workaholic, though I have found them a bit sluggish at 6.30 this morning. I roused them but they only showed modest enthusiasm. They left a few minutes ago and the cradles are empty now except for a messy dropping or two. We've always had hives until recently and I think these are escape variants that Mother Nature now harbours. Whatever! They are welcome here and perhaps have escaped the possible mite vectored disease, Colony Collapse Disorder, that has assailed so many of their colleagues! Fresh air, sunshine, and freedom from crowding is the answer for them and for all of us!