Monday, December 31, 2012

Fishing Story

Some years ago, when we as a family fished often and successfully as well, the pianist's aunt and uncle and married children, a farm family, came from South Dakota for the Christmas season to Lotus City. On a beautiful winter's day several of the party, including the pianist's uncle, went fishing with me to Fiddle Reef. Now Fiddle Reef is aptly named because the reef is the shape of a violin and is marked by a navigational bouy at the wide end where though traffic is heavy, and at the stem end by a bouy as well! The rock is low enough in the water, that at maximum low tide it doesn't dry. We all planned to have supper at the marina after the fishing excursion, so the others gathered at the appropriate time in the evening. I was absolutely intent on my guests all catching a fish and trolled for the entire afternoon around the margins of Fiddle Reef, delicately avoiding grounding our lures on the reef! They all took turns with the lines but despite my best effort; nothing! The pianist's uncle was one of these special gentle human beings and it was his turn on the lines. The rest of the family had gathered at the marina restaurant and they could see us at Fiddle Reef, still fishing in the gloom, lights on now, and it was cold, so we trailed clouds of steam as we went back and forth in terminal desperation to catch a fish. The season was such that these were almost entirely winter spring salmon of 5 to 15 pounds, developing size at that time of the year. Suddenly, as we were about to give up, a line screeched into action and a fair sized fish started breaking water at a tremendous speed, shaking and writhing with each jump. Fortunately it was a Penn reel rather than a knuckle duster so our uncle could play the fish more easily. The violent action at the end of the line did not abate for some time.  I ventured to everyone on the boat that it was a large cohoe because a spring salmon, as I said, rarely if ever leaves the water in its struggle to free itself. Was I ever wrong! One thing the spring salmon does to a bait fish ball is to enter the school with its tail lashing, crippling some of the small bait fish, and then turning and eating the crippled fish at leisure. Sure enough, the 10 pound salmon we hooked, was hooked in the tail. It behaved like a cohoe only because of that. I had never seen a tail hooked fish before or since, but that seems strange in retrospect because of the manner by which the salmon generally, within a bait fish school, cripples them before it returns to eat. That's why almost all salmon lures are created to simulate crippled bait fish. Salmon, like all of us, like getting things the easy way and having a leisurely meal. We got back to the marina to join the crowd who forgave us for the wait.Our uncle had lots of fun fishing, but when he went home to South Dakota he said he had quite a tale to tell. Pardon me!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Death of the Autopsy

In the decades of the 50s, 60s and 70s the autopsy rate gradually diminished until the present time when the indication for post mortem examination is now largely confined to forensic reasons leading often to inquests, or sudden unexplained death within 24 hours of hospital admission: almost always ordered by the coroner or court. Why this particularly useful examination has been discarded as a frequent assessment in the past of the utility of treatment ; an overview of disease and disorders commonly missed in diagnosis and treatment; and as a teaching tool in clinical-pathological conferences to enlarge the diagnostic acuity of the clinicians and students; can be surmised in the light of the litigation sensitive time we live. As a result we have trouble claiming a unbroken willingness to pursue all avenues of evidence based science in the interest of developing continuing patient care. I am sure that my practicing colleagues would say, "It's OK for you to espouse this now because you are no longer in practice!" Fair enough! Still, there are a lot of other reasons routine autopsies are not more frequently done. The deceased's family is unwilling to have their loved one's body subjected to autopsy for reasons of pure science. The hospitals on tight budgets are unwilling to add further expense that would compromise immediate needs. There is an acute shortage of pathologists and a complete autopsy is very time consuming. The provincal governments are unwilling to increase the allocation for non-treatment expenses. Physicians erroneously believe the sophisticated imaging of today is a satisfactory replacement for a comprehensive autopsy, or at least good enough as a routine. Physician insurance and hospital insurance companies would be reluctant parties to expanded autopsies that might increase the number of litigants based on hitherto uncovered live data. Let sleeping dogs lie is in order. Maybe that is so. Good medical care still exists in this country where informed consented risk taking by physicians is practiced, rather than cherrypicking only easy cases and offloading the more  risky. All these factors come into play and evidence based science is the loser as a result. And so, in fact is the patient in the end when the doctors are often having to look over their shoulder. Whoever might win are the lawyers and the chronically disgruntled! Oh well, easy for me to say. I still remember with fondness the cut and thrust of the clinical path conference with the clinician pitted against the pathologist: the clinician attempting a rational assessment of a patient, unknown to him, but with all the clinical records available, in the bright glare of his colleagues and students, thereby exposing his diagnostic acumen or lack thereof, before the autopsy findings were finally revealed. What a way to learn to think systematically and still remain humble!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Shake Your Head!

The last permissible opportunity for us to be publicly uncouth was the Freshman Parade in downtown Winnipeg in September 1953. My friend Larry, Mel and I were appointed by the class as the parade committee for the Medicine Float in the  Freshie Parade of that year. The theme of each float was to reflect, in some way, the ethos of each faculty to which we were ostensibly to become devoted. Let the gestating Engineers hang Volkswagons from bridges, the Aggies sit on their straw bales and milk a plastic cow, ours was the Sex Machine in full production. To allocate the portrayal of the dignity and image of Medicine to a callow group of youths, not yet baptized in the rigor of the course, must have shaken the heads of the faculty. Having interviewed, in the last few years, applicants for Medicine at UBC, I saw the quality of goodness and mercy, at least presented to us by them, bore no resemblance to the unihibited attitude we unfortunately displayed. It seems scary to me now. Christine Jorgensen, once George Jorgensen, was the first person known to have a sex change operation. The procedure, an amputation and vaginoplasty, was done in February 1953, and she was an instant celebrity from then on. Taking advantage of a topical, and somewhat, then permissibly mentionable topic, was an idea we thought was timely, edgey, and colourful enough to win the first prize for the best float in the parade. Our advantage was that two members of our class were identical twins. One would enter the Sex Machine dressed as a man and the other twin would immediately walk through the exit on the other side, dressed as a woman. The committee had a great time building the sex machine out of plywood on a flat bed truck and embellished it with levers and wheels with all sorts of dirty labels describing the surgical activity within the box, augmented by fireworks and smoke issuing forth from the machine thoughout the duration of the parade. Rather than winning the prize for the float, we were castigated by the Winnipeg Free Press for unbecoming behavior  and  immorality. Curiously, we were never sanctioned by the Medical Faculty, though we did receive a significant series of lectures on ethics, dignity and grace necessary to the practice of Medicine. Thank goodness for me, in 1953 the entrance criterion was entirely based  on marks. There was no interview process for putative medical students at that time. I suppose the possibility of taking raw material; intelligent, but still in the stage of a lump of clay; demonstrably human and unrestrained;  callow but honest; posed a interesting challenge for faculty. Better the students that would have been too dumb to lie, than those who are often facile during the interview. Still, I do have to shake my head.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Battling over Symbols

The Wand of Hermes, called the Caduceus, is a stand alone symbol that once represented the medical profession in the United States. The wand  consists of a staff with two serpents rampant.  The Wand is quite pretty. Hermes, or his Latin equivalent, Mercury, was the god of commerce. Like all Greek gods he had a variety of other jobs like protecting travelers, including bandits and  card players and any on the road.  Generally meeting the needs of  hustle-bustle. Hermes was as fast as Mercury. That's how the planet and the metal got their name. The Rod of Asklepios is in fact the historically correct symbol of the medical profession and employed world wide. It however, had to be radically redesigned in order to be pretty  Asklepious was the Greek god of Medicine, but his Rod is ugly and does not have a stand alone tradition. In all the statuary and  vase painted images I have seen, the Rod is held in the hand of Asklepios. As a symbol one is stuck with images of Asklepios holding the Rod and the single serpant  not so rampant, if verity is to be prized.  Do not believe symbols are powerless.As a stand alone symbol, the Rod of Asklepios in the original would look  like a fat club with a snake wrapped around it. From the temple reliefs and statuary it looks like something that would be carried by Alley Oop.  It's a saw-off then. Did the US go for pretty, but hopefully inaccurate as a representative of physicians; Fast Eddy, commerce, itinerant travelers, card sharks, banditry, and sharp practice. Or do we take UBS (Ugly But Satisfactory) and tart it up. If symbolism is a visible manifestation of an invisible ideal we don't have much of a choice.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mummies Blankets

At the risk of being considered a sissy by those of  hard-nosed countenance, I have a paean to the pianist's and my mummy as we  use, on our beds today, the blankets they knit 60 years ago: both used by us as praise, remembrance and as a talasmanic connection to the past. The pianist's mother's blanket, a soft blue and brown and white in a zigzag pattern:  a strictly uniform, closer knitted, crisp and perfectly preserved. My mother's: a looser block knitted, tan, brown and orange with touch of white and tasseled. Both are beautifly finished as could be expected from these women in their 40's, knitters as they were then. My blanket is smaller than the pianist's since my mother was more impatient, so quit earlier to do other things. The blanket for the bed and chair gives warmth, comfort, and an embrace that reflects what they, as women, gave to us, along with the continuity they still provide. If they could look down today they would smile at the blankets they prized and are still prized and used today. When my mother provided me with my satin smooth blanket in infancy until I was three, it was my talisman of her when I slept and it gave comfort. The pianist and I can still celebrate the presence of our mothers today with the resumption of our  now knitted blankets. Why did I not realize in the years of my life from age 3 to 78 that the blanket would have kept me safe in that long  interval of time? Just a DOF! Dotty Old Fool!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Write your own moral stand
and designate it as the high road
Scandalize those who don't walk it
Enjoy the heady view
Your standpoint allows it and your ramparts seem secure

You are worthy to gather the crumbs
You are worthy to eat the whole loaf


Your concrete doesn't bind
The stones loosen and roll
It's a long way to fall
All is vanity

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Wonders of Wax

In the early 70's the pianist and I, on impulse to fulfill our role as guides to the young minds of our children, embarked on family viewing of a programme called The University of the Air. At that time the television set was in what we called the TV room, a tiny room in which we had inserted sound proofing to the walls so as to avoid noise pollution disturbing the cultural sanctity of the rest of the house.  The programme was developed by CTV and began at 6 AM for a half hour with a variety of topics, presented largely as lectures. We had been given an electrical warming platter by a grateful patient so the pianist used it to keep our porridge warm as we all assembled at 6AM in little chairs to watch and listen as the lecturer discussed the Wonders of Wax for the half hour, or other equally dreary topics. This meant of course that we woke at the ungodly hour of 5:30AM to make breakfast before the programme. In retrospect, to have imposed this unconscionable event on three little children from 10 to 15 years of age, not withstanding the pianist and me, and our busy day, was education gone mad, breakfast interruptess, and well meaning insanity. Thank goodness the grumbling from the pediatric set soon brought an end to this misattempt at togetherness and we all went our own way without further necessity to ruminate on the wonders of wax. I do think however , given a topic like the wonder of wax, the real wonder is that CTV was able to continue this programme from 1966 to 1983. They probably got a Canada culture grant. Our mistake!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dementia Defended

One of the early signs of dementia includes having to hunt for your own Easter eggs which you laid the day before. Then, yesterday, I performed the possible sin of repeating the same blog I  previously had written; different words, but the same context, and then failed to recognize it until too late, once published. I did that very thing last night with "The Surgical Scrub" and an earlier post called " Dirty Fingernails". One might think that it's easy to avoid duplication but the ageing brain often has a short term memory deficit and also, a less brisk collection of Betz cells with fewer stories, stored, to analogize about. I remember talking to my mother in the nursing home one day when she was ninety and it became apparent that she wasn't sure who I was. Then I said to her, "Mum, do you know who I am?"  She chuckled and said, "Your face looks familiar." Then she said, "If you want to know who you are, you can go ask the nurse!" I don't need to ask the nurse or anyone else who I am. Self knowledge is the greatest thing we can achieve in life. Mum provided me with the love that allowed me to love myself and enter the region of forgetfulness without fear of failure or the risk of exposure. If I write about the same thing again, I don't give a damn. That's just me! I have listened to the same old jokes and stories from the same people I admire, told many times to the same other people for years. It's like fine old wine, or a story, gilded, not tarnished, with the patina of long life. Why should oral always trump written, even though oral gets away with it because there is no record of repetition? For some inexplicable reason a subject might bear repeating simply for the thrill of inadvertently revisiting one's creation and savouring it again, tasting your old Easter eggs anew.

All Joking Aside

Out of interest, I travelled once to a alternative therapies conference on back pain. It was an interesting experience to listen to the diverse opinions and the seriousness with which the proponents of the treatments described their results. At a break in the conference for lunch I was seated next to a young women practitioner of a discipline with which I was not familiar. We engaged in a short conversation as she seemed very pleasant and was surprised when I told her I was a medical doctor. She said, " Pardon me for saying this, but why is it that medical doctor's handwriting is so illegible?" "Well", I said," it's because we are taught to write bad. In second year medicine, the Course, 'How to Write Bad 201' is taught." "How can that be?" she said credulously. I waited for a glint of humour in those eyes but it didn't appear. "Well," I said, piling it on, "we then can't be held responsible for what we wrote, since no one can read it but us!"  "Good heavens ," she said, " I didn't know that!" I looked for any sign of amusement but the was none to be found in that serious mien. Up the ante was my way to deal with the matter. Surely in that stretch she would see I was joking!  "Yes," I said, " and in the Course in third year medicine, 'How to Mumble, 301' we complete the skill set 'How to communicate without doing so'. That way we avoid any trouble such as 'You said this or that'." "Well", she said as she rose from the table, "I'm glad you told me that!" I could see that I was in deep trouble. She didn't get it. My humour fell flat. To disavow it now would be disingenuous and reaffirm what she wished to believe, probably in the first place. I had just trashed myself and medicine in the face of an attempt at ill advised humour in the wrong arena. I could imagine the furtive looks of disgust from the assembly in the coffee hour later. I slunk away and listened to the rest of the meeting in the shadows.  As so many of my loved ones have said before, "Why can't you ever be serious for once?"

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Surgical Scrub

In the usual course of events the referring family doctor would from time to time to attend the surgical procedure for their patient and assist with the surgery out of interest for the patient's care and the informed knowledge that was to be gained for the patient's after care, by doing. Certainly a desirable and attentive act to provide counsel to the family and longitudinal care for the patient. On the other hand, some family practitioners worked on a part time basis as professional surgical assistants when the patient's doctor was not available. Many of these doctors became very skilled and knowledgeable with respect to surgical techniques and their experience was enhanced since they assisted a wide variety of surgeons and absorbed the diverse skill sets that they observed. Every two weeks or so, a physician who was a long standing surgical assistant, helped me during one of my surgical days. We got on well and since we had a rather intense common interest in gardening it was often a topic we talked about. We were standing at the scrub sink for the first case of the day one morning and he was particularly effusive in respect to his enjoyment of surgery and particularly singled me out as a source of this delight. I must say that I was touched by his enthusiasm and my role in it. As we stood at the sink, and resumed talk of gardening, scrubbing our hands vigorously, cleaning our nails scrupulously, lathering hands and arms and wrists with the antiseptic soap, rinsing with copious amounts of water, we talked and time stood still. Basking in the glow of his approbation of what I thought was my surgical skill, he said, "Yes, I particularly like working with you because we scrub so completely and talk so long at the scrub sink that my gardening hands stay clean for my patients for days on end. That's why I enjoy coming with you every two weeks." He smiled at me with simple joy!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cross Fertilization

In the training period of specialization in any field, the focus toward acquisition of a skill requires commitment to all the elements that comprise the specialty. This is not only true but is self evident. It is abundantly clear that the more the time, effort and applied intelligence is availed, will result in greater knowledge of the elements needed for superior performance. Narrowing the field of specialization will enable the individual to seek and find higher and higher planes of information leading to superspecialized knowledge on a narrower base, and more and more unique capabilities, but often bound to the tree rather than the forest. In the practice of orthopedic surgery for instance, the knowledge base of generalized medicine and surgery precedes the specialization in order to give a sound foundation to the surgical decision making. Embarking then on progressively exclusive specialization diminishes the time available to renew the broader knowledge base, up to which half of it changes every ten years. The fragmentation of medical specialties and subspecialties has sacrificed general knowledge for specific knowledge. The concept of the ideal orthopedic surgeon of yesteryear is best exemplified by my written examination for  Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada, (Orthopedics), of 1963. I say this not to recommend it but to show the degree of emphasis at that time. The exam was on four topics, given equal importance. 1. The causes of Essential Hypertension 2. Fractures of the Tibia  3. The mechanism of Renal Tubular Absorption 4. The Embryology of the Spinal Cord. To be granted a Fellow, was to have a broader knowledge. The excellence achieved by repetition and focus on the other hand, in surgical procedures, as in "practise makes perfect"  leads to technical success at the cost of openness to the challenge of change and broader learning . In the forty years of orthopedic surgery that I participated in, the progressive narrowing of the individual's scope of his field of work was necessary in order to to maintain the skill-set in a era of rapid progression of knowledge. The value of intraspecialty team practice as provided by closely knit groups, working intimately together, allows for greater discovery and shared insights. The value of new insights provided by interspecialty surgical relationships is often not taken advantage of with the pressure of time but is a potent source of discovery. I have often thought that the ideal surgical model for excellence is threefold, granted equal skill and knowledge brought at the begining of one's surgical career.
1. Close knit group practice in the chosen specialty (ongoing learning from the intraspecialty activity due to cross fertilization)
2. Progressive narrowing of the scope of practice with ageing.
3. Closer connections with the wide range of medical specialties (ongoing learning from contact to interspecialties leading to hitherto unrealized cross fertilization) calculated to counter fragmentation, and avail oneself of the deep well of current medical knowledge and what one can steal to apply to one's own specialty.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

comforting sounds

The pianist lies in bed at night trying to sleep with the sound of soft snoring, interposed with episodes of stertorous sounds of air intake from her companion, the gentle dream cries, the rocking noise of the bed from body tossing that are signs of life and provide ambivalent comfort as one senses the continuation of the life force in place, at least for tonight. The pfsst of flatus from time to time and the thrash of an arm give a sense of life in the dim room,  that another day of "ourness" will survive. The coughing and sniffing sounds rising up with his flatfooted beat on the stairs, announces reconnection,without which all is void. The sharp echoes of argument and passion re- awake the entrance to the brain-bridge that defies all  the unconnectedness of indifference! Every day is reality therapy! There is no soundlessness here which always leads to gulf and distance. Passion and stridence give a form of musical harmony, both "cordant" and discordant, but essential wholeness . Sitting on the medical ward in the still of the night; making the hourly rounds; listening carefully to the comforting sounds through the dim light by the bedside, blesses the tiptoe listener with the music of the hospice that sooths. Comforting sounds from the crib with the nightly vigil of the night visitor who leans and rearranges the blanket tossed, and gathers in the sounds as soothing recognition of life, listened to and heard. A still small cry from the depth of rubble, or the airless shaft, announces life to the frantic rescuers  and comforts someone,somewhere, that a blessing is possible and what cannot be seen, nor can be touched, is music that sings to each of us. Harmony Divine!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Like the Wind

Traveling swiftly through the forest darkly

No broken branch, no twig out of place

No deep footprints in the wet, no leaf displaced

Silent and swift in unbroken movement

Going somewhere in search of place to place

Observing everything, disturbing nothing

Touching everything, disturbing nothing

Leaving silently, spoiling nothing

Known to You alone

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fleeing from Brainrot

Pity the poor man at seventy-eight, who wrote of memories galore, His Betz cells he noted of late, have begun to flee through the door. It's all very well if you're twenty-five, Betz cells healthy and sound, Don't take it for granted that you'll survive; hurry to write it all down!  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Crawl Space

The crawl space of the house that belongs to the pianist and me is two and a half feet high,labyrinthine in nature, and large. When traversing the labyrinthe on one's belly the pink insulation that hangs loose from aged split bindings brush the face in the dark; movement causes cement dust to stir up a little storm, and the sounds of fluids running in and out the many pipes,ingress and egress, give one's hand a little thrill as the myriad of pipes softly vibrate. Here is a world apart from a house that knows nothing of the workings of the vital and visceral nature from this dark region. There is no area so underestimated in importance as this subterranean world.The heat,the light, the water, the ventilation, the septic system, the internet, the communication all arise from the Action Central,the crawl space. I like being there because it seems like being right at the source, where every thing else hangs in its balance. And yet, the realtors never sing the praises of the crawl space. The purchasers never celebrate the crawl space with its firm foundation. No poet creates a panegyric to this footprint of the house that serves so well unsung. Some may find it arduous and unpleasant to enter the dark world where the possibility of vermin and wasps and bees and ants may coexist. They won't adversely affect Action Central. They just know a good place when they find one. My son-in-law and I just spent an hour in the crawl space, worming our way through the apertures to all the rooms of this underworld; celebrating by prostrating ourselves at the foundations, the wires and pipes and cables and really receiving the emanations of the house, from the bottom up.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Regal Gooseberry Jam

Today I picked 4 pounds of dead ripe gooseberries from my bush: not rosy red, but the deeper red colour of venous blood from a cyanosed patient! Picking gooseberries is hard work; avoiding the heavy thorns with a glove on the left hand to control the branch; picking selectively since the berries ripen to sweetness intermittantly over a month. Even the dead ripe need a tug since the berries rarely drop.I interim prune with the secateur as I pick, since the bush is huge and to get to its center without tearing your shirt is the aim. The goose berry bush is next to a patch of red currants which I now leave on the bushes as a stalking horse for the birds, as currants act as a magnet. Since the skin of the gooseberry is tough and the armed branches are formidable, the birds leave them alone for an easier target.I spent an hour or so after the pick today removing the occasional stem and the constant frass,( the remains of the flower). This is a tedious task. The next step was to freeze them in a Ziplock bag for preparation for jam. The freezing allows the juices to run more freely with cooking and it requires less water to be added. At jamming time the berries are softened in the microwave with enough water to minimally cover and then mashed. Sugar is added, equal parts, and cooked with the berry mash until the jelpoint. Do not puree since the sweetened and cooked berry skin is an essential feature of the jam. If anyone thinks it is madness to go to all this work for a little jam it is not. It is a rare essence, not easily obtained and a high style of product, certainly ego satisfying. As is with people of a regal nature, their presence, tough skinned and prickly as gooseberry, makes the work of those who choose to bring their sweetness and excellence to the fore, much more satisfying since we labour in order to please. I love white bread and gooseberry jam, but sweet accompaniments to meat have also been tested and toasted over the centuries. Crabapple and chicken: apple sauce and pork: cranberry and turkey: mint and lamb: Montmorency cherries and game: but lapin and gooseberry: they rock!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Scatological Investigations

The varied and colourful droppings of the ubiquitous North Western Crow are a source of information for the eclectic nature of their dietary habits. For those of us of a coprophitic bent, the seasonal changes and omnivorous habits of this species, Corvus caurinus,is worthy of study since they are one of the most adaptable of birds, their success based on diet and teamwork. The pianist and I, living as we do in the country on Lotus Island, have the fortune, or misfortune, of having a large painted deck under three mature Western Red Cedar trees that serve as a table-toilet for crows. The volume and character of the droppings change remarkably through the season and as I clear the tree droppings on the deck and its furniture daily with my gas powered blower I observe; dry small cones, and lichen and moss fragments from the crow disturbance and the little red squirrel scratchings,and the spontaneous needle decidua. In the spring, small dead cedar branches are ripped from the tree by crows for nest repair and are often dropped, or dismissed for being unsuitable for repair. When I have rid the deck of tree detritus, I have the opportunity to investigate the associated scat and leftovers, clam shells, half eaten cherries and red plums that have slipped through their toes after initially being successfully pinioned on the branch. Naked cherry and plum stones, flesh successfully eaten in full. The scat from clams and tube worms, small birds or baby quail,sweet cherries and wild plums, pear and apple fragments, all leave a digested colourful deposit of brown crunchy, smooth or particulate, black and punctate, white and thin and watery; all with an interesting textural variety and compelling graphic intricacies within the scat splat, Rorschach like in nature: all scat pockmarking the deck with remarkable tenacity,resistant to the hose sprayer and requiring a stiff brush, elbow grease and spray to remove. Even the glass topped table and patio chairs are a scat target and all varieties are equally adherent on the glass and metal. If you are willing to pay the price for clean eating on a deck, under spreading cedar trees, in crow and berry territory, you will never resent the blow and spray and brush activity. Between the scat and the copious water spray, the cedars are secondary beneficiaries for the role they serve as a table-toilet. Live and let live with Mother Nature in all her glory.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The middle aged males in my paternal line have slid into this physiognomy without the benefit of beer or exercise indolence. It's DNA all the way! That's not to admit that strong drink was always avoided, or that Shank's mare was never a form of transport,but the anatomy of our middle age, from all the photos, was a bond handed down from our distant Irish family Patrones. Some years ago I was walking from the preanaesthetic room as a patient to the operating room in one of those skimpy little gowns that demonstrate all of what you want no one to see. The nurses were all my intimate friends and therefore were licenced to be rude, as are all who love or care for you! They had all assisted me in the Orthopedic OR for years and were delighted to see me horizontal rather than vertical. Kathy, one of the nurse assistants said, "You know,when you are walking, especially in shorts, you look like a fat man being carried by a chicken!" It rolled off my back since I have always given as good as I got, and if it gave them all pleasure I didn't want to deny them. In middle age I was never a flat bellied, six pack man, with legs like tree trunks. I carried rather the family's signal physiognomy! I belonged and so did most of my brothers! When you have good friends or family that love you or love to be with you, there is a joyous opportunity to engage the licence to be rude. We would like to be long-lived,but only as long as the price is, that it doesn't seem to be long. It's too late to correct the spindleshanks, but probably is within one's grasp to modify the beerbelly without denial of one's allegiance to one's own breed features!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mankind as Meat

Peter, a former rector of mine with whom I had a friendly but occasionally chequered relationship, was mildly intrigued, and possibly repulsed, that my job as an orthopedic surgeon involved cutting into the human body! He often greeted me with the salutation, "How is Chop-Chop today?" It was never a question, though he may have believed it was. I believe he thought this was funny. I was never able to cope with this greeting satisfactorily. I brushed it off as his unique sense of humor and shrugged with a smile. It is however, a classical example of words that betray thoughts. It did provide me with some insight into the gestalt of some, that we are made in the image of God, but it is not important to embrace the fact that we are meat. We are meat, and God and Nature, all his handiwork, is one; and much of his handiwork is meat. Luckily for me, my son, also a rector, was with me one day when I was greeted by my friend Peter who said gaily to me in his usual fashion, "Have you done any Chop-Chop today?" My boy looked him over and asked in response, "Have you done any Mumble-Mumble today?" It's a blessing to have someone stand for you. Peter's wife, who was party to this exchange mused about Chop-Chop. "Maybe what Peter asks is rude!", she thought aloud. I think not! It is all a matter of perspective. "I worship, therefore I am!", we say. "I think, therefore I am!", we say. "I cut meat: I screw bones together, therefore I am!", I said.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Unheavenly Host

And there came to Lotus Island in the year of the Dragon, the unheavenly host of tent caterpillars, targeting and ravaging the soft leaf trees, devastating the landscape thoughout the island. I am reminded of the drought years of the early 40's on the bald prairie with the grasshopper clouds, eating every grain in sight, leaving so much bodily debris and grasshopper juice on the grill and windows of one's car that it was difficult to travel. They even constructed grasshopper screens for the car grill in those days. The windscreen looked like a deluge of tobacco spit from the spittoon. A repeat worm plague today on Lotus island, resembling the plague of locusts in old Egypt and Kindersley from yester-millennium and yesteryear. The tent caterpillars on Lotus Island have now left the trees and are in cocoons, metamorphosing into the adult moth form in mid July. There is, I am happy to report, a glimmer of light on the horizon, at least on the patch of ground of the pianist and the elderly eclectic gentleman. I took apart and examined 50 cocoons on my blueberry patch. The cocoons are of an intricate construction. They comprise an inner sack that contains the headless black nymph, awaiting transformation from Cinderella to Princess. This is a secondary oval silken sack, finely woven and close ended. The outer cocoon is a loosely woven primary sack designed initially by the worm to secure the later inner sack to the leaf and branch. 50 compound sacks were investigated by me yesterday. There were only 5 sacks containing a healthy black, headless instar that will transform to a moth.The balance of the sacks contained dead or immature worms in a state of dissolution, empty sacks without exit holes, or parasitic larvae, not identified, foraging on worm carcases. There were no further gestating nymphs in metamorphoses. Today I see the devastated trees are beginning to re-leaf and the meagre 10 percent cycle success suggested by my admittedly short and local series, still gives me some cause for optimism that the plague cycle has peaked. I may be dreaming in vain but, unlike Joseph,I can not interpret a dream. Nevertheless, like Pandora's box, Hope remained available in the box, while the Evils spread their wings and entered the world.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Good Worker

If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times in my growing up period on the bald prairie! It may have been one of those prairie truisms that arose out of pioneer stock and depression realities. It was a black and white judgement and it comprised largely criteria that if you were one of those workers it entailed, time spent, muscle, consistancy and promptitude, rather than cleverness! My dad had a lot to say about people who were for him, not good workers; a beard was an indication of this, as well as those who had their hands in their pockets. Imbued as I was with his mantra I never wanted to appear as if I wasn't in constant motion, doing something, almost anything as long as there appeared to be action to avoid being labelled a bad worker. As an old man I still have an unreasonable fear to be seen lolling about if a cleaning woman or gardener or some sort of tradesperson is here serving us. I race to get dressed in my work clothes before they arrive. Loath to be seen as one of the idle rich! I drive the pianist crazy with my eye on the clock when an appointment looms as if I may not appear on time. I have never grown a beard or put my hands in the pocket without immediately withdrawal of something from it; anything! When we first went to England as a young man in 1961 to live and work as an orthopedic registrar, the pianist and I were invited to a large cocktail party by way of initiation to the community, a mixed gathering. One gentleman of about 40 that I met, I asked in the usual Canadian manner of starting a polite conversation, "What do you do?" "Nothing," he said, "Mummy left me pots!" He smiled indulgently! Canadian eh! I don't think I have ever heard that since, nor had I heard it before, given as a simple statement of fact without a scintilla of embarrassment. Coming from a working class prairie environment I found myself in awe of his genuine self satisfaction that didn't need to scurry around and appear to be working in order to justify one's existence! I don't think I ever achieved that sense of comforting entitlement. Still haunted by reward and punishment. Who knew!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Maple Pole Bean Mania

Cobble Hill Ruthie and I were talking bean stakes yesterday as she was having trouble finding suitable ones. Her pole beans are now up! I told her I used fresh cut Maple sapling shoots. They grow all over Lotus Island on the edge of the roadside ditches and are now 8 to 12 feet long! They are perfect for that use and they are free! If one is careful while cutting the shoot at the base so as to not disturb the cambium layer which protects the phloem and xylem, and uses a dibble to make the holes, they will root since they have Force Majeure and you must have planted a node with the germinal root cells well below the surface of the dirt. When the shoots are first selected while in the ditch, this Old One may seem a madman to the vehicular traffic as they whiz by on the road at eye-level. By now the shoots are branching from the nodes so they are trimmed and l leave the trimmings in the ditch. I leave an inch of branch on each sapling for the subsequent purchase of the bean stringers as they grow.The pole beans I use are Blue Lake, for no good reason, but because I always have. These plants are heavy but they have strong positive thigmotropism and could cling to a pig-greased pole, nevertheless it is best to augment with purchase points which will cause them to curl tightly and hang on. A good homemade dibble is an old broom. Drill a big hole 6 inches from the end of the handle and shove in a long bolt of matching size through the hole. Leave the worn out broom on as a lever. Your foot on the bolt plunges the dibble into the dirt and if you use the broom as a lever, you can wiggle your dibble. Stack the shoots around your bean sprouts and bind them together high up like a teepee. There are a lot of pluses to these stakes. As the stake begins to root, the beans begin to climb with considerable celerity. The weight of the beans causes the flexible cane to bend which tightens the bean stringers. The lateral stringers tighten too, so the bean-sapling unit becomes a taut one and therefore stong. The rooting capacity provides a firm foundation from both bean and shoot. The rooted sapling sucks up nitrogen but the bean is a nitrogen fixator and so, pays it forward. Isn't Mother Nature wonderful in its symbiosis? Success in human nature is no different than the bean-stake unit. Strong; flexible; rooted; teamwork; paying forward; bean counting;and self-sustaining. Standing up at your head height, where the air is clear and the sun is bright. As I thought about Ruthie yesterday, I also thought about Jack and his mother and his cow-for-bean enterprise. I have an interest in plant sounds, especially beans. Listen closely with each ear/ Batteries charged so one can hear/ Trill but soft, a little thrum/ Fee and Fie -- Foe and Fum!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Braided Cord

A braided hawser-laid cord of three strands bound together with one another, each strand providing a share of strength but the braiding allowing an elastic moment, tightening and loosening as the braid torque allows, but at no cost of strength. The strand of Reason weaves through and around the strands of Tradition and Scripture, imparting a horizontal moment without compromise of the strength; only the ability of the whole to stretch when weighted down. Where the first fibres that make up a strand arose from is a mystery, but they are called Spirit. Which strand was constructed first from these fibres, we may know from the history, but each strand is made of the same spun fibres of Spirit. The whole is more than the sum of its parts because of the integral moment of the braid design. What is certain is that, aside from which strand was built first, the whole cord was built, longer and longer with the strands meeting together, acting as one.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Fondue and Artichoke

In the 60's, fondue was all the rage! Cool folks huddled around hot cooking oil in a communal pot on the dining room table. Cubes of beef sizzling on a sharp fork, falling off of it into the pot, sometime-chefs, poking around with the fork to find it and knocking off everyone else's meat. The product often crispy fried as a result, and then dipped in creamy dill or plum sauce. I hated fondue but the pianist liked it and also pursued chocolate fondue with strawberries and cheese fondue with bread cubes. There was always the greedy guy who quickly cooked more than his share of the meat, frequently almost raw, and poked his fork in your product as you cooked it ever so gently. He often put too much rapidly in at one time and cooled off the oil, dribbled the oil on the tablecloth and either burned his tongue, or poked it with his sharp two pronged fondue fork. For those who enjoyed a languid eating style it was a conversational bonanza while your little cube was cooking and a socially satisfying endeavor despite the rampant eater with his mouth full at the table head. I always,in fact, sympathized with the trencherman but restrained myself mightily from copying his technique in deference to the pianist. Fondue is just not a guy thing and mercifully has succumbed to the fast food ethos! The garden at Lotus Island has Globe Artichokes, another clone-like contributor of the Slow Loris eating industry! Sucking and scraping away at the sepals of the flower after dipping in garlic butter, the eater will have to bath and change his clothing to rid the grease and fuzz. Dipping the soft and tasteless bases of the calyx is a greasy act of slow dissection,ridding oneself of the nascent petals which guarantees the rest of your meal will get cold; while filling the garbage pail with the uneatable 99 percent of the artichoke.My advice to artichoke lovers is let them flower into their magnificent purple thistle-like flower head and put them on the table as a table centre with your meat and potatoes!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Formication and Slug Fest

The tent caterpillars are now dropping like rain from their webs after the feeding frenzy, having denuded most of the soft leaf trees on Lotus Island. They are now resting for two weeks on any object they fall on, including the unwary. As they fall on the neck or head or clothing of the passer-by they perform jactitations, swiveling and squirming here and there, giving rise to feelings like formicatiom that linger in one's mind into the night in bed when one wakes with the distinct sense that something is still crawling on the limb and trunk. Soon the worms that survive will cocoon 'til the middle of July and then emerge in force as yellow orange moths. Imagine the bizarre tactile hallucinations of the psychiatric patient afflicted with symptoms of formication and the desperation to sweep or swat what is not there. The rain forest on Lotus Island has also had a profusion of slugs as well, munching the vegetation below in concert with the caterpillars as the trees are munched above, the ground feeding especially vexing to the gardener of iris and dahlia. However,the nightly visits to the garden by the gardener, dividing the slugs in half with sharp secateurs as he weaves through the rain of worms, is the most humane and satisfying of pursuits. The small bodies of the slugs and caterpillars, oozing out the green juices of the gardener's vegetation, when chopped, is sweet revenge. Tossing at night,waking in a world of squirm and slime! Carpe diem!

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Food Source

Mother Nature and Human Nature are really One. If we see ourselves as a food source amongst our other useful attributes, we can embrace the universality of all the ions and atoms we are related to, plant and animal and mineral that spend much of the time eating and being eaten by one another, perched on the food chain of life and death. If you believe that you are at the top of the food chain, know that you are food for the mosquito, tape worm, E.coli, the commensals, and at the end, the Yew tree, the grass, the vultures and other members of the so-called lower orders that enjoy you in perpetuity,along with the maggotry that eventually conquers the embalmer. The lower end of the food chain, for which we are a constant source of food, completes the circle of life. We eventually embrace the mineral world when those bones will rise again. Therefore it is hard to call those feeders the lower order, since we all are part of the wheel of life.There is no humility in this matter. There is no humility in being one with Human Nature and Mother Nature. The sin in the Garden of Eden was the sin of believing that we were diffent than the garden and could freely eat of the Tree of Knowledge rather than be content in the shade of the Tree of Life!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Start and Finish of Golf

During the war years, when we lived on the Bald Prairie in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, I golfed with my mother. I was from 7 to 10 years old and golfed with her clubs, sharing them as we went around the 9 hole golf club south of the tracks. I don't think the course was ever irrigated: I remember it as always brown, had oiled sand greens and it was as flat as a pancake.It even had the occasional cow turd as I recall. I think it was rough where it was trod and really rough where it wasn't! Mum and I both loved fried mushrooms and part of my job while playing was to dig them up as we went around. The best ones were the mushrooms that hadn't emerged but showed the telltale cracking of the crust of earth. She and I would have a feast when we got home. My mother was a dreadful golfer but determined and a round with her consisted of a swing,25 oaths, always "damn", and moving forward, ignoring the divot and creating one from the mushroom digging. I stopped golfing after 10 until I turned 50 when my friend George said to me, "Warren, If you don't start golfing now, you will never be any good." I took it to heart and joined the Lotus City golf club, beautiful links, and the pianist bought me an enormous collection of clubs for my birthday with a bag that was so heavy I could hardly carry it. Many of my friends and colleagues golfed there and I bought classic clothing so I would look the part, golf gloves, umbrella, ball retriever and Gor-Tex rainware. I dutifully took lessons and practised all aspects of the short and long game. I remained as lousy a golfer as my mother despite my best efforts. It wasn't all bad. I really never kept score so I could always think of the 4 great shots I had over the 18 holes. I was an agreeable partner, so was sought after by the equally agreeable since I was so bad it made them feel good about their own game. I felt this was a useful service. The downside of the course, recognized as one of the most beautiful in the country, was that there were no mushrooms. I developed Rheumatoid Arthritis after 10 years so eventually gave up playing for the second time in my life. George was right at least about the fun; I was never any good, but the beauty of the walk on the course made up for it, even without the mushrooms.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


This is not a sport! It's serious business! Listening to the current concern, that mankind will falter with the looming changes in climate, food production,and population gives the sense that we must alter the environment! When Jacob Bronoski wrote the screenplay for The Ascent of Man his thesis was that mankind itself was capable of adaptation to change and not a victim of the natural environment as were other life forms. The capacity for abstract reasoning and foresight; the ability to change, adapt and thrive in all manner of adversity was in the past peculiar to man alone! Civilizations came and went, but mankind evolved! The vulnerability of the less adaptable life forces depend on the human capacity to address the changes in the interest of all. Currently pessimism seems rampant! The media is full of dirt and gloom. The comment boards are dominated by the haters. The Jeremiads are in full gallop down the hill. In our little group we discussed this week the sins of the flesh we all possess and the need to repress them in order to function. What we didn't talk about was the nobility of mankind; the love, the drive, the intellect and the willingness to sacrifice to the greater good and to put off immediate gratification for the sake of a greater and later good. I brought it up in the group but it went nowhere since we all prefer speaking of sin over goodness except a few of us sissies. Surely there is a balance in mankind that seems to have become obscured lately. If we are to survive and thrive in these seasons of change, then re-creation will need to occur with the opening, not closure of the human spirit. Not hunkering down, but utilizing the ever present noble side of our nature to open up and embrace the challenge with optimism!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Grammatical corruption

Its, it's and 'tis! My colleague Tony castigates me repeatedly for the use of "it's" for the possessive pronoun. In an editing workshop last week I posed a question to the group,by asking why, if a mule's ears are long and hairy,why not "it's" ears are long and hairy? To say that the possessive "its" ought not have an apostrophe, while the noun it reflects does, makes no sense to me. The consensus at the workshop was that it differentiated the use of the two words. Why would anyone care to go there? The context declares it! Then I read in the grammar detective, that "it's" as a possessive pronoun, was used on a regular basis a couple of centuries ago but was changed to "its" when "'tis" became deemed archaic, so "it's" was substituted for "'tis" as a contraction of "it is" and "it's" was shoved out of the rightful place as a possessive by the grammarians. What the hell! I can hardly wait to confront Tony, start using "'tis" again, for "it is" and talk about mule's ears without a lame excuse about differentiation. What a contrarian either I am or English is!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Penny for your Plots

Monday, my daughters and their partners came and planted the ailing elderly gentleman's dahlias in his time established (in modesty I can't say honored) protocol. In short, when the soil warms and the muck goes, a hole is dug every 18 inches, 8 inches deep; a handful of 13-16-10 is chucked in; the Mantis is jumped from hole to hole to make a soft feathery bed for the little creature, and a 5 foot rebar is hammered in next to the creature so we know where the shoot will emerge when we weed. The rebar is always on the north side of the creature which is covered with 2 inches of soil and lightly tamped. Later, hilled in! My family planted over 200 dahlias in exemplary fashion. One of the faults of some exhibition dahlias is weak flower stems! Large blooms with weak stems and the floppy, droopy appearance is a big no-no! Out with it! Off with their heads! Some time ago the pianist noted that the cut bouquets of tulips stay ramrod straight in the vase if a couple of copper pennies are placed in the water at the time of arrangement. I have, in the past, scoffed at her assertion, accusing her of swami-like thinking, but double blind studies, albeit ineptly done in our living room, suggest it might be the case. Unfortunately, I didn't think of pennies and her protocol in time to consider activating the technique into my current dahlia scheme. I'll do it next year if I am still here and alive. Another use for the dying Canadian penny! Chucking a couple of pennies in the hole maybe a cure for the more beautiful of the Droops.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Person

In the days of spontaneous abortion, if you held a 14 week foetus in a kidney basin that made silent mouth opening signs, chest fluttering, and limb writhing activity, it seemed like a person and you might have strong feelings thereupon about personhood. If you were the parent of a 13 year old girl who ran away from home because she was pregnant by her brother and you were in agony to find her before she did something desperate, you also might have strong feelings about personhood. Maybe Jeremiah 1:5 is wrong. No amount of abstract reasoning by elderly judges, swayable politicians or fossilized medievalists will answer this question. There there may be an answer but there is no solution arising that satisfies! Content ourselves therefore that we are merely tissue in a world of a Petri Dish? I have no ideas that are useful! What may work? Depersonhood! It may be easier to see ourselves as tissue that talks rather than barks!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thumb and Sinew

Ten days ago I ruptured my left thumb extensor tendon. I have Rheumatoid arthritis and it was an attrition rupture due to the long standing tenosynovitis the tendon had to traverse to cinch up for its muscle, Extensor Pollicus Longus. Because of the shoals and pitfalls of the four inches of Rheumatoid tenosynovitis at the wrist level, instead of gliding smoothly on a sea of serenity, the tendon was secondarily softened and degenerate and liable to fray and split with little or no direct violence. I suddenly noted after lawn cutting I could not move the thumb out from my palm. Luckily we have been provided with two extensor tendons to the adjacent index finger. We only need one tendon, so a transfer of one of these tendons to replace the gap in the thumb tendon was done along with the removal of the erosive source. Now the index finger extensor muscle, Extensor Indices Proprius and its tendon will have to be taught to be a good little thumb extensor.Homo sapiens could never have spanned the head of Neanderthal man in order to bash it against a rock unless he could fully extend the thumb to reach an octave length. Homo sapiens could never develop fine and complex pinch and text unless he could lift the thumb out of the palm. Mankind"s opposable thumb is the singularity that has allowed the use of this early gift in the development of intellect! The sinews are the source of mankind's strength and complexity! We no longer have a hand that can only hook and clench,it can grip and pinch! Arborial becomes terrestrial!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Justice and Fairness

The pianist and I were sitting in the car having lunch at Beacon Hill Park. It was cold today so we ate in the car rather than on the park bench by the flower beds. The Mallards, man and wife, two seagulls and several crows wandered around idly looking for a free meal. When the pianist had her fill of sandwiches she tore off the crusts to feed the ducks who were the closest and they began to vie with one another, but were polite, just ramped up the waddle and began to eat their fill. The seagulls of course noticed and rushed over, but the safe distance they allow an approach is further away than the ducks, so they were slightly out of range from the spoils. Now the pianist likes ducks better than seagulls, even if the gulls are more beautiful, but she is compelled to follow justice and fairness called "sharing"! They may be beautiful but they are stupid and when food looms they call all their friends rather than "shutting up", and when the others arrived they fought them for the food. Bad planning, not altruism. They have also learned to scream and beg by a head nodding up-tic. The pianist in the interest of fairness, justice and accommodation, took pity and hurled the crust portions to them as far as a crust will fly! I think this concern for equitable distribution is a female characteristic arising from the matronly urge to meet the needs of all, the long and the short and the tall, the noisy and the quiet! The cacophony from the seagulls drew the attention of the crows as well, who arrived in force, but they have an even longer safe distance to maintain from the human food source. It was impossible for her to meet their need. They looked forlorn as the pianist tried her best to break bread with the fearful and skittish. They just couldn't out muscle the gulls, couldn't cosy up to the humans like the ducks and the pianist couldn't throw that far. She did her best but despite the fact that the crows are the smartest birds around, they are going to have to use their brains instead of being pretty and tough! Or else eat alone!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Heart vs Brain

Soul vs Sense; Architecture vs Horticulture; Man vs Women. How the pianist has put up with my plant peccadilloes over the years is a tribute to her tolerance of my relative inanity! Since I am a  known pruneophobic, I have so far succeeded in withstanding all efforts to curb both my enthusiasm for large house plants, and for not curbing them from wherever they want to wander. I am not a stern parent with plants, as I want them to be happy and free, as I am. They are more like my brothers. My 30 year old rubber tree is about 25 feet tall and the view of our stairs to the bedroom is now hidden in its underbrush. A female realtor carefully suggested, not to give offense, that the architecture of the stairway was of such interest it would be an advantage to see it. My equally old Hoya vine  climbs up to the top of a 28 foot beam to the bedroom and balances the rubber tree. The realtor suggested that a mighty beam of that nature might usefully be seen advantageously as well, rather than assumed to be there! A second Hoya in the dining room had penetrated into the ceiling boards in an attempt to escape the room. This Easter weekend will be a watershed for these plants since the pianist, my daughters and the realtor all have agreed that I have reached the end of the road and must control my neurosis. They were kind and no one suggested I was weird. Radical pruning of the rubber tree will produce a pint of white sap to be collected so sheets over the rug below are a must. The Hoyas will cling to ceiling and beam, and we may hear them scream, so ear plugs are a must. Since I am an Asclepiad by profession , I am related in a sense to the Hoya (Asclepiadaceae), my cousin. I know that the women are right! I have strained the pianist's forbearance long enough. The heavy artillery has acted. Group intervention was necessary! It's tough love! I am my brother's keeper after all is said and done. Group therapy may be needed for us plants but that will come. The architecture and common sense has  prevailed. Still, I hope romance is not entirely dead.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Gait and Posture

I often, in the midst of a busy Orthopedic practice, considered surreptitiously taking videos of my medical colleagues as part of a study of posture and gait. Observing the unique features of healthy men from the standpoint of the normal variants of gait and posture is of some interest to those of us concerned with musculo-skeletal anatomy and physiology! The long hospital corridors allowed me to clearly identify individuals I knew well, whose features were unclear from the distance, but whose gait and posture were identifiers. The good orthopedic surgeon was always aware of the need to observe the patient walking, sitting and standing as part of their assessment, apart from the necessity to do so where pathology existed. You can't always know abnormal, if you don't know the range of normal. For years I idly considered writing a chap book on the subject, or a chapter, based on my study but never got around to doing it, and now it's too late. Any way, it may have been too intrusive and earned me enmity! Still, I fondly remember examples! Drs. X and Y had short heel cords. A tight tendo achilles leads to a bouncy gait. The stride has a high amphlitude, so more energy is required to achieve the same distance. They would make a poor waiter or, in another era, a bad footman. A lax tendo achilles would lead to a low amplitude glider gait. They might say, no spring in his step! Good waiter material! Dr. Z had a military officer background. He stood erect and his head and eyes were directed upward to heaven as he marched down the hall! His gait and posture had an ethereal quality! Drs. A and B were topmost physicians and mild enemies. Nevertheless they required to speak of matters as they met in the hall. As they stood and talked of weighty matters they slowly rotated to the right in tandem, as it were, getting to the most vulnerable side of one another simultaneously! Pushmepullyou! The more florid variations of gait and posture are the most interesting but all of us have unique characteristics only modified from time to time by the state of mind. Mind- body activity will alter, but not fundamentally change. I have a neighbor who has a PhD in Industrial Ergonomics. My missed opportunity was to fail to do a collaborative paper with her at the right time. Oh well!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


It may have been a Byronic Moment when I encountered shit-mix for the first time! Living with three adolescent teen and pre-teen children in Lotus City was a busy time for the pianist and me. Our down time for communication was the supper hour and after that I often went back to work or watched the hockey game. My daughter told me recently that the pediatrics learned to always show me, and get the report card signed, when the game was at a critical spot; so they were craftier than I thought! I had remained naively unaware of that subterfuge! "Hey Dad can you sign this?" I say "can", not "will", because I could sign my name without looking at what I was signing. I'm not proud of this! Also, another one of my pleasures was an abundant and varied liquor cupboard with a selection of offerings. That array provided a welcome choice for an after work libation! I did notice eventually that my supply was diminishing, but faster than my efforts could explain, and the leakage was evenly distributed. The pianist started looking to see how many finger widths were in my glass. I recognized the look but pled innocent! I began to wise up and, unannounced, marked with a felt pen the existing levels in the bottles. Over the next week or two, all the bottle's contents "evaporated" a half inch! I got a lock for my liquor cupboard door and kept the key. I mentioned to the local grocer, a friend, later in the month that I had solved my problem of the disappearing booze. He said, "The kids from the school are drinking what they call shit-mix! You mix half an inch or less from all the liquor bottles and come here for orange crush and put it in the bicycle bottle with the liquor mix! They have a big party at Gyro park! It must taste awful!" I can't say I was surprised. I can say that I was impressed with the creative drive they showed. It provided a good measure of invention and portended well for their future despite or because of the willingness to tolerate swill! It was a stunning Moment when I realized they were flesh! It was like a lock suddenly unsnapped in my head! Perhaps a good parent wouldn't have been amused!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Caduceus, Warp and Weave

The Caduceus is a staff with a single entwined serpent that is an insignia representing the healing professions, particularly the medical profession, world wide. It has traditionally been regarded as of Greek origin dating from the Hippocratic Corpus, 460 to 337 BCE, or the healing and religious tradition of the Greek god Asklepios, beginning from the same era! We read however in the exilic text, Numbers, 21, 5 to 9, probably written from 586 to 538 BCE, that Moses, on instructions from beyond, created what was clearly the Caduceus, a staff with a bronze serpent, in order to prevent the frequent deaths from vipers in the wilderness. This of course is evidence of a creation, described in writing, more than 100 years before Hippocrates and the Asklepian priests, of an oral tradition from an even earlier era. Still, it is not of general knowledge that the Caduceus is a figure created from the warp and weave of what went for science and faith at the time of Moses. Whether Greek or Jew, whether mystic or pragmatic, the cloth one wears as a physician is created by the Weaver. Hippocrates the scientist, Asklepios the mystical god, and the exiled Hebrews codifying the oral tradition, spoken to, and repeated by, a bronze age people, shows us that modern medicine still has its roots in the warp and weave of timelessness. The haze of technology alone may seduce the unwary; the hubris of the antiscientist may founder, but the cloth of the Weaver will continue to stand.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lotus Island Spring

March 17th, I was buzzed by the bumble bee today! The pianist and I counted 14 Harbour seals clustered together, four lazy swimmers, two little round hills, each moving slowly forward; ten stationary swimmers, vertical in the water, sharp little snouts looking skyward. Waiting for the herring spawners! The Indian Plum is in full flower and the Alder catkins are a cloud of red-brown. The Bufflehead ducks are weaving in and out of the seal crowd, taking their share of the grub. The raspberries and logans have started to leaf and the rhubarb is poking up through the leaf mold. The gooseberries and black currants are leafing out but the red currants are a little behind. The apples still have no green on the buds but the pears are earlier. The late storm surges over the last few days have thrown up an abundance of sea weed and have pulled out an abundance of loose vegetation from the shore shrubs that have mixed together and harbour all the tiny denizens of the shore that feed the gulls and crows. The ground is like a wet sponge with all the rain and the moss is especially thick this spring, giving a yellow-green luminosity to the canvas of Mother Nature, lying before us in the sunlight. I saw the little red squirrel today scampering about and he, (or she), allows me to approach four or five feet which is pretty good. They are quick, but I worry because the eagles are starting now on the hunt! There is green, green, green, everywhere on Lotus Island today and since St Patrick was of the green, it seems right. We haven't been diverted yet by the vibrant colors that will come in abundance in another month. Even the daffodils are in the anteroom. The greens are restful and as holy as St. Patrick! A different kind of vibrant, but no less. I think I'll toast the green with a Black Bush now!

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Trust the Medical profession to call an obituary record of physicians, Necrology! Death of tissue; necrotic tissue; "remains" described in completely organic terms. I guess it's reality, but you know, "remains" suggests that the necrotic tissue is just what's left. "The remainder!" What went? The Vital Force! Thousands of touchings; millions of seeings and hearings; hundreds of lovings; history for many; memories in abundance; connectedness to the Universal! The BC Medical Journal came the other day and I knew 10 of the group that died over the past few months fairly well out of the 20 or so odd physicians listed. That is not surprising given our ages, but some of us check the obituaries more frequently than others to stay in the loop, at a certain stage. There is no contest to see who is going to live the longest but recognizing eventually that, "When you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go", there may be the hope to defer. That was not just Peter's future, but is for most of us as well, at least the lucky ones that get to a ripe age. Those of us who practiced medicine for many years may fight against it, but in fact accept death at work all the time as a norm in ourselves and our patients. It always seems to come as a great surprise to most patients and family and yet the average "in hospital" death rate varies from 2.1% to 5% depending on the factors such as intensity levels, age corrected criteria, etc. Most people prepare for a new birth with all the paraphernalia for the newborn well in advance, not knowing exactly the time of arrival, but they all want to be ready. There can't be anything more important than the passage into a new life and the preparation to welcome the new Force Vitale! The passage out of the old life to "God knows where" has the same immensity. Why then do so many fail to get ready in the same way and operate by denial? I guess, like Peter, they probably do not want to be led where they do not want to go. I'm afraid necrology is just a little too organic for me. Pathology notwithstanding, there is more to it than just tissue.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Ridiculous

The country mice, the pianist and I, traveled to Olympic city for the weekend to celebrate my brother's 70th birthday. We were 23 family, three generations, and celebrated in his apartment high over English Bay with an unimpeded view of the sea, the sunset, the freighters gently anchored out and the distant and beautiful city lights. It was the Good. Equally high in our city hotel later, we looked down on the flat roofs of adjacent city blocks, covered with moss, green and black, pools of dirty water, spouts and pipes and chimneys and mildewed walls with a tawdry drabness seen from above that is never apparent from the lower levels or the street. It looked like Chim Chim Cheree without the music or dancing. It was the Ugly. From our hotel room in the morning I watched the Dumpster Digger work in what was obviously his laneway which was directly opposite my window. He was methodical as he checked his dumpsters up and down the lane every half hour through the morning for the treasures of the garbage. Recycling the throwaway culture to eke out a life without a hope of finding a beautiful thing. This was the Bad! Across the city from our vantage on the 19th floor, the high rise apartment penthouses, secured for the wind, had rooftop trees, evergreen and deciduous, some as high as 30 feet, resting in a potted forest on the roof! Strolling in their personal faux forest on the roof! This was the Ridiculous! The love and kindness the three generations of our family felt for one another, of course, transcends all these four images, or goes through them, carrying what is necessary, but in reality needing none of it. That is really the Good that trumped all. Still, we are called upon to look around as we go!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Retrospectroscope

A useful tool for the elderly,the retrospectroscope for self-examination, when advanced along a lumen, viewing it through the lens of the scope, will display the interior of the channel the elderly created. The channel isn't called a "lumen" for nothing! The tool isn't called "scope" for nothing! Call it "breadth of illumination"! What was, isn't, but the pathology is usually so inexorably slow and often nuanced that it is often not displayed when the lens is fogged up and only seen when the flexible scope is advanced carefully and slowly. What you see is not always what you want to see. When you look up your own Ying-Yang, one's posture is difficult to maintain and sometimes painful, but self -examination is usually worth it. You are no longer armed with biopsy forceps so one cannot extirpate the lesions one discovers; you must merely observe as the diagnostician would do! Like all endoscopic procedures, regular assessments are of value in so far as providing knowledge, even if cure is not available. You can not change the past, but you may redress the past! You can record your findings and describe the intricacies of the pathology for others. You can reacquaint yourself with causality and preventative actions and be wise for others who are without the years necessary for acquiring such a tool. The good physician may give advice, but it may fall on deaf ears. So too, it was with me! The lesions we produce in life and the stumbles we create are the whetstones for what we become. I always learned more from my stumbles than my successes. To know it, we have to scope it with good illumination.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and I will meet my Boogeyman. Last night I dreamt of him. He appeared on a flat sea in the horizon; at a distance, a tall hairy Ellipsoid walking on water toward me, with seagulls flying in the background. It looked initially like a tall hairy dog, and then a burro, and then a young Wilding! The eyes were glistening! He asked me if I was alone! My Boogeyman is the interior evil that manifests from time to time when I don't nourish the goodness and feel alone. Not only does the Boogeyman speak for me, but he closes my ears and appears in the eyes and the mouth and posture, much like the Boogeyman of Dr. Jekyll. Jesus dealt with his Boogeyman three times in the wilderness by obedience to Goodness. It does no good to believe that the interior Boogeyman is not there with me. He is always there. When I went to a silent retreat on Ash Wednesday one time, I was assailed with a dream of my collection of sins. They came falling down from the sky like large raindrops with labels. The recognition of them is liberating in a setting that promotes goodness and forgiveness. When I was a little boy I always looked under my bed to make sure the Boogeyman was not there. He was never there or anywhere else outside of me. Having now found him, it is possible to keep him more or less in check by suffering through the knowledge of the sins of omission and commission and striving to nourish the goodness in preparation of Easter Day, when my load and my cross was shouldered anew!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Orca Incident

I often fished in Pedder Bay, near Lotus City, and particularly the mouth of the bay around the Race Rocks where sea life was abundant and with the feed chain in full swing, the top of the chain, killer whales, were also abundant! A local entrepreneur in the 70's developed a market for killer whales and Pedder Bay was used to create a holding pen for herded killer whales, to be sold to provide stock for Marine Shows throughout North America! Having our boat moored in Pedder bay for the summer that year, the whale pen was always a point of interest. Several adult whales were confined to a good portion of the bay by submersed netting with surface floats that were well demarcated and the whales could be seen swimming at the surface. My friend Bill, son Robert and I were fishing one beautiful summer day, and I said to Bill, who I thought had not been to Pedder Bay before, "Have you ever seen the Whale Corral here in the bay?" "No", he said. I told him we would come close to it so he could take good look. On the way back from our trip I cut the engine when we were near the pen so we could sit and watch. I had not noted how fast the tide was running and since we were without power, the boat slid gracefully over the netting into the centre of the pen. The whales had company. My boat was a displacement hull and the propeller was three feet below the water line. I could envision in an instant ripping out the net with my propeller; creating a big enough rent in the pen to allow several million dollars worth of whale make their escape. Bill, whose seamanship was of low quality, made his way to the cabin to make a cup of coffee. I don't think the truth had yet dawned on him or else he was disavowing us! My 12 year old son was just excited to be in whale company. The whales were, on the other hand, totally indifferent to us. They seemed happy enough. I couldn't chance powering over the net with a running propeller, so I started the boat at one end of the pen and raced to the other side, cutting the power at the last moment and allowing the way to carry me over. Luckily for us, there was no damage and were no observers. Capturing killer whales is now the crime, and had we damaged the net it was no solace that we might have been celebrated by a subset of people in today's contemporary mind-set. I'm just as glad for the anonymity. It was a stupid thing to do!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Anatomy Exam

In 1960 my surgical colleague and I were seconded by the Department of Surgery, to the Department of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia for a year.My colleague liked it so much he stayed as an Assistant Professor in Anatomy, but I returned to my surgical training. We were designated Teaching Fellows in Anatomy and taught and assisted the 65, first year medical students, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; all long days in the dissection room. Keeping to the manual; not letting them forge ahead; not macerating the tissue and getting lost; keeping the human road map clear and avoiding misidentifying the signposts and going down the wrong road. We shepherded them throughout the year. They learned that under the skin we are all of the same clay, except the odd anomalous region where we are not. The famous examination that ushered in a sense of dread in all of them, was the spot examination. It was a step off the cliff that produced anticipation anxiety. Sixty-five specimen stations were set up on a quadrangular group of tables in a large room; each 2 stations manned on the outside by an invigilator from the teaching staff; and a bell rang every 90 seconds to signal the students to move to the next numbered station. Aside from the bell, and the rustle of their pen on paper, and scraping of chairs, there was no sound as they moved around the inside of the tables. Penned in like sheep being led to the slaughter. The stations may have contained a bone part to identify, a slide of pancreas with an arrow at an islet of Langerhans,a foramen at the base of the skull, a nerve tagged in a shoulder specimen, and so on! It was not only a test of knowledge, but a test of performance under pressure. I was manning the 2 stations next to the Department Chair. A student examining a slide in front of the chairman was not wearing a white shirt and tie. I heard the chairman say to the student, "Mr Doe, students of a medical class that are careless about their dress are likely to be careless about their practice and often do not pass this course!" As this man moved to my station, his distress was so devastating that I realized, at that moment, that a life in the academic community may be too far removed for my core, and wasn't enough for my reality. Him, the casualty: me, the lesson! A surgical career may be rough work, but at least, pressure and compassion go hand in hand in that milieu!

Dorothy and Martha

Dorothy and Martha were two Labrador Retrievers I spent a year with. They were experimental subjects in my project, determining the effect of hypertensive agents on cellular exchange of potassium and sodium. A conflict I wrestled with was, I have always had a love of dogs, as does my pianist and my children. The dog lab was at the University of British Columbia and the year was 1960. At that time UBC had a large attached farm and I would pick up Martha from the kennels on Tuesday and Dorothy on Thursday. They were well looked after in the kennels because they needed to be healthy throughout the period of experimentation. When I picked them up, they seemed to know which was their day, and after a little quivering they would come with me down the trail, ambivalent, since they enjoyed the time out in the un-kenneled world, and with an interlude before the day's trial. My predecessor had spent a year teaching them to lie still and supine on a table for 4 to 5 hours while they were cannulated in the femoral artery and two veins, infused, injected, arterial pressures measured, and blood sampled over the period, all the while un-anaesthetized and unrestrained. I have often thought of Dorothy and Martha, and still do 52 years later. I think they were precious. I suppose that is sentimental! I don't care. That year was my only encounter with animal experimentation, thank goodness. In some curious fashion they were attached to me despite the pain and discomfort I must have inflicted on them, which they bore in silence. At the end of it all, we always had a little play and they gave me tail wagging. I suppose even painful attention is better than no attention in the permanently kenneled. Though animal experimentation, even then, went through rigorous ethics assessment and is the heart beat of scientific progress, the feelings I have today are mixed with the sense of man's inhumanity to dog, and what they will say to me in the hereafter, when I ask their forgiveness for fooling them.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dormant Spray

Luckily, we now have 6 sunny days in a row to come on the wet coast here on Lotus Island! There wasn't much sun today since we have had dense fog but it is warm and DRY and that's what counts for spraying. The sun burst through for a few hours. No wind has meant that the sulfur and oil has not blown back in my face as much as usual, but still, you can't spray with the hose sprayer without some drenching. The hose sprayer is strong enough that I can spray from the ground as the 12 trees, although about 100 years old, have been kept to twenty feet by my very good pruner. My glasses get repeatedly covered with oil and water so I feel a little like Mr. Magoo fumbling his way to the tree. I am commanded to wear a mask so the glasses also fog up from the inside and it's hard to clean your glasses with slippery, oily, yellow-orange hands. At least the oil doesn't line my aveoli! I didn't spray last year, to my dismay, when I saw the number of egg cases of tent caterpillars this year and recalled the scabby pears and apples and the powdery mildew in the summer. Sulfur for the fungus and oil for the worms. I'm intent on eradication this year and will spray again March 1st. In a sense it is not unlike the practice of medicine! There is a tide in the affairs of men, and making hay when the sun shines, is seizing the day! I see a lot of black and green algae on the wooden decks and particularly thick on the cement aggregate patio. The price of warm weather and el Nino. I will also spray this with the fungus and algae off compound and then power wash. There is fungus,moss and lichen on the roof shingles too, though they are not so bad, but spraying the shady side of the roof is also on the agenda before it rains again. What a battle with Mother Nature this week but I am girded for it and the only downside is a ring around the bathtub every night! The shingles are cedar but 17 years old so I dare not scrape or tread too roughly. Spray and leave has worked in the past. It's all still better than shoveling snow!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jawbone of an Ass

The mandible of the ass, and ours as well, for that matter, is developed from the primitive mandibular processes in utero, forming on either side of the primitive face. The left and right primitive mandibular processes are united at a symphysis in front, at the point of the chin, which later fuses. Either the left or right half of the mandible, when detached from its counterpart, becomes a serious weapon. No doubt there were vultures who had denuded the face of a young ass with an as yet unfused symphysis, that provided a half jawbone for Samson to kill a number of fleeing Philistines in "heaps". He had broken the bonds the Philistines had tied him with, and he exacted revenge upon his captors and protection of the Isrealites with a weapon that was, and is, shaped like a sickle. It may have been used as a sharpened tool to cut grain stalks as well in this pre-bronze era! The slaughter was seen in the oral tradition of the Israelites as sanctioned by God; later, recorded as Judges 15: 15-16. In the movie of Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade, the protagonist, Karl Childers, a retarded strongman, protects a desperately abused woman and child who have befriended him, from a pathological abuser they cannot escape, by killing him with a sharpened lawnmower blade, a curvilinear instrument to cut grass. Karl had spent many years previously in an asylum for the criminally insane from childhood for an earlier killing of his mother and her lover when he, in ignorance, employed "biblical justice" in this act. He used a sling blade at that time which is like a sickle for cutting grass stalks. He was released as cured from the asylum, but during his years there, came to relearn his bible. Like Samson, he was bound by the bonds of his simplistic understanding, but cast those bonds and his freedom aside, to protect helpless people he had come to love, from their abuser. This slaughter could well be seen by contemporaries, and me, as sanctioned, if not by by God, at least by Judges. See the movie before you judge! Nothing is simple.

Monday, January 23, 2012


The collections of designated symbols we call words can be read or heard. The 2nd cranial nerve will mediate the written word to the occipital cortex. The spoken word will be mediated by the 8th nerve to the temporal lobe. These different entry points and imprinting areas will inevitably lead to differences despite the excellence of the subsequent processing and integrative activity of the brain. I have insufficient knowledge to support that point of view, but Common Sense and Ockham's Razor are always of some value. The symbols you see, do not necessarily reflect the symbols you hear. Moreover the acuity between seeing and hearing may be variable and lead to dramatic differences. Since these symbols have become the stuff of communication, then oral and written language is the stuff of life. Many have developed listening skills that commit much of what they hear to memory. Others have highly refined visual skills and are visual learners; reading and writing to lead to retention. Both points presuppose equal acuity with eye and ear. When my colleagues and I speak from the written word on Friday next, we will transport the visual symbols to the listeners ear. It will go from our imprinted thoughts from the occipital cortex to the spoken word to the listener's ear to their temporal lobe cortex. The symbols will be filtered and compounded for the listener by their neurons of intellect and good taste, rage and ecstasy! (I'm getting overheated, but what the hell!) Whether oral tradition could ever translate to written tradition: whether Phoenician symbols and tongue could ever translate to Greek symbols and tongue: whether the passion in the masterly writing is the same as in the passion of the spoken word:whether the right brain of the listener engages the left brain of the speaker, and what's the result: all is a mystery to me.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Rubber hits the Road

My three poet colleagues and I are to give an evening of reading from our literary efforts. It will comprise selected poems and my short, short, prose! I have read another person's content many times publicly, but have never read my own material to an audience! It's easy to read another's material since there is no responsibility for content other than the choice to inflict it on others! Despite the fact that you like your own work; you have convinced yourself that you are writing for yourself; that you feel your craft is adequate and the content authentic; there is still a need for approval. We're human! You can write for money, or love, or to scorn, but if you really write largely for you, it is therapy. You can write from your mind, or your heart, or your soul, but if you write from your soul, it is therapy! If one writes, one can get it all out, purge, and spill the words in front of the public on a page. That gives a comfortable distance to protect yourself. It's another matter to read it to the public! That's when the rubber hits the road! Suddenly the distance between reader and writer is gone. Suddenly, immediacy, facial expression and body language shorten the distance. If you provide angst and violence, sex and love, death and redemption, justice and injustice, the heart and the mind will focus . If you write from the soul, and speak with the mind and the heart, maybe, just maybe, the other soul will resonate. Anyone who says, "I don't give a damn whether they like it or not, I'm writing only for me!" is a bloody liar or a fool.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Augmented KD

The pianist and I were at a dinner party last evening and amidst other topics, food was both eaten and also a topic of conversation. Favorite foods and recipes, particularly pasta and its creative nature provided a lively and entertaining discussion. The pianist was engaged in the talk, but since my culinary skills are small, though I am a gourmand, I contributed little of consequence. That is until I mentioned that my default meal was augmented KD. If the pianist was away and I was on my own, KD was the choice with added sharp cheese and butter and cream. Gales of laughter! Oh well! I always ate it from the plate, and the augmentation rendered it less orange and more comfort. Later, as I went to sleep last night, I thought of my friend and his addiction to KD. Years ago my young colleague, who was a busy GP, split from his wife and to save money, slept in his office and subsisted on a diet that was almost solely KD. His practice was immense, so time was of the essence for him, and his settlement, an expense that was looming, an additional worry. Six or eight months later he told me he was concerned that he may have leukemia, as he had noticed generalized bruising recently then, his gums had started to bleed and weight loss was noticeable. When he finally checked in from the investigation, he was diagnosed with scurvy! KD is augmented by all sorts of good vitamins and minerals as well, but not Vitamin C because it is heat labile when baked. My advice is, stay married, drink orange juice with your KD if you are addicted, use it sparingly as a default meal, and don't save time and effort by eating it out of the pot!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


When you are reading something, or singing something, and out of the blue a sentence or a lyric smacks you in the face; something powerful that you know was a truth you needed to hear comes from beyond if you are mystically oriented. This is never something that you sought, but has sought you. Two things happened today! Jean read, "Eli said,' Go lie down; and if he calls you you shall say, "Speak Lord for thy servant hears." ' " Then later, in the singing of the hymn, Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness; the lyric by JSB Monsell, reads, "Fear not to enter his courts in the slenderness of the poor wealth thou canst reckon as thine;..." Whether a wealth of goodness, or money, or intellect or pedigree; it cuts no spiritual ice today. The church may have, at one time in the past, revered wealth and power and prestige; intellect, pedigree and celebrity. That is no longer the case because the church is becoming threadbare. My church has and should cast aside those symbols of power since the church's credibility amongst the unchurched is two or three generations away from it's Communion. The prognostications that the Western church will die out over the next fifty years will never happen! There may be a continuing erosion, but we will settle at some time to an irreducible minimum. There will always be poor people, rich people, distressed people,smart people, caring people, whose door opens, who begin to listen, and who speak to Whom they hear!

Friday, January 13, 2012


The pianist and I were week-ending in Lotus Island when we were phoned by the police that we had a break-in at our house in Lotus City. The policeman said there was evidence of ransacking in the bedroom wing. The security alarm had rung, the monitor called in, and the police were prompt to attend but apparently, whoever it was, had sacked and ran. We had recently established the security system since we wanted to help our daughter feel more comfortable as she was an older teen and had a life apart from just her parents cottage. It was in the days before cell phones and we couldn't get hold of her to check the house, so I just thanked the policeman. We came home. The policeman had said that the dresser drawers were all open in a bedroom and the materials were strewn all over the floor, the clothes cupboard had clothing and hangers on the floor, and on the bed, and in the hall. The police response was prompt so the break and enter people probably had little time to search and find, and it was curious that they chose the area that they did. When we finally arrived and inspected the bedroom wing, where the police had not disturbed the crime scene in any way, it appeared quite normal. Our daughters room was as usual in it's distribution of clothing, books and materials in an open and readily available state rather than closeted in drawers. The bed was tousled but ready to enter without any effort required to turn anything down. A picture was tilted and the waste basket was full of paper and peels of orange and banana. Our daughter came home shortly after and told us she had run out the front door in a hurry and forgot to turn the alarm off and reset it. She said, "I went out so quickly I didn't hear it go off. I'm sorry!" We phoned the policeman and thanked him for his visit. I asked him if he had any teenagers! He said, "No. I'm not married." I told him, "You're in for a treat some day if you are lucky. In the meantime you can close the case. Love trumps tidy!"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


While one can admire the dedication of the French hybridizers in the development and selection of superior cultivars of lilac, there is a homely side to the old timers of yesteryear and more so their progenitors. (Syringia vulgaris) may be seen in their varietal splendor in The Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton Ontario as the pianist and I observed when we visited some years ago. They say, "The largest lilac collection in the world." Spouting off! Not a very Canadian thing to say, for a self effacing nation. Despite Lotus Island being Rhododendron country, lilacs have a place everywhere, as they are ubiquitous in nature. Every barn and abandoned house on the more sheltered prairies and the interiors had an old timer, surviving after a fashion without demanding a great deal of care. Maybe not as varied and fancy as the new cultivars, but a survivor to be admired and a touch of class, colour and fragrance in an environment of sometime drabness. I have two lilacs that are grafted specimens and horror of horrors,I have allowed a limited growth of the suckers alongside the cultivars! Though I treasure the cultivar, the progenitor is the creation of Mother Nature rather than the French hybridizer, and it reminds us where both we and the cultivar came from and what we have become, for better or for worse. It's like grandpa up in a spare bedroom in the mansion, getting by on his gruel! The progenitor has small florets on spare heads, but it is history and if contained by removing most of the suckers as I did today, it provides some interest to those of us who are probably quirky and know down deep that "beauty" is still," in the eye of the beholder"! If you don't remove most of the suckers they will overcome your cultivar because the progenitor is as vigorous as is Mother Nature. There is no harm in recognizing and prizing our origins,thick or thin and tough as nails!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Magpie Man

I cut up some old hoses, no longer intact, to thread old wire through the cut segments, to secure a heavy Wisteria to the eaves. It works beautifully as the Wisteria is heavy when in bloom and leaf, and the hose segments do not traumatize the branches in the wind and also shed the damp rapidly. I confess an aptitude for saving any junk that could be remotely useful and some that probably will never be so! I have always found it easier to discard the pianist's junk rather than my own, but I have learned the hard way to stay my hand in that arena. An unalterable penchant for neatness and order will result in a loss of valuable materials to the dumpster that the more frugal will readily apprehend. I do not retain the shiny but clearly useless stuff to impress a lady pianist, since unlike a lady magpie, she needs more than shiny to consider giving me rapt attention. The magpie's junk is close at hand in the nest area, easily accessible and even rotated, when boredom with his toy, or inattention of his mate, mandates a change! Like the magpie I maintain my junk near my nest and instantly accessible, so that "out of sight, out of mind" does not obtain. Storage and dead storage is dynamite to utility unless the unlikely case that a distinct inventory is at hand. The dog that always buries a bone or excess bread heels will not remember the whereabouts of all his treasures, nose or not. There is nothing worse than going through the dead storage area a few years hence and seeing how much potential you could have made of the "objects de vivre" you stored!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


The hype of skin moisturizers and their pitches about skin care have prompted me to attack the whole idea since it is in fact ridiculous! The television ads drive me crazy since they undermine the natural and promote plasticity in human beings! I am not a dermatologist, but I do have common sense and know this: that Mother Nature is never wrong, and that Ockham's Razor is alive and well! The fetish of bathing or showering once or twice a day, cleansing one's epidermis of Mother Nature's lipids, wax esters, glycerides, squalene, and sialomucin, all it's natural sebum oils, and then, when one has denuded their epidermis of this protective coating, adding some cream that smells like a flower and is manufactured from the petroleum industry; it is an act of violation! The natural epidermal coating is much more complex than I have elaborated, but one came with it in abundance when we traversed the birth canal with our lipid covering of vernix caseosa! It protected us in utero. We are still protected if we allow it. It's not that one shouldn't bathe at all, it's just that it is badly overdone. I guess it's reasonable to smell like a flower some of the time but put it on the front of the forearm where there aren't many sweat glands and it won't get diluted. The dermatological scientists can't agree on the utility of all these waxy coatings we have been provided with, but human beings should still smell like people and retain their natural waxes minus the dirt. The coating is there for a reason. Not knowing why doesn't count! Mother Nature is always right, and the correct answer according to Ockham is usually the simplest answer!