Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Leading Failures

One can only wonder how long it will take for Liberals to realize what a disastrous mess they've made in selecting Stephane Dion as their new leader. A man who, at first glance, appeared so appealing, so promising as an intrepid leader forging new alliances, clearing out those Aegean stables of graft and corruption, a man of moral rectitude. Imagine; he's turned out to be none of those things. Instead, he's an astonishing amalgam of all the faults combined of his most recent predecessors.

And who would have imagined that this little owl-eyed professorial politico would hold deep within himself the violently intolerable urge to succeed to the extent that he would exercise all those prerogatives that he must have despised in the characters of those who preceded him. Honesty has dissipated and political expedience taken its place. Integrity somehow disappeared along with his stated intention to bring it back to the deservedly-maligned party.

All the initiatives, seen as compellingly necessary at the time they were introduced by the previous Liberal governments, and intending to be extended by the current Conservative government, disavowed. Not because these represent ineffective, inefficient or unrequired measures but simply because they are now championed by an adversary. The well-being of the country at large is simply not now the issue.

Winning at all costs is. A collective representing families who were victims of terrorism; those dreadful terrorist acts that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent Canadians and forever depleted the lives of others pleaded with the Liberal party and Mr. Dion to drop his opposition to the renewal of two key provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act. These were people whose relatives died in the Air India disaster, the 9/11 attack and suicide bombings.

To no avail, because nothing could penetrate the conscience of a man who had already abandoned all reasonableness for a richer prize. Stephane Dion was determined to have his day in opposition to the plans of the Conservative government despite the misgivings and outright pleading by key members of his own Liberal caucus and that was, quite simply that.

And despite declared defiance and a last-ditch attempt by Irwin Cotler to accept an altered extension, Mr. Dion was adamant and whipped his caucus on the vote, just like the petty little tyrant he has turned out to be. Toronto MP Derek Lee attempted to assure colleagues concerned about civil liberties that the measures are in full compliance with the Charter of Rights, but that wasn't the point at all - which was to defeat the Conservatives.

Despite all the Liberal dissenters, including the voice of Keith Martin who said he would vote with the government, it was only MP Tom Wappel who voted with his conscience, in the end.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Another Visit

When she asked whether those old red draw-bags of glass marbles were still around, and could her Zayde bring one with for her, he had to tell her he'd long ago given them away. Couldn't recall to whom, some little boys who had once visited with their parents. Saw no need to keep them. They had belonged to her uncles when they were little boys and played with them. And she in her turn, when this house was her second homehad also played with them.

Never one to disappoint, he went downstairs to the studio where he keeps a huge elderly glass jar full of old glass marbles, and began to separate the newer-old marbles from the really old marbles. These marbles too she had played with through the years. It was always a special treat for her to have the jar placed on its side and the top opened so the hundreds of glass marbles in every colour imaginable, could tumble out and she could run her little fingers through them.

Thus was it that among the other items we brought along with us on this visit included was a small glass jar of old marbles. Along with a number of books; a "baby-sitter" series for young girls, and a few 'scary' novels as well. Last time we spoke she told me breathlessly (she's always breathless about something; it's the way she communicates) that she was halfway through Anna Sewell's "
Black Beauty", and it was "really good, Bubbe". And that her mother had bought her a reproduction copy with great colour plates of "Treasure Island".

She had a gift for us, too. A piece of art work. Not, in a sense, original, like the one she had given us back when she was six years old, a still-life. A brightly coloured vase sitting on a table, filled with flowers, which we framed and hung on the kitchen wall. This one turned out to be printed off the Internet, an elfin figure surrounded by lush foliage and which she had carefully, painstakingly, coloured in with her liquid colour pens.

When we arrived she and her mother were in the front of the house, so we were able to hand over all the bags we'd brought with us. It always takes my breath away to see her after an absence, even one of three weeks' duration. This time she looked taller, more slender. But the same wide smile, messy hair, exuberant embrace. She was wearing a red top I'd brought at our last visit and shiny pants her mother had just bought for her.

And, for a change, we had her to ourselves, so to speak. Usually, when we arrive the house is full of little girls, her friends who live nearby. Now the house was full of her and her alone. Oh yes of course, and the countless pets that they live with, the dogs, the cat, the rabbits. And while we were there on our visit, her mother used the time to actually sit down and more or less relax. She relaxed by utilizing that down-time to brush out the dogs' hair, one after the one, all of them obedient to her calls and eager for the attention.

She wandered back into the great room after unbagging our offerings, almond-milk chocolate bar in hand, and asked if I'd go into her bedroom with her and play marbles. To which end she brought a huge aluminum bowl out of the kitchen cupboard and the fun commenced. Any idea what kind of fascinating spectacle can be produced by selecting one of those really large glass marbles and setting it to a spin around the rim of a large bowl?

It's an interesting phenomenon; the spinning marble, the reflective image thrown onto the opposite end of the bowl by the light streaming down from the ceiling skylight in the bedroom. And the sound! Not for the faint of heart. Add two marbles to the bowl, and there's another effect altogether, as they become dissimilarly-motioned; one content to spiral at the low end of the bowl, the other frantically edging the top of the bowl.

The greater the number of glass marbles added, the less spectacular the results, but one marble always manages to rise to the occasion, circling the bowl rim, while the others, docile sheep, gather below and look up in awe at their circularly-inspired representative.
Reminding me of the merry chaos that erupts whenever the house is filled with little girls whose antics crawl the walls with the delight of being.

It occurs to the child, watching me watching her so intently that she could invent another game, and she hauls out a tape measure, begging her mother to measure her height. She is very well aware that I stand a meagre five feet and she is eager to demonstrate how she towers over me. Tower? not exactly, but she is now able to "look down" at me if we stand together, and when we do, a very satisfied smile overcomes her glowing visage.

As we begin to leave, gathering up our own little dogs, pulling on winter boots and coats, she sticks her toes into one of my boots, wiggles her foot and chuckles at the size of my boots - so small, Bubbie! She admonishes me to pull the zipper of my jacket closed, and when I demur she tells me I'll catch a cold, and she cares about me, so just do it, Bubbie, do it.

I do.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Of Our Days

Good thing I remembered to wear sun glasses. And a wool hood, not just the head-warmer I've been wearing of late. There's a fresh, albeit slight layer of new overnight snow. The sky is as blue as can be, with no clouds anywhere. But the wind is a bitterly cruel one on this day; not el Nino, another wind has been blowing wildly all this winter. It's minus 10 and although yesterday's dampness exacerbated the feeling of cold, today's wind whipping through the ravine makes it seem even colder.

The tree tops sway in the wind; you could get dizzy observing their widely frantic sway. They clack against one another, cracking and creaking in protest. We note that the hornet's nest which had hung on for so long this winter atop a slender sapling has finally been dislodged. It lies alongside the trail in three neatly sliced pieces, the celled interior absent denizens. And we wonder what hungry little ravine creatures might have found the nascent winged warriors a treat.

And that's when we see a fair-sized hairy woodpecker further up the trail, busy at the side of a tree. They fluff their feathers for warmth in these frigid temperatures, trapping air between for additional warmth so that's likely why they appear larger now. Chickadees are busy too, flitting about the branches of trees as we advance in our quotidian circuit. A half-hour later as we crest another ascent we hear a cardinal trill, and soon spot its scarlet body top-mast a distant tree.

Earlier, after breakfast was cleared away and I was just putting the apple pie that I'd finished making in the oven, he walked into the kitchen with a smile pasted wide, and said "listen to this", putting on the radio. Took me a pause, then I recognized that voice; silky-smooth, gentle and overwhelmingly reminiscent of our youth. It was the inimitable, unforgettable Nat King Cole (but not that most famous of his songs; "Unforgettable") singing "Smile".

I pulled my arms behind to undo the strings of my apron and he said not to bother, it was just wasting time. He advanced, pulled me close and we danced while the song played out:
"Smile, what's the use of crying,
Smile though you feel like crying
You'll see the sun come smiling through
So Smile"

We were of an earlier time, and so was that music, when the world was a more innocent place. And so were we. When we were young and the future opened wide before us, although we hardly gave that much thought to the future as such. We were simply too busy living the present and the future more or less enveloped us and guided us as it advanced from the present.

We started out as children together, became a singular brace of young adults assuming responsibilities that our forebears and more recently our own parents had done. We had a young family and we struggled to achieve the material wherewithal all young families require. To live with a modicum of comfort, secure in the belief that our children would inherit a kind and gentle world.

Our children have long gone off on their own to inhabit their own worlds, somewhat like ours, but dissimilar in a good many instances. It's their world and they will do with it as they can manage. As we coped with finding our place in ours. So now we're back to where we started, he and I, alone together and living life as we find it.

We love without condition, unquestionably; there are no borders, there is only love. I may irritate others by my propensity to speak when I should listen although I like to think of myself as a sensitive listener. Yet I'm acutely aware that I speak too often, with an irritating authoritativeness.

Like the person who knows everything there is to know about everything; the very same person who knows nothing about anything. Yet he loves me, for he sees only the good in me.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Elderly Gender Parity

When we were young, who knew? Certainly not us. Fact is no one imagines, when they're young, what life has in store for them as they mature and mature and finally join the ranks of the elderly. Golden years they may be, and we hail them as such, but they also offer us gifts, had we the choice, we would gently refuse to accept.

Think of failing eyesight and the frustration of fine print. Think of the facility of hearing somewhat diminished. Think of the alacrity and elasticity of youth long gone. Think of the bloom of youth, gleaming young skin, casually worn then finally dreadfully missed. Think of youth and how one felt gazing upon the grizzled visage of an elder. Something akin to pity, bordering on revulsion.

Think of the shock of recognition, long past the slide into middle-age, when glancing casually at a mirror your parents' faces look back at you. When did that happen? Think of your children now at an age when you first began to discover grey hairs among the vigorous dark growth of life.

So here we are at 70 years of age, after more than 50 years of marital bliss. And bliss, a silly word at that, it has certainly been. Each of us has faced a gradual decline in our physical selves as muscles decline in strength and time ushers us into a closed future.

At night, in bed together we find comfort in each other's presence, touch, love. And, at night, in bed, we each of us for our separate reasons wake repeatedly. Not because we fear that long sleep that many identify as the final sleep, but because our well-used bodies' still-powerful hormones bid us to.

With him, it's the urgency of his bladder. Because of his enlarged prostate, grown to the state where it interrupts its neighbouring organ. During the day, sudden urgent impulses to urinate interrupt and often disrupt normal activities. Throughout the night those same urgent needs waken him continually.

As they do me, his constant companion, awakening as he raises himself from our warm bed to toddle along to the bathroom. We share this discomfiture unequally to be sure, but we do share it. For my part there are the still-lingering effects of menopause that simply refuse to abate completely.

From a sound sleep I am abruptly awakened by that most peculiar sensation of my body flooding with an insane heat which washes over me post that peculiar tingling of my body, so utterly unpleasant and unstoppable. Small, unpleasant interruptions in our daily lives.

So how did you sleep last night?


Hugely Splendiferous

We're in the last throes of winter. Winter doesn't know it quite yet; that season has a tendency not to want to know what it doesn't want to acknowledge. But even our little dogs know it, all the symptoms are there. Well, not quite all. It's still exceedingly cold, the wind has abated but slightly, and the snow it's still a'coming along. When we venture out of doors woe betide those who don't sufficiently respect winter's climatic tirades. The sun's position on the horizon has changed, its rays begin to warm us.

But here in this house where we have made our home, it's a different story. We can look around us and take comfort in our surroundings. And look out/at our windows and bask in the sunny warmth of other, more temperate climates whose actual physical existence transcends this continent we're placed upon. It's the genius of my husband's imagination, his creative enterprise and his determination to surround us with beauty that gives us this splendid ever-present opportunity to gaze upon living green beauty.

We've got doors whose glass insets encompassing all but a few border inches of wood reflect a forest interior. Other doors, leading to bathrooms where schools of exotic fish flip about in aqua waters. And doors where huge shore birds boasting feathers of hues unimaginable other than those in tropical climes glow for our delectation.

We have windows that leap through time and place to bring us to ancient fabled Persia, to tumbling waterfalls in nature-adoring Japan. We have windows that offer us summer relief from heat reflecting our own snow-laden winters in an inner-forest landscape. And we have windows soaring two-storied heights to gift us with the lush many-hued perspective of a rainforest.

The sun loves our windows; our windows return the compliment. Jewelled colours gleam and glitter, become translucent with the vigour of life's reflection. Landscapes shimmer, colours become opalescent, birds seem to come to life, flitting through the palms and large-leafed plants of a jungle interior.

We read books to transport our imaginations to places other than our own.
We lift our eyes toward our windows to look upon worlds that have become our own.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

India, Through Neighbourly Hearsay

There's Mohindar up the street, at the communal mailbox. We meet almost in front of his house as he's returning from gathering up his mail and we're en route to the ravine whose trailhead lies just beyond the mailboxes. He's an especial neighbour, warmly affectionate in his way, always glad to see others, eager to stop and talk, talk, talk. It's winter, the streets clogged with hard-packed snow and ice, and hardly anyone ventures out but we two. We'd seen Imram, clearing snow in their driveway, spoken with him, but he hadn't mentioned his father's absence.

His expressive face wreathed in wrinkles, bordered by his grey hair, grey moustache and beard, he teased that we hadn't even been aware of his absence. He and Luvaleen had gone together, she for two weeks and he for a full month's stay in his sister's house. He had accompanied Luvaleen to a nearby town where her fiance's relatives live, to meet and greet, make acquaintance with these people who would be swelling familial ties. Wealth! We couldn't imagine, he says, the floors of the house entirely made of marble. Nice people, he said, with no further commitment.

Mohindar is ordinarily extremely emotive, he makes no secret of how he feels about anything, and his accompanying facial contortions magnify his feelings. It's been a dozen years since his last return to India. To the Punjab, where his people are from. Most are now Canadians; his elderly father who died last year at age 96 had lived for many years with his older brother nearby in the outer reaches of Ottawa. Mohindar's brother wears a Sikh turban, his sister-in-law always traditionally garbed, but Mohindar's family has bought into Canadian society in a more visible way.

Imram, for example, a truly beautiful boy of 15 (yes, he's beautiful in the fullest sense of that physical descriptive, just as his older sister too is exquisitely beautiful); slender and fragile-looking proves how deceptive appearances can be. Imram is madly devoted to hockey and to soccer. He's a star performer on local teams - whose physical prowess in these games is admired and envied by the other boys on the street. He gives himself over completely to these sports and has suffered physically as a result, with agonizingly long recuperative haituses as his limbs heal from sports-related accidents.

Mohindar and his family exemplify new Canadian stock, evolving and integrating, yet celebrating vestiges of their original culture. There they were, he and Luvaleen back in the Punjab, revisiting roots and traditions and Luvaleen was cool with it all - she's only 24 and this is her India. But for Mohindar his India is gone, evaporated, leaving him puzzled and restless-feeling about what's been lost and what has been gained. There's conspicuous wealth everywhere, he tells us. No more bicycles and motorbikes crowding the roads, only Korean- and Japanese-built compacts and sub-compacts. The occasional Mercedes-Benz thrown into the mix.

The houses! Relatively well off as he is himself here in Canada, he could never aspire to own a house the likes of which he now sees in India, he tells us. Everyone has money. There's a high-tech boom. Oh, he casually interjects, some things haven't changed, the people on the street who haven't anything to eat; they're still there. Otherwise (!) wealth and all the symptoms of a good life. But, he says, there's a dearth of time. No one has time for anything. And with this declaration his face bends into anguished realization - no time for him! Here he'd travelled all that long distance to see his family and they couldn't bother to rouse themselves from their preoccupation with making money to make the effort to come along to see him...

Never mind, I say to him, don't feel badly about it. Once you'd left they likely realized they'd missed an opportunity and felt bad about it. But he wouldn't be consoled. His older brother to whom he'd always related as in a father-son relationship died last year. It was he who'd kept the family together. Now, he said bitterly, no one cares. His nephew, his older brother's son, a wealthy lawyer couldn't make the time to meet with him. Mohindar had himself gone to his nephew's home, a beautiful well-appointed house, where he met with his nephew's wife and two young sons. His nephew called a few times on his cell phone to say he'd be right there, but he never did arrive.

At a family social gathering, a wedding, the nephew, along with most other members of the family was present and said at that time: "Uncle, want to come along to my house now?". And, Mohindar said, he angrily demurred, dismissed the notion, he'd made the effort previously. And he'd noticed, he said with disdain, that five minutes wouldn't go by throughout the festivities when his nephew wasn't responding to his cell phone. His own brother, living nearby and retired, wouldn't make the effort to come out to see him for more than an hour! And when his brother explained afterward over the telephone, that he thought Mohindar meant to come and visit in his home and stay overnight, Mohindar dismissed the notion.

But, I prodded him, you did see your relatives, you enjoyed some social occasions with them, appreciate that. Yes, he said, he did. And he and Luvaleen went also to the Golden Temple at Amritsar a few times. Ah, the Golden Temple; it must be very beautiful, I'd seen photographs of it once, I said to him. Back when there was much unrest in India, when Indira Gandhi had instructed troops to overrun the temple to tamp down militants and for her troubles two Sikh members of her Imperial guard assassinated her. Mohindar regarded me closely, his eyes narrowed slightly, his lips elongated in the merest grimace of an acknowledgement. Clearly, I wasn't helping his mood.

But Luvaleen's marriage is approaching; mid-August, and plans must continue. One of the reasons she accompanied her father to India was to shop, to purchase fabrics, to buy items for her marriage. And this pleases him greatly, as does the prospects of the fulfillment of happiness for his daughter and prosperity for his son-in-law, completing his medical specialties studies. Of course, relatives from India would be arriving in Canada for this auspicious occasion. What also pleases him? The fact that Imram had sounded so lost in their daily cross-continent conversations with the separation from his beloved father.

And, Mohindar sighed, it's just good to be home again.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Going Home

Well you really can't. There is no 'home' left once you've vacated it, gone elsewhere. Home resides in your head, in your memory. Your 'home' has become home to someone else, someone who chose not to leave for whatever reason, necessity or eagerness to experience new opportunities.

Home is not necessarily where the heart is in any event. By the same token, the heart is where home is. And home can be anywhere. Sometimes not an actual geographical location, but anywhere your beloved is. Home is a portable, transportable, transferable place of thought, rather than an actual abode, for some.

Mankind is migratory by nature. People have always re-located, pulled up roots and explored or looked beyond the familiar in a quest for adventure or new opportunities, or in haste to depart a place that has become hostile by the advent of dislocating war.

We're also nostalgic by nature. We allow our memories to paint that which we imagine our homes to be in colours far brighter than they actually possess. We tend to forget the reasons why we felt compelled to leave home, to look elsewhere for satisfaction or for shelter from circumstances beyond our control.

We are capable and prove so, of accommodatng ourselves readily to the reality of another, adopted home. Human beings are measurably resilient, able to and capable of adapting to radically different environments, taking our little notional traditions and cultural underpinnings with us; they too are transportable, until that time when pivotal new societal mores slowly marginalize the others.

We're practical by nature, too. Our practicality permits us to balance our needs against our longings. The heart belongs more to an ideal than to a reality, in any event. We make our home where opportunity beckons, where practicality and happenstance suggest and recommend.

And the truth of the matter is, you cannot go home again. The home that was your home is quite simply no longer there, so in fact it represents something other than home; memory. The home left behind is no more than a figment of memory. Time and space, memory and place are elusive constructs.

We recall a home once known and cherished, now unrecognizable and dimly resonant faced with reality. The home we carried in memory is a sadly cherished remnant of the past, forever gone. Home is where you are.

Wherever you are, nomadic spirit.


Regard the Rs

The Rs, yes those famous Rs. Reading, (w)Riting and (a)Rithmatic. Vital to the well-being of any society. The bane of elementary school children. A total headache for the parents of said children. A necessary evil. Not the actual doing of, but the necessity to impart the knowledge to unwilling little holtzene keppes, dumkopfs - our beloved children.

But this is tangential. I'm not concerned at this point in my grandmotherly life with those three Rs. It's those other Rs, acutely relating to our personal responsibilities in the relatively newly-emerged world-wide recognition of climate change and global warming.

Therefore, the three Rs of which I now give thought (although needless to say, like most people my 'thoughts' are just now catching up to my previous actions) are Recycle, Re-use and Reduce. Re-think could be added to that as in re-think priorities. Responsibility could also be tossed in for good measure.

We all do what we can, don't we? In our household, for example, there are no (perhaps one or two overlooked ones) incandescent bulbs being used; only those twisted odd-looking energy-savers. We helped our daughter in her switch-over as well. Good on us. Light switches are always turned to the off position when we vacate a room. But good heavens, we've been doing that since forever.

Far more gets dumped into our compost pail sitting under the kitchen counter than what makes its meagre way into the garbage pail. And what ends up in the garbage pail is mostly made up of packaging. We could use a lot less packaging in the commercial/retail level. Years ago when shopping in Tokyo I used to marvel at the waste of resources used in packaging; we've caught up.

The garbage we actually place beside the curb on collection day is minimal. We place beside the garbage on appropriate days all the newsprint, paper products, cardboard and other allied recyclables in our black boxes. And on alternate weeks we place all the recyclable plastics and glass containers in the blue boxes, then skip along in self-congratulation.

Well, that's not all. We don't ordinarily and haven't for years, purchased our clothing at the usual retail outlets. Sometimes footwear can be added to that, and outdoor gear. The same holds true for books, they're all purchased second-hand. As long as I'm able to throw a garment into the washing machine, as long as it's been gently worn, as long as it has been well made of decent fabrics, I'll give it a once-over.

I'm still working on using our (low-energy) dishwasher less than I do. We are wedded to our modern conveniences. I'll accept using the clothes-dryer to the point where really hard-to-dry towels come out damp, and I'll hang them about the house to finish drying. Cold-wash cycles aren't embraced because it's hot water that zaps those germs out of contention.

We eat meat no more than twice a week, shop locally, purchase few processed or pre-prepared foods. We drive a fuel-efficient vehicle (Honda Civic). We turn the thermostat down, way down at night. And during the day it's up somewhat, but low enough to necessitate the wearing of three layers of clothing indoors lest we turn into blocks of ice.

We use a small counter-top oven for baking, and use it also for meal preparation when applicable, ensuring we don't use more energy by using the oven of the full-size stove. Although if we do use the large oven we can leave the door open afterward, to let the heat from it flood the kitchen.

Our large windows facing west at the back of the house invite plenty of sunlight on bright days, which warms up the house considerably, until sundown. Many of those windows are now also covered with stained glass, which heats up even more than ordinary glass, further warming up the house.

We can afford to buy 'new', choose not to. Rally to the cause, folks.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Community Etiquette

On week-ends we fortunate few share. "Fortunate" for many reasons, not the least is that we have such wonderfully easy access to a neighbourhood resource that nature has afforded us in our nearby ravine, and fortunate in that at this stage in our lives, we're retired from 9-to-5 activity which hampers the lifestyles-freedoms of most younger people. Translated, that means we old codgers have free reign to explore this shared neighbourhood resource with our little pets without constantly tripping over other residents seeking to do likewise.

In short, we're awfully spoiled. We can indulge ourselves in whatever project fits our itinerary at any given time, and on short notice. Spur-of-the-moment activity-selections are our mode of life. We can succumb to any of the many activities which happen to take our attention and entice our engagement without the time restraints that hamper all those others gainfully employed. In short, spontaneity is the order of the day for us.

Which means, of course, that when we enter the precincts of the ravine on the week-ends it's with full expectations that on these days we've got to share the pleasures of ambling about in the woods at leisure. On Saturday morning we heard the excited, happy shouts of children long before we came across them on their sleds, bombing down the long hills. The thrill of movement along snow-covered hillsides is the memory of a Canadian childhood.

These boys, about 12 years old, were having one whale of a time. There were only two of them, but they had managed to perfectly groom the long ascent we were hauling ourselves up. But perfection wasn't acceptable to these two; they'd brought along with them not only sleds, but shovels, and were building ramps as well as smoothing out those portions of hillside that offended their sense of sled-aesthetic. They were so steamed up about their fun they had doffed their coats, leaving bare arms.

No, they said, they weren't cold, and a close look corroborated that; perspiration was running down the sides of their faces. We laughed along with them and remarked to them how much enjoyment we had just watching them tearing about, before heading up and onward ourselves. On our return of the circuit an hour later they had been joined by other children, both boys and girls, with an assortment of ages represented, all of them shrieking with the passion of their enjoyment.

These aren't the kids who go through the ravine at night. Those would be older boys; doubt any girls would be among them but who knows? In the summer these boys like to chop at the trees, the bridge supports, and sometimes they're successful at their determination to deconstruct nature. They've not yet been entirely successful in their pyromaniac absorption in setting the place ablaze, although remnants of their efforts are often to be seen here and there.

In the winter they're otherwise-absorbed. Even during the day at times you can sniff the fragrance of marihuana wafting on the air where they've vacated the premises at the oncoming sounds of trail walkers. Doesn't bother us. We are bothered by seeing trash left heaped here and there, everything from food wrappers to empty beer cans. And then there are other tell-tale signs of their activities, like the contents of their stomachs projectiled against the clean white snow. Or long, wide arcs of urine.

On Sunday too we know we'll come across others making full use of the trails. A lot of dog-walkers, sometimes young families; a father, mother, child or two, with or without dogs. Generally most people have the good sense to understand that it's incumbent upon them as good neighbours well socialized, to contain their dogs' activities, to ensure that they have control of their beloved beastie at all times. Either through the medium of a leash firmly attached to the animal's collar, or through patience-rewarding instruction that the dog obeys.

Then there are those who appear completely oblivious to their obligations, feeling their responsibility belongs only to their dog's well-being. And who would wish to deny a dog the wild pleasure of racing through the woods unhindered by instruction and sight-control, dishearted by having a leash held firmly in hand denying him his rightful wild-animal pleasures? Not for them to resort to the leash until others pass.

Which is what most people, I repeat, do. Both for the safety of their beloved pet and to ensure that said pet doesn't harrass other trail walkers and their companions be they human or animal. On this Sunday's perambulations we came across many such pet owners, who, upon seeing others approach, take the precaution of leashing their pet. Yes there are those who, walking a Labrador Retriever will say "oh, he's friendly", while frantically attempting to keep the animal from wallowing all over a stranger.

Which isn't so awful; at least she tried. It's those represented by the young woman out walking with her well-muscled boxer who bounded straight toward us as we approached, causing me to sweep tiny Riley up and my husband to do likewise with slightly-larger Button. I smiled grimly at the owner and plodded on as the dog swifted behind toward my husband. Leaping about successful in permitting the dog access to cowering Button.

So the dog instead ran behind back of my husband and then made a flying leap for the middle of his back, almost upending him. "I do apologize!" rang out the voice of the woman. And when my husband recommended leashing the dog, she defended it, saying it only leaped on him because he was holding our dog. And then the dog prepared for another running leap, upon which my husband circled the mild-end of his ski pole toward the dog. Which didn't sit especially well with the dog owner.



Saturday, February 17, 2007

Third One Up!

Each winter has its challenges. Actually, I'm not referring to the challenge of living through countless days of wind, snow and frigid temperatures that normally mark our winters here in the snow capital of the world. Although that too is a challenge. One we meet right handily by going out into the weather and enjoying whatever it brings, and then dashing back into the house to bask in the warmth and glow of our home. No doubt about it, living in Canada presents it existential challenges. Well met by recognizing winter as a welcome change from all those other seasons.

Yes, we tend to find the other seasons more agreeable for easy living, if not downright attractive in comparison to winter for reasonable road conditions where driving to and from one's place of business doesn't offer daily opportunities for disaster, sliding across icy roads, visibility hampered by ice fog or snow being whipped all over the place including the car windshield by high winds. Let alone having to be constantly on the outlook for all those other - dangerous, inept, truly stupid - drivers out there increasing the natural hazards exponentially.

But this isn't meant to be a carp about living in a northern clime, honestly. This is intended as a bit of crowing about how wonderful it is to live with a creative personality, one who chafes when there are no projects underway, who goes out of his way to invest himself with the authority of his aesthetic, handily transferring creative thought to creative action under the authority of the renaissance man within him.

The winter months, while they do offer splendid opportunities for embarking into the out-of-doors for specific pleasures like winter hiking, snowshoeing, skating, skiing, sledding, are not to be compared with other seasons when one can impel oneself into nature's precincts for hours and hours without ill consequences. Spring, summer and fall all bring their own season-specific activities to bear, to break up the days' adventure of living, to keep one busy and active.

There are always chores to be done, pleasurable and otherwise-but-necessary. But it's in the winter that the opportunity presents itself for becoming engaged in projects requiring the dedication of compliance, time and work. He's always got a few projects in mind, and then he picks among them to determine which he most feels like selecting. He could have, for example, begun replacing the floor in the upstairs bathroom, since he'd already bought the tiles and they're stored downstairs awaiting replacement.

It's a larger job than you might think, since he will also rip up the existing countertop for the vanity, rebuild it and tile it also before he settles in to do the floor. And before he does the floor itself, he'll tile halfway up the bathroom walls. Nothing is as simple as it seems, not in this hosuehold. This is his hallmark of creative thought and resulting production. Invariably when he begins a project it somehow grows a mind of its own, becoming infinitely more complicated in execution than the original relatively simple plans would dictate.

So, no, he decided against doing the bathroom. But he has been brooding about the thought of designing stained glass windows to cover the plain panes existing in the living room. We adore stained glass. Our home has become a stained glass showroom. Simply put, he enjoys working in the medium; it offers him great satisfaction. He thinks about what he'd like to look at in perpetuity, since coloured windows kind of smack you in the face; they're there, front-and-centre, stealing the show from anything else. He begins with the concept, thinks mightily about what would 'fit' aesthetically, then begins a cartoon.

One cartoon leads to another; small, initial designs some elements of which he finds useful, others not. He retains the useful portions, transferring them to another cartoon to which additional elements are added until he finally ends up with a product that satisfies his vision. Then the cartoon-size design is enlarged to a full-size image, and a double produced. The double is cut into pieces resembling a puzzle. It is the numbered pieces that are used as models for the glass cut to size and placed over the intact design to finally produce, after long hours of work, the final product.

There are four tall narrow glass windows in our living room. Roughly 3-1/2' by 7', height and width. Thus far working from late November to the present, three of the quartet have been completed. The end product is colourful, amusing, exotic and a balm for winter blues. Why on earth would anyone want to cover their windows? After all, windows are useful for looking out of, for emitting light, and sun. Well, we have many paintings on the wall of our living room, all of which must be protected from the sun. But the big, really big reason why my husband isn't fond of looking out those windows is the view.

Tenement city, he calls it. Unfair as a characterization, but I get his point. We don't see all that much of our garden; we do see much of our garden shed and beyond it, the bulk of other houses looming over the fence, and the sight of all these houses offends his tender eyeballs; their effect is hardly ameliorated by the sight, beyond them, of the tall perimeter trees of the ravine into which we plunge daily for our commune with nature. So, the windows shield him from the unwanted sight of a 'tenement'.

But they do far more; the colours of the glass treat us to a vision of light and colour throughout the course of any day, any weather conditions unmet by any other medium. They're an ongoing, ever-changing treat for the eye. Besides which, they present an additional barrier against the cold. In addition to which, the colour in the glass emits additional light, and warmth as well. The heat of the sun magnifies through coloured glass and helps to warm up the house in winter.

When all is said and done it's another layer of beauty to live with. Good 'nuff.


Friday, February 16, 2007

The Blasts of Winter

The wind has been truly brutal the last few days. In the wake of the latest snow storms, the wind whipped itself into a frenzy and isn't interested in abating. It picks up loose snow wherever it can and flings it in huge arcs over the landscape. It has sifted and re-sifted, packed, then sifted and re-sifted again the snow covering the ravine. Not too much of that new snow has been left on the tree branches, the evergreen needles, but there are stubborn clumps that refuse to be dislodged.

Because the snow has been so massaged, mangled and shifted from place to place, the wind has also been successful in transforming its texture to become hard, yet silky. Button and Riley, wearing their boots, tend to slip forward down the long hills and try to brace themselves against slides, attempting to control their descent. The same thing happens in reverse when we ascend the hills, only now they slip backwards and have to expend twice the energy to propel themselves forward.

The wind howls through the trees, bending their masts back and forth. The trees sway and meet one another, throwing percussive sounds down to the trail level. We come across no other souls out braving the elements throughout the course of this hike, but there is more than ample evidence that others have been out. A thin runnel has been etched into the accumulated snow, running down the middle of the trails.

At times the wind chugging through the trees overhead is so fierce the sound begins to take on the dimensions of a freight train, and its effect is startling. There is the sound too of a loud caw and we look up to see a crow in the near distance, cresting the wind. When we approach that small bridge now well coated with snow and hardly to be seen, Riley still is fearful. He halts before it momentarily, seems to gather up his courage, makes a dash, and reaching the opposite side, reverts to his plodding pace.

Through our protective headgear we pick up a rhythmic sound and look around. There, low on a fir tree, a Pileated woodpecker, clacking its bright red head against the trunk. Its devoted energy is amazingly effective; we can see thick slivers of wood flying about the trunk. There's no let-up in the wind - and it whips across our faces, even when we're dipped down into the ravine valleys - penetrating the trees protecting the trail.

There's a old willow whose massive double trunks are thickly plastered with snow. It stands below, astride one of the creek's many tributaries. The shrieking wind has picked up ambient snow and thrown it against the long ridges of the willow's bark, and there it stays. Our faces are wind-burned, but not frosted. The temperature is a reasonable one, at minus 8 degrees celsius, else the wind would make our presence there truly intolerable.

Gusts of wind continue to throw snow off branches. As we proceed, the wind impels pieces of trees into the air, and small branches green with needles float around us, settle on the snowy ground. And there's another woodpecker, this one smaller, a Hairy, and it too is busy clacking its determined head against the trunk of a tree. Nature's creatures are out, though not in great abundance; a tiny red squirrel zips up the trunk of another tree.

The trees creak and clap their masts together. We watch as the wind hurtles itself against the landscape, see a long patch of snow separate itself from the trunk of another tree and float gently in the air, descending in a dissolute mass like a ghostly apparition.


The Benign Face of Climate Change

The world appears to have suddenly awakened, become alert to the challenge facing us as a species, the result of our climate rapidly changing from what we've long lived with and become accustomed to, to one that promises to give us many surprises in the near and distant future. Ice caps and glaciers are melting at an alarming pace, and although people can only see incremental alterations in how they receive the seasons of the year, the rapidity of the changes have alarmed environmentalists sufficiently to issue dire warnings.

We like to laugh at the concept of global warming when we're shivering through the inclement weather situations the northern hemisphere is used to. As we've done for decades, while scientists were warning us even decades earlier that something called greenhouse gases were changing our atmosphere, our environment, our climate. But life is good and it's hard to give up technological advances that permit us to alter our environment in so many different ways, all of which add to our enjoyment of life.

This past January of 2007 is officially recognized now as having been the warmest on record - ever since environmental records have been maintained. Winter was extraordinarily slow in arriving; we were in an arrested late autumn and winter was just too shy to bring in the snow and chill we normally are assailed with. Instead, that weather did appear, but elsewhere, in areas not normally celebrated for snow and cold, further confusing the issue.

Now here's an interesting story, that of farmers of the Tibetan plateau who simply cannot delight enough in their good fortune at the alteration of the weather conditions they normally face throughout their winters. These are the world's loftiest mountain ranges, the Himalaya, where battling inclement weather is an acknowledged way of life; its tough and capable people long accustomed to facing winter head on.

They herd their flocks of sheep and goats, yaks and other livestock, living at a height above sea leavel we couldn't imagine coping with. They wonder at these changes they see in their winter landscape: " can see there is less snow on the mountains. In the old days, all those rocks would be covered. I don't have to take my sheep so far away from the mountain in lambing season now."

Tibet's glaciers, some 46,000 permanent icefields feeding China's and India's largest rivers, supplying water to the largest concentration of people on the globe are fast shrinking. In some areas, average loss is in excess of 10%. The UN Development Program warns that the plateau's glaciers could disappear entirely by the end of the century.

While the sheepherders and farmers in Tibet celebrate their newly-clement weather systems, three hundred million farmers in China's western regions can anticipate a steep decline in the volume of water flowing from glaciers. The Yangtze and Yellow rivers rise on the plateau, as do rivers such as the Mekong, the Salween and the Brahmaputra flowing into south and southeast Asia.

The phenomenally record-breaking and potentially devastating changes in our climate promise opportunities for some regions of the world, and utter disaster for others. For every high-altitude-living population standing to benefit from warming, there are infinitely higher numbers of people living in deltas, low-lying areas sometimes just above sea level, in others below, whose very existence will be vulnerable to rising seas.

But even on the Himalayan plateaus all will not be sweetness and light, since with the melting of the permafrost expansive grasslands used for grazing of animals will eventually turn into arid semi-desert conditions meeting the huge expanses of the Gobi and the Taklamaken.

But to the farmer looking out over his high plateau things look better and better, with fewer lost animals thanks to the beneficent weather.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fatal Consumption

Isn't it amazing how absurd people can be, the values they isolate as having true meaning to embellish and make their lives worthwhile? The trivial, the superficial, the absorption of young women with facade could lead a casual observer from outer space to the conclusion that they're capable of reaction, devoid of thought. But they're like that simply because it works for them, and because the world at large accepts and admires these trivialities.

We all have an ego, and we submit to it in varying measures in different ways from time to time. We're human. There are shared societal values, augmented by those which parents inculcate into their children to ensure they're well rounded in their worldly outlook. All right, that's the ideal, and peer pressure along with certain social mores which have minimal value do exert their appeal.

Still, obviously self-destructive decisions and activities which are adopted by people who have had the benefit of a reasonable education - living in a world of variable choices, many of which really are life-enhancing - seem to attract young women to a tenuous lifestyle of brief acclaim and flirtation with the grim reaper.

In an industry dominated by men who design wearable creations for women upon whose slender frames their dresses do their genius justice, there is an echo of malicious male chauvinism. A penchant for selecting, and setting up for public admiration and acclaim young women whose post-adolescent frames tweaked by excessive dieting resemble a childish physicality so attractive to pedophiles.

And just incidentally, the clothing designed for wealthy clients, few of whom are themselves naturally of a physically-slight frame and themselves subject to self-denial of physical maturity just 'hang well' on gaunt models. Young women with presence and physical attraction dream of a modelling life with all the attention, the earnings and glamour invested in the profession.

Since selected is heavily canted toward tall, slender young women whose womanly physical features are more hinted at than present, everyone who harbours such ambitions happily accepts the dietary strictures involved in keeping their bodies underweight. The recent deaths of aspiring young models directly attributed to the modelling-diet-exigencies of sacrificing bodily needs in the interests of achieving a malnourished appearance has its costs.

Anorexia and bulemia are the most visible symptoms of the disease of model-envy and aspirations. Young women and girls everywhere aspire to achieve that barely-there look to be able to flaunt their arrested-in-development bodies to the world at large, convinced of their sophistication and natural beauty - with sometimes-unfortunate consequences.

The self-absorption in achieving that look overtaking natural caution and intelligence is now recognized as a social/health disease, and anxious parents hang on the words of medical specialists, hoping they can convince their obdurate children that there exists a cornucopia of other values more worthwhile and more in accord with a wish to live well.

The conscience of the fashion industry is only now beginning to tweak itself into realizing their responsibility. But even while some within the industry admit their guilt in fashioning a generation of starved and sometimes fatally-ill modelling aspirants and successes, they're still wedded to the vision of their garments hanging carelessly, with beautifully fluid lines over a skeletal form.

Instead of accepting self-idolizing Lolitas consumed by their dissatisfied egos, the profession should do a turn-about and accept that the greater community of women upon whose support their industry depends does not resemble starved waifs. And women whose physical proportions don't remotely resemble the models wafting down a runway should demand of designers that clothing be created for those who wear them.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Foolish Heart

Foolish heart; well, it's kind of a universal thing, isn't it? There's a romantic in all of us. Even at a tender age we seek companions, more particularly a singular companion. Someone with whom we can be intimately relaxed, someone with whom we can truly relate in the most personal of ways, someone with whom we can share experiences and the adventure of a live well lived, alongside a love well loved.

Although we met when we were pretty young, both of us fourteen at the time, and we've since been together for - let's see - fifty-six years, we keenly recall those days of our youth. Music was important to us then, as it is today to many far younger generations. But the quality of the music was far different then. It was slow, dreamy, romantic and sweet. Not saccharine: sweet. The same cannot be said for the loud and frantic and often defiant music of today.

We used our music differently in the way it translated into moods for us, settings of peace and security in the presence of each other. The music was not adversarial, it was inviting for relationships to bloom and for people to bond. Social hostility and aggression were on the outer edges, the sidelines, practised by the socially displaced and they were a distinct minority of those who felt themselves aggrieved and excluded from life.

It was another era, a completely 'other' time in history, the evolution of social mores, the appreciation in a deeply-felt way of others. Was it superficial? Perhaps in part, but when society practises gentleness and inclusiveness on a superficial level it becomes engrained and begins to assume an importance, a larger meaning leading to acceptance and equality.

For us personally it represented a benign and warm atmosphere where we could learn about others and ourselves, where we could discern what truly mattered in this world, where we could determine how we would live our lives and select those whose values and visions most clearly defined and embraced our own.

He stole my heart. As a child, even as a child, I had dreamed of the possibility of a companion. Someone to whom I could confide my heart, someone with whom I would learn all about life's potentials. We danced to the slow, sweet music of the time. It was a time of innocence. We took long walks together and talked about what we had up to then experienced in our short lives. Everything seemed meaningful.

Today, after 52 years of marriage, it doesn't seem to us that much has changed with us. He still surprises and delights me with his sense of humour, his passion for learning, his interest in the world around us, his spirit of adventure. He tells me he loves me and why should I doubt it? He demonstrates it amply in so many ways large and small.

During our morning shower he reached for the shampoo bottle and measured into my hand the right amount. I scratched his back between the shoulder blades, then soaped, just as he had scrubbed my back. At breakfast, I brew tea and he prepares his coffee. After our long cold walk in the snowy ravine we did a few chores independently, then he went down to his basement workshop.

Only to come running upstairs a few minutes later, up two flights of stairs, calling to me something that sounded like "you've got to hear this!". I knew it would have something to do with music, since over the years he often runs upstairs saying something similar. In his workshop he turns on an old radio and on occasion a piece of music will be played reminiscent of our early years.

He dashes upstairs to wherever I happen to be, puts on the radio so I can share the pleasure of the music with him, and claims me as a dancing partner. When we were still looking after our granddaughter as her week-day care-giver this little ritual would puzzle her and she'd find it hilarious. Our little dogs are accustomed to it. But it hasn't happened in a while.

Today it did. It was an old Tony Bennett recording of "My Foolish Heart".
"Her lips are much too close to mine
Beware my foolish heart!
For this time it isn't fascination
Or a dream that will fade and fall apart
It's love, this time it's love
My foolish heart"


Isn't it Snowing!!!

Yes, it's snowing, all right. This is winter, after all. And winter loves to celebrate its presence in these northern climes by a frequent scramble of cold, wind and snow. Actually, in this geographic location specifically, known as the second-coldest national capital in the world (after Ulan Bator, Mongolia), we usually have far more snow packed down hard on the ground after successive snowfalls than we have acquired this year.

Everything's gone kind of whacky; British Columbia which is normally rainy throughout the winter has had our early-normal share of snowfall, while winter took its sweet time finally arriving here in Canada's national capital region. Still, we've been spared the worst of the weather systems that have been playing havoc elsewhere, while occasionally reminding us of what hell nature can still visit upon those of us who haven't the leisure of the retired.

Today, for example, we're anticipating a total somewhere around 20 cm of snowfall. Where in southern Ontario and northern New York State today's entire accumulation (including yesterday's) will culminate in a truly memorable experience; they've already had over 50 cm fall. So we feel pretty lucky, launching ourselves into the ravine for our daily walk, all bundled up against the minus-16-degree celcius temperature.

True, the snow is falling here, but it's beautiful beyond belief to see it tumbling gracefully in light clumps through the trees. We've had a modest accumulation thus far today, no more than 4 cm, and our little dogs, coat- and boot-clad find the going challenging enough. Button, older and longer-legged, plods along, while tiny Riley pumps his short legs gamely onward. To spare them, we won't prolong today's walk beyond their endurance.

We flop down the first descent into the ravine, and are embraced by the view of white-mantled conifers and the frozen creek thick in snow. The snow does muffle ambient sound, but our boots still creak along audibly. We speak encouragingly to our two little companions, urging them up the long ascent to take us to the uppermost height, the spine of the ravine, and they pick up their pace, but it's an obvious struggle for them.

Ahead, the figure of a short, slight person hoves into view and alongside him what proves to be a very large dog. We've seen miniature horses as large. The man stoops briefly and we can barely make out the leash extending from the man's hand to the dog's collar as we proceed toward one another. Riley has already begun his yappiting and my husband picks him up. Button carefully makes her way beside me, trying to pass the large dog unnoticed.

But the hairy beast is good natured and eager to make acquaintance of another canine, sniffing her in the most gentle manner, so that Button resigns herself to the ritual, unmoving and patient. "Is he a Bernese mountain dog?" I ask the young man, and he, proudly assures me that's just what it is. To my further query he responds "Chester". And proceeds to inform us how dog ownership is complicated by a dog's size.

When Chester, who is just approaching sixteen months of age, feels really rambunctious and runs about indoors, the house rumbles and creaks, he tells us, and we laugh at the mental picture of this huge friendly dog running rampant through any normal-sized house. Even a relatively large dog's tail could wreak havoc in a house not prepared for the vigorous sweep of said living-object-with-a-life-of-its own's lack of damage control.

Lively as he is, and curious, Chester is an obedient animal whose devotion to his master is obvious, as is his owner's pride in him. Riley's hysteria abates slightly, but doesn't entirely stop and we discuss briefly the death-wish propensity of small dogs to utter dire threats against 'strange' dogs whose size and umbrage against such yappers places them in deadly danger.

Our walk continues, and the snow accrues gradually on our dogs' jackets and our own. We're far removed, yet not all that far from the havoc playing itself out on area highways. We plod along in our nature preserve.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How to Reason With the Unreasonable?

It's a constant reminder of that silly old dance of two steps sideways, one step back; one step forward, three back again. You don't cover very much of the dance floor, and since it's formulaic, there's little rhythm, no satisfaction, grace denied. A certain recipe for frustration since there's no opportunity for expressing oneself with grace and a certain determination to sweep the dance floor in a grand exhibition of athletic prowess and charm.

Ugh. It's like trying to reason with someone incontrovertibly, happily wedded to unreason. Content to harbour misconceptions and unrealities, to haul out the same old tired exceptions and deceptions, never willing to engage in real dialogue where both participants exchange honest views in an effort to reach an comprehensive understanding. Which is perfectly fine if you've nothing really invested of a personal nature, but horribly irritating when the other instigates exchange with no intention of real engagement.

This obtuseness can be inborn or learned, it can express an individual's unwillingness to join the land of the mature and the informed. It can also be an inherited trait, a cultural trait, even an inherent trait. Whatever its genesis it can drive an earnest debater to utter madness with the futility of the effort. So why try? And that's an excellent question.

Why is it that we try to persuade others to come around to a more well-rounded view of something? To challenge their intelligence or ours? In an effort to contribute to an informed intelligence base from within a given population? Then take up the teaching profession. What a potent mix it can be, to engage in a learned/ignorant conversation of situations which encompass politics, human nature, religion.

One wonders, is this someone who delights himself in being deliberately obtuse. Or is this person simply a committed denier? Irrational denier for all that, completely oblivious to the place of truth and reality in the equation. No wonder so little confidence can be placed in words that seem to say one thing, but whose meaning is in the ear of the receiving-hopeful.

Truth is not, after all, an elusive element forever dancing about in one's head. It can be demonstrated in so many different ways. One can point out consequences which are inevitable, a result of certain modes of behaviour. The truth of the matter is the exchange of dialogue is worthless without honesty, a willingness to listen, to learn, to share.

What a fool it is who attempts the impossible.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Unleashing a Tiger

Who knew that was all it took to unleash the tiger lurking in the breast of a young woman? Shy creatures they are not. Resistance to any overtures with presumptions of bullying become immediately evident. The smile fades, the mouth grimaces, opens, releases invective, shrills accusations and warnings of dire consequences. And that tall, winsome-looking young woman looked so - I don't know - charmingly inoffensive.

Just a young woman, out walking in the woods with her companion dog. Why would we, two old kvetches turn so bitterly upon her, rail against her lack of civility when we never even realized the mantle of civility so ill garbed her presence? Call it the presumption of the crotchety elderly in the community. Like the village idiot, best not seen, given tacit recognition, for they, like the village idiot, will then demand what it is not theirs to demand.

My dear darling husband unleashed the lunatic in a sweet young woman. Why on earth would he undertake such a bold venture? He who so cherishes the writings of 19th century Russians who excelled in revealing the dark interior of the human psyche; has he learned nothing? He speaks caustically of peoples' oblivion to their responsibility for consequences of their actions. Hah!

He knows, yet knowing fails to temper his own distemper, leashing upon our grizzled heads volcanic-depths of fear lurking in the wary subconscious so readily shattered, the fragile veneer of casual social courtesy wisping into the ether. A damn cold ether too, by the way. Sure, the sun was out, but it was windy, whipping the loose snow off the ground around us.

You want to be dressed nice and warm to venture out on such days for hour-long treks in the wilds of suburbia. But such is our wont. And if you want, then you do. There we were, hoisting our two little poodles over to the trailhead leading down into the ravine. We carry them up the street because contact with the industrial salt liberally sprinkled on the street the better to melt accumulated ice and snow plays havoc on their paws.

The excited and high-pitched voices of women carried through the trees on the wind toward us; two people entering the ravine after us, their pace much slower. We pick ours up, hoping to avoid an encounter where our busy-body little dogs make pests of themselves. Over the bridge at the bottom, up the long haul to the spine of the upper trail. But before we turn to the second ascent there is a large muscular dog with shiny black fur, a bright blue halter around his chest, frantically snuffling about, scenting.

We stop, watch him in the distance, in the trees, and nowhere do we see its owner. It's inevitable, our toy male poodle will see it and begin his stupid yapping; nothing will stop him. We hope to pass the unaccompanied dog unnoticed but as we progress he does notice us and comes bounding over eagerly, a young dog, curious about our presence and likely wanting to play. Our 13-year-old miniature poodle doesn't want to play, she wants to be left alone to plod upward unobstructed, but the dog keeps dancing around her.

My husband has lifted the tiny one, still frantically yapping, and we try to continue onward, but the black dog keeps dogging us, in front, behind, beside us, urging Button to notice him, play with him, and she finally snarls and snaps. At which signal Riley raises the tempo of his yapping and drives us to distraction. I've been urging the strange dog to depart, scat, find its owner, and it ignores me. My husband reaches down with his ski pole and tries to shove it along.

It skips heedlessly back toward Button and she snaps at it again. This time my husband uses the pole to really try to push it away. It finally races up the long hill and we trudge on toward the top ourselves. There, in the distance right where we're headed is a tall young woman, long black hair, rosy-cheeked, pretty. She bends toward her dog, leashes it and as I come abreast breathless from the climb she straightens and smiles.

I return her smile, then launch into a bit of grandmotherly caution that responsible dog owners should either keep their dogs leashed or have them within sight so they can be controlled. Her smile vanishes, a frown takes its place, she turns away. I repeat my unwelcome message, just in case it hasn't quite penetrated and she turns back to me. But then the big gun makes his presence known, still carrying the yowling, yapping Riley.

Her dog was such a bloody nuisance to ours, he almost hit it with his ski pole, he said heatedly. Her eyes widened, you what? He repeated his statement, louder, louder, the very act of saying the words angering him, our pleasure in our walk diminished unleashing his own little volcano. That pretty mouth opened and out came the words "I'll cut your fuckin' balls off"!!

We look at one another, he's puzzled, what is this kind of response, how do I deal with it? You don't, chum, you move on. Unspoken but very well understood, but he's getting more heated and tells her she has no brains. That's when she begins shouting that he's threatening to bash her brains out with the ski pole. And it's also when he begins to walk away. All this while the black dog has sat by quietly, innocently by her side.

The young woman, facing the top of the trail we've come from observes the two women finally catching up, breasting the hill, and she hurries over to them, screaming about how that awful man has threatened her, wailing, screeching. Bloody damn again. I call after her for good measure that she has a responsibility to maintain control of her dog, then follow my fast-retreating husband.

Which gives me a fairly good and private opportunity to interperse his muttered "did you hear what she said? Did you hear that nut?" with my own take on the issue. "You drove her into a hysteria, you didn't have to confront her, I already had." Silence.

It was cold and windy, Riley had stopped his endless headache-inducing yapping, Button was trotting nicely ahead and it really was a beautiful day. Wow...!


Sunday, February 11, 2007


We watched a film last night, titled "Distant", a film shot in Istanbul with excellent Turkish actors. Very much unlike a North American film. Wish there was a more energetic distribution of these un-NA films available in the foreign films section of the local video store. Invariably, those films not shot in North America are engagingly thoughtful and provide a useful snapshot of human nature. This one did not disappoint.

I suppose it was so readily available because the distributor could boast it was the winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2003, best actor (same venue) and winner of the Silver Hugo at the Chicago film festival (same year). Even the (near) home of Hollywood can recognize quality when it confronts them, hard though that may be to credit.

This is a quiet film, a studiedly-still film where the small everyday intricacies of going about one's life loom large. It has some splendidly quiet scenes of despair, an emotion that anchors the film, weighing off against the everyday comedies that visit Everyman throughout the course of a week, a day, a life.

A story of two cousins, both originally from a small village outside of Istanbul which has fallen on hard times, as the sole industrial employer has recently shut out one thousand local workers. The older of the two cousins left the town many years ago to make a place for himself as a professional photographer in the big city. The younger man, jobless and penniless, arrives in Istanbul hoping to find a job as a merchant seaman.

A temporary arrangement whereby the well-established and well-off older man agrees to permit his cousin to stay with him - a week is agreed upon as a reasonable length of time, representing the time-frame within which the young man hopes to be employed - is agreed upon. His search for employment takes him through the grimness of wharf rat hopelessness in the dead of winter.

No experience, no one to vouch for him; perhaps they'll give him an interview, a call, perhaps not. At a wharfside cafe an embittered seaman tells the young man to forget about it; even if he succeeds in finding employment with a shipping company he'll earn barely enough to live on, never enough to send back home to family. But he doggedly pursues his employment search, unwilling to believe the cautionary tale of the other man's struggle.

Meanwhile, the older cousin, houseproud to a fault, finds continual fault in the offhand manner of his cousin who doesn't seem to him to treat his personal surroundings with sufficient respect; cigarettes are not to be smoked indoors, shoes are to be placed neatly inside a cupboard, lights are to be switched off, doors kept shut. He begins to chafe at his interrupted privacy.

Little wonder, since a long winter stretches into spring and the young man still has not met with success, in the meanwhile, roaming the streets of the city, eyeing young women, incapable as a clumsy country type to casually approach them with any kind of confidence. The older man has his own demons, an ex-wife whom he insisted have an abortion because they were splitting up, now preparing to depart for a new life in Canada with her new mate.

The photographer-cousin is unable to commit to personal relationships. He seems not quite certain he doesn't care for his ex-wife. He occasionally arranges for a female acquaintance to spend the evening at his apartment for consensual, unpaid sex. An act satisfying to him but obviously unsettlingly frustrating for the woman who harbours hope of a long-term and meaningful relationship.

Both men become frustrated with the stasis of their lives; neither knows how to effect a welcome change in fortunes. They are unable to communicate in a manner that might help each other, mostly because the older man simply wants to be rid of the nuisance presence of the younger man. Their frustratingly fruitless attempts at conciliation fail.

The human dynamics played out in this simple story are absorbing and reflect our inability as human beings to open up to one another, to relax in the presence of others, to appreciate each other for what we bring to a relationship. Although there are occasional light moments and certainly moments of transcendant beauty in the natural scenes of parks, waterways, majestic steamships plying an inlet of the Bosphorus, for the most part it's a sombre film.

Made all the more so, but realistically and purposefully by the lack of background music. When all is still, no "white music" the sounds of doves, of ravens, of cars pulling out of a snowbound street, of a tiny mouse caught in a trap have a greater impact on our consciousness. The significance of words and impressions are not lost to the leading impact of unneeded background drama.

In the same token the stillness of the background, the confident portrayals of the actors (the older cousin has the unfortunate likeness of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) lead one along in a manner similar to the reading of a well-written novel where one draws one's own conclusions, uses one's imagination to fill in the blank spots.

This one gets full marks.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Catching Up

Catching up, we're forever catching up. Are we catching up to life, or is life catching us up? As it is, I can hardly believe, give credit to all the time that has slipped by us. Why we've barely had time to notice it going into the ether, leaving us behind, a little older bit by bit.

I reached that plateau before he did. Hardly surprising. I learned many years ago, in fact the year we both reached the age of fifteen that he had lied to me, telling me he was a year older than me. He wasn't, I was the older one. But then boys will do things like that, try to persuade young girls that they're manly and mature and worldly.

He even thought that smoking a cigarette in my presence would convince me of his maturity. I admit it, I was a little impressed, but not a whole lot. My father was an inveterate smoker and I detested the odour that followed him, of stale cigarette smoke. His teeth were coloured, so were his fingertips. Nothing romantic about that.

He ditched the cigarettes fairly quickly, my ardent young boyfriend. And defended himself passionately when I discovered his true age, younger than me. But in all other respects he fulfilled my childish expectations, and I forgave him. He's still younger than me, still catching up, but in this one particular instance, will never succeed. Last week was his birthday. No, he said, don't bother baking a cake, we've got the raisin pie you baked yesterday.

So yesterday I finally baked his birthday cake. It's a red devil's food cake, his very favourite. I hadn't actually used that recipe for many years, not since the children were young, and our youngest is now 43. For the most part I no longer regularly consult cook books but quickly put together a recipe much as a chemist would, knowing after long years of experience what will work for whatever I'm interested in producing. It rarely fails.

I never really thought that highly of that recipe. Too redolent of baking soda. And since there's just two of us, I halved the recipe. A mere one cup of soft-wheat flour produced a whopping big cake anyway. Light-textured and moist, dark chocolate. The two layers sandwiching chocolate frosting which also covered the top and sides. Walnut pieces sprinkled over the middle of the top, and toasted coconut at the outer edges and sides.

A nice looking cake, not that extravagent, but good to look at, fine chocolate aroma and, he claims, absolutely 'the best cake in the world'. Who am I to doubt him? I ate my share for dessert after dinner.

And the truth is, he has two birthday dates, exactly one week apart; one representing his true date of birth, the other the date his confused mother entered on his birth certificate.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Primeval Fears /Re-Visited

Irrational fears that appear to have no real substance in the reality of our everyday lives. They linger deep within us. Holdovers from days long gone. As though we inherit ancient memories inspiring fear deep within us unrecognized until we dream them. Homeless, bereft of familial, group or social support. Speechless, unable to communicate. The familiarity and comfort of our everyday life eluding us.

For me it's variations on a recurring dream cycle. That I am wandering in a city I know fairly well, but everything looks slightly different. I seek out the streets familiar to me searching for the one that leads to my home. I may find the street, but my home is no longer there. Fear, panic set in. That's my particular and not well understood nightmare. I have no idea why my psyche should be obsessed by fear of losing my way, an inability to connect with my home, my loved ones.

Alternative of that dream is someone whom I love whose life is inextricably woven into mine is absent; here one moment, gone the next. And I search and search, endlessly, fruitlessly. Then wake up, force myself actually to wake up in my subconscious realization that this is fear, not reality, and I need not endure it. But why does this fear visit itself upon me time and again?

For my husband there is a similar experience, but his has its genesis in experience lived and deplored. His nightmares revolve around his memories of too many business trips taking him often and far from home. He is by nature an adventurous soul, curious about the world around him, the kind of person who goes out of his way to snatch experiences out of life. Yet his dreams reflect a deep frustration and worry that evolved from his experiences and worries of missing flights and connections and the deep distress of postponing arrivals home.

Is there an ancient, deep-seated and unconscious vestigial memory that we inherit with our genetic make-up? Might that be partially responsible in explaining why people cling passionately to the ideals of their ethnic or clan groups? Is that the deep and abidingly-real meaning of cultural tribalism? The fear of loss, of separation, of aloneness? We are a communal animal by nature. In aeons gone by survival was contingent on being part of a group, fending with adversities communally.

This is quite separate and apart, quite different from the nightmares which haunt people who have survived actual physical and mental trauma on a very personal scale during the course of their lifetimes. People who have somehow surmounted sure death through war, internment, torture, or through any of nature's many natural disasters inflicted and visited upon human areas of habitation.

One hears of people who have been missing for decades suddenly reappearing. Some having temporarily lost their memory, perhaps regained it and returned home. There's that old French story about Martin Guerre; a cautionary tale of a man who goes away to war, is presumed dead, then returns decades later to resume his life but his identity is denied by family and neighbours. There are the stories that come to light occasionally of WWII Japanese servicemen living in isolation and fear as hermits in foreign countries, finally revealed.

And then there's the dreadfully touching and frightening revelation of a woman named Jaeyana Beuraheng, mother of eight children who left on a casual bus trip to conduct a normal shopping expedition crossing the border into Malaya from her home in southern Thailand. Unschooled, unable to read or write, having no knowledge of the Thai language, speaking only a dialect spoken by Muslims in southern Thailand, she was incapable of communicating her dilemma to effectively find assistance.

Meaning to board a bus travelling back to her home in Narathiwat, she instead boarded one travelling to Bangkok, about 1,300 kilometres north. Upon arrival there, and the frightening realization she was nowhere near home, the noise and traffic of the capital city further disoriented her and she boarded another bus in the hopes it might take her home. Instead she ended up in Chiang Mai, close to the Burmese border, another 640 kilometres further from her home.

She was lost. Unable to explain her dire predicament, she spent 5 years begging on the streets of Chiang Mai where her dark skin was taken as indication she was a member of a hill tribe. In 1987 police rounded up beggars and she was arrested on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. Officials forwarded her to a social services hostel where she remained ever since. The director of the hostel thought, like everyone else there, that she was incapable of speech; functionally mute.

This illiterate peasant, mother of eight children became irretrievably lost. I cannot imagine the panic that must have overtaken her as she eventually realized she would not be returning home to her children and her life in her smalll community. Irrespective of her dislocation and fears for herself, she must have been consumed with worry and fear over the plight of her children left motherless and uncared for. A living nightmare, fulfilling amply all the instinctive fears we harbour deep within ourselves. Unable to communicate, she must have withdrawn into an unrevealing shell.

A month ago three students from her home province speaking her language arrived at the hostel on a training mission. They met the woman and she was able to finally recount to them the tragedy of separation that had beset her 25 years earlier. The students, on their return, made their own enquiries and contacted her youngest son, now 35, sending him her photograph by cell-phone. Her children, making their own frantic enquiries in an effort to find their mother, had been informed she had been run over by a train in Yala.

What a Kafkaesque tale of confusion, loss and a wasted lifetime.


The Wind Today

As predicted, we had snow overnight. Not much, just a trifle above a sprinkling. Yet enough on the ground to necessitate that conscientious home-owners get out the snow shovels and clear the driveway, the walkways - front (for the newspaper delivery) and back (for the dogs' convenience), the porch, the walk at the side, the deck. Wind's up. There's a severe wind warning and precautionary advice on the radio for frostbite avoidance. Echoing the situation of the last week or so. Day-time temperatures continue above what is considered normal or average for this time of winter.

The wind, unsurprisingly, has done its best to fill the porch in with snow again, sweeping it up from the freshly-shovelled piles either side of the walk. There are wide swaths of new snow in-fill in the driveway where it has so recently been shovelled aside. I'm glad I remembered, today, to wear those wrap-around sunglasses. The sky is clear, the sun becoming stronger as we begin the long passage into spring and it hurts my unprotected eyes. Besides which, yesterday when I was without them I had no protection from the wind and my eyes began tearing, wet drops slowly sliding down my frozen cheeks to finally come to rest as icy droplets.

There's the long descent into the ravine and evidence that hardy souls have ventured there before us. The trails are not yet tamped down from the new snow but it won't take long. Before another snowfall overtakes the flatness of the trail. A nuthatch is nearby in a copse of firs, but no sound of chick-a-dees. The nuthatch entertains us briefly with his comedic calls until we begin the long clamber of the first ascent. To the left is a sapling, its spire hanging over the trail; impaled on its top is a half-finished hornets' nest.

Surprising that the persistent winds have had no effect on its stubborn perch. Surprising for that matter that none of those large sloppy squirrels' nests have yet come down. Surprising too, to see a few black squirrels out on this frigidly windy day. One of them looks pretty small for a black squirrel, boasts a tinge of auburn in the light of the sun. It reveals the cheeky demeanor of a black squirrel, yet the fluid fleet-of-footness of a red squirrel.

Up on the ridge where we're slightly more exposed despite the presence on both sides of the trail of a slowly descending forested hillside, the wind whips our faces. We tread on at a slightly faster pace, turning now and again to encourage Riley to come along a little quicker. Button is well ahead of us, as usual. We come across no other ravine walkers this day. Our usual hour-long walk in the ravine gives us ample opportunity to come across others, but regulars have their own time-frames.

The berries of the American bittersweet have turned orange and they've become wrinkled, fallen in on themselves, like raisins. The candles of the sumachs are no longer that beautiful bright red. They've faded, but they're still upright, and a few look as though they may have been nibbled. In this bright atmosphere with the snow underfoot reflecting the sun, the tiny patches of grey-blue lichen on the Hawthornes appear more prominent than usual; decorative.

There's a peaceful stillness in the atmosphere despite interruptions by the wind gusting through the trees at regular intervals. And then there's a zumfarzter high above thrumming the air as it makes its own trail from Rockcliffe Air Base to wherever it's headed. Its wings look insubstantial, like paper. There are red markings on the white of the body and wings, but we can't make them out. Wind sends sparkles of snow off the trees to dazzle our eyes as they drift about.

I'm having a good day. My chest hasn't constricted noticeably as I crest the ascents, although I'm aware of a familiar leaden feeling in my legs until I reach the plateau and can regain my breath and energy.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Pixellated Me

That's me. A photograph taken by a ten-year-old child who loves me, my granddaughter. No ill intentions, just a photograph of someone she recognizes as having a great love investment in her. She sees me as a familiar, a face long known to her, someone she relied heavily upon as a child, since her grandfather and I were her day-time care-givers for the first nine years of her life, when we were between the ages of 60 and 69 ourselves. In all likelihood she doesn't recall all that much of the earlier years which were dreadfully difficult ones for us.

She would recall, however, with a great deal of clarity, should she care to call up those memories, the latest five years when she attended primary then elementary school, and even before that pre-school when her grandfather spent quite a lot of his time helping out, cleaning up after the children, entertaining them, helping in an organizational way. His face too is a warmly welcome one to her, one that nestles deep in her affectionionate memory of another, earlier time.

She took this photograph on a whim. It was in the fall. We were just preparing to depart for our own home, 100 kilometres from hers and her mother's after a visit. She has no agenda, she 'borrowed' my camera, the one that always accompanies these visits to enable me to assist my memory in recalling day to day, week to week, month to month, how swiftly she is maturing. Fact is, at ten years of age she is now taller than me.

At the end of every one of our visits she asks for a hug and when I'm in the process of extending my arms, drawing her to me she suddenly grasps me, firmly, and lifts me inches off the ground, triumphant in her youth. She has no trouble at all lifting her grandmother into the air, and holding me there as I protest; she laughing, me alarmed. And the ritual of picture-taking, as though in response to my own dedication to preserving a pixellated version of her at every trip.

To me the photographs I carefully tuck away into a preserved place in memory and on disk are treasures, precious reminders of the treasure on earth that this child represents to us. To her, the photographing of her grandmother is a momentary lark, just as lifting me off the ground is. Turn-about is fair play, instinctively.

Truth is, while I hold dear all the photographs I take of her and her mother, I usually don't bother keeping those she snaps of me. For the most part because my ego gets in the way of my consideration. Photographs of me reflect someone I hardly know. I hardly recognize that faded person. Is that me? I feel vital, alive, happy and anticipatory. That image is of someone who has seen many birthdays, experienced a myriad of events, most good, some not.

And, truth is, I really planned to write this little entry based on the most recent photograph she had taken of me, just a few days ago, on Saturday. I had 'written' a blog entry in my mind, as we were forging our way through the cold and windy ravine this very morning. Hoping the photograph was still there. I meant to dwell on what it looked like, the visage of an old woman taken at too-close range, only the forehead, eyes, nose and mouth - replete with rheumy eyes, broken red-textured veiny skin, wrinkles, grey-grey hair.

Only I found I had deleted it. Damn!


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