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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quotidian Details

We're back into a rain cycle. Moreover, the extraordinarily mild weather has finally succumbed to Fall. Button and Riley, dipped into the laundry room sink, left grit and sand behind in the warm water suddenly transformed from clear to clearly muck. The ravine trails once again sodden, but now also generously and colourfully sprinkled with fallen leaves. Doves and robins gather there now, in little familial packs.

The telephone awoke us from deep, comfortable sleep. We should have been awake at 8:30 a.m., but our tardiness last night in seeking our pillow-top mattress had its consequences. So much for intelligent intentions gone astray. It was our daughter, on her way to work, puzzled and perturbed that her '98 Honda CRV had refused to start. She had just bought a new battery, had the starter replaced, last spring.

Her father said it was likely moisture in the lines or something like that. Not to worry; it would straighten out. Spark plugs, cables, how long since she'd driven it, he asked. Amazingly, for her, a veritable gadabout, not since Thursday. She hadn't parked it in the garage, left it in the driveway, and it's been raining fairly steadily. It happens, her father told her.

She was on her way to the chiropractor, as it happened, for one of her bi-weekly appointments. She was worried the vehicle might not want to start again, when she left for her office. Call me, said her father, I'll give you a boost, we'll trade cars for the day. I'll take yours in for servicing, if it's required. We've been through this routine before.

Later, another call, just as we were getting into our morning shower. She was on her way to work; the vehicle started all right. Get yourself a spray can, her father said, of a de-moisturizer, and keep it handy. She could use a new vehicle. She spent quite a bit last year to keep it roadworthy, but with 300,000 km travelled, it's in weary decline.

Another heavily overcast day, with rain imminent, once again. I had planned, tentatively, hopefully, to get out into the garden. Get kind of a head start on cleaning up things, out there. Before a hard frost really hit, and then everything would look truly dreadful. As it is, things don't look bad at all, but it's time to get tough and get moving on filling up the composters and the compost bags.

On the other hand, we might drop by the local Sally Ann Thrift Shop, we mused. We had put a bag together for recycling, there. Comprised of don't-fits, some of which represent previous choices - which we never try on in situ, just return next time we're there. And since we're there, we look around. We and a host of other people, all foraging and carefully scrutinizing the wares.

They've got their fall and winter stuff out, along with the summer offerings. Always intriguing to see what's on offer. I come across a stretch of very expensive, very stylish tops, all of which hardly look as though anyone's ever worn them. Clear to me that whoever had given them up is accustomed to clearing out all of the previous year's acquisitions to make room for newly-acquired things. Too bad they're all so large....

But then there are books to look through, titles that seem intriguing, some we recognize, some new to us. And look here, what I've got for you dear, I say, as I hand over to him a cookbook in never-used condition, dedicated to bread-machine recipes, and he's beside himself; all those recipes! In so short a time he's become completely enthralled with the mechanical bread-making process...!

Another title I see brings back hoary memories; a copy of King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard. In quite another era altogether, when we were very young, first married, we had joined a book-of-the-month club, and we devoured H. Rider Haggard's books, loved their historical romanticism. And as peculiar coincidence had it, he had discovered on another shelf, the other side of that huge chamber, a film version of the very same title.

Didn't we luck in. And, as luck would further have it, there are plenty of other books for him to assemble for his personal delectation. He's given to devouring detective novels and there are more than enough of them this day for him to select through. As for me, I pick up a hard-back titled "History of the Present: Essays, sketches, and Dispatches from Europe in the 1990s" by Timothy Garton Ash, a fellow of Saint Antony's College, Oxford.

On the way home, there's a stop at the bulk food store (used to be called the 'health food store', back when healthy types of bulk ingredients were exclusively sold at these establishments; now fully three-quarters of the product on offer is nuts and candies and dried fruits) for rye flour. The intention being to put that bread maker to use again this afternoon, for a rye bread.

He assembles all the ingredients on the baking island in the kitchen, while I'm working at the kitchen sink, preparing strawberries for tonight's dessert, and peeling and cutting up carrots as a side dish with the Shepherd's pie that has been in the downstairs freezer since last February; past time it was used. He chats as he goes along, carefully reading the recipe, deciding to double the caraway seeds.

Finally, he's good to go, turns the bread maker on, then turns back to the baking island in the realization he's forgotten to place the basket with the ingredients into the bread maker. It's silly little details like that, slipping our minds that make for a most interesting day.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Wretched Retching

All right, it's true I used to be prodded when I was young and pregnant, by the smell of wafting coffee, to throw up. Why coffee? Dunno. Up until my pregnancy we used to share very pleasant breakfasts, with coffee our beverage of choice. We were kids, I mean we really were. Married at age eighteen, both of us, we suddenly became very grown-up and did grown-up things together.

The descriptive narrative here will focus solely on the beverage we shared during our breakfasts, before rushing off to our respective places of work. Everything went along very nicely, as we settled in to married life. We had managed to buy a nondescript little bungalow for let's see - $12,900 and believe me at that price we overpaid. I won't get into the shabby construction and lack of insulation.

This is all about coffee. I wonder how many people know that coffee was really celebrated as a wonder drink, so much so that music composers of the 17th Century dedicated superb masterpieces they'd written to that elixir? In any event, we had coffee with our breakfasts, tea with our evening meal, one of our little established rituals of adulthood and marriage.

Until, as I say, that first pregnancy when suddenly so many things we took for granted as normal food and drink had me reacting rather violently as my body, busy with other things, would have no part of them. Coffee was one of those items that brought me to misery. The smell of what formerly was a delicious wake-up call to the day, now brought me to my knees in front of our trusty toilet.

Funny thing is, I never, ever lost my visceral distaste for coffee, leaving me to wonder if I ever did really enjoy it, even when I consumed it prior to pregnancy. Was a time when our children began their teen years and were permitted to drink coffee along with their father. We'd go for country picnics and a primitive brewing method for coffee remained a vital part of the afternoon picnic.

Much later flavoured coffee came into vogue and everyone seemed to think they enjoyed it. I did too; not to drink it exactly, but the fumes from the production of flavoured coffee struck me as almost pleasant. That kind of coffee was soon rejected, however, as the family migrated back to Mexican beans, fresh as they could get them, kept in the freezer, to be ground as needed.

That process was relinquished when social consciences became vividly aware of economic inequities in the world, and fair-trade organic coffee became the thing. The latest is that he has acquired his own roasting machine, and acquires, as needed, fair-trade organic coffee from a source in Toronto. He paid under $400 up front for the coffee roaster and a certain amount of coffee beans that would be his incrementally.

I mentioned somewhere back there how nasty the smell of brewing coffee is to my sensitive sense of smell. The first time he roasted coffee, the day following the receipt in the mail of the long-awaited coffee grinder, he made his way stealthily downstairs from our bedroom - ostensibly to let our senior dog out to do her thing - and began roasting.

It is an extremely noisy process, a grinding, whipping, groaning procedure, albeit not very prolonged. The unassuming, hitherto-unsmelly beans suddenly become aromatic in the process of roasting. Aromatic, that is, to the sense of a coffee lover; anathema to one for whom the smell is atrocious. As in vomitrocious.

Oh well, and ugh, ugh, ugh.

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Declared Redundant

I should have seen it coming. Why didn't I? A half-century of living up close and very personal to a single individual, however charming that person may be, might lead to the kind of ennui that would itself lead inevitably to what...a kind of separation of the mind, and desires? A stupor of boredom? In one fell swoop, relegated to minor support role. What I get for finding comfort in persisting in thinking of myself as indispensable.

Who has always catered to his every whim? Why, moi. His every wish my command. Well, almost. But haven't I always taken such pleasure in providing for him the sensual pleasures? Including, notably, cooking and baking for His Gastronomic Delight everything he has always held dear, from nostalgia-induced cooking straight out of Eastern Europe, to breads and pastries and even (shudder) deep-fried doughnuts.

Perhaps I should start at the very beginning. Almost the beginning, say about four years after our marriage, when we became alerted to some very distinct hormonal changes signalling our first pregnancy. When, it seemed, overnight, I became violently reactive to some of the ordinary things we shared pleasure in. Take coffee, for example, I could no longer even abide the odour of it wafting through the morning kitchen.

And meat of any description? Forget it. Used to be he, unskilled in the kitchen, would do some of what I'd done previously; which is to say, cook up kidneys and liver for our then little dog which we had together loved and lavished attention on. I'd have to lock myself in the furthest room of the house in a futile attempt to escape the gag-inducing odours of cooking meat.

Three childbirths and fifty-three years later I've never regained my taste for coffee, ever. That was our first separation, if you will; post-childbearing years he drank coffee, I drank tea, and never the twain did exchange. Still, I've been a faithful housemate and kitchen illusionist, preparing for him all that his heart might desire. And I've always enjoyed baking yeast goods, including breads.

What then, might explain my beloved's abandonment of my offerings, in favour of himself undertaking bread-baking? Yes, it's true, our younger son bakes his own breads by hand, as his mother does. His older brother acquired a bread-making machine and with its inspiring co-operation also bakes bread. Our daughter, the middle child, is an experienced hand with baking, including yeast doughs.

But he, their father, he'd never had to do anything in our commodious, well-equipped kitchen. That same kitchen that has somehow managed to shrink in workspace, and which equipment has developed a habit of migrating from some of its long-established places of rest. It's kind of a misery, looking about frantically when you're in a hurry, for your favourite cooking and baking utensils. Believe me.

And then there's the truly peculiar timing he favours. Like starting a bread at, for example, eleven in the evening, so it's scheduled to rest, and pound and mix and rise, finally bake, in the wee hours of the morning. Even sometimes starting the process earlier, say seven, directly after dinner, musing over a recipe, piling on the ingredients, setting the thing and waiting, waiting, waiting.

Oh, I'll admit there's a certain amount of theatre and entertainment in the process. Not that I gloated, not entirely, when his first two experiments in bread making - using the quite simple recipes that came in a small booklet with the machine he bought - failed, miserably. I had murmured to him that it seemed to me that the amount of liquid was insufficient to the dry measure. Ergo, an inedible lump.

Why would I take pleasure in his pain? So I did not, but rather commiserated with him, and sought to encourage him. Stupid recipe, I said. And guess what? It really was. He telephoned the 1-800 help-line of the machine's manufacturer and a rather sheepish voice at the other end informed him that the recipe had indeed been incorrectly printed. The liquid measure out by 75%. Hah!

So the following endeavours met with success, and he beamed with pleasure. I even hovered with him, fascinated, as he opened the door on top of the device and we watched the rhythmic slapping of the two little flanges busily 'kneading' the dough. Good theatre, indeed. I did hazard my opinion that it seemed to me that when I made my own dough by hand, it was far less onerous, anxiety-producing, and time-consuming.

Nothing I would say, however, would dissuade him from further adventures. He baked French bread, and he baked sour-dough bread. And, he vowed, he would undertake to bake a dense, rough, seed-laden, and white-flour-forsaking bread to suit my taste. He did. And it was far more than credible, it was downright good-tasting. His trips now to the local bulk food store for exotic types of flour and other ingredients are numerous.

I've downloaded, at his request, various types of recipes for him from the Internet, to augment those our older son sent along via email. He's on a roll.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another Canvass Done With

What a relief to get it done. It's absolutely not my favourite pastime, and there's an understatement. I am not certain whether it's a sense of duty, guilt, or what it is that has me unable to declare a firm "no" when I'm asked to canvass for charitable institutions. Other than that I'm quite well aware that it's hard to recruit people for that most unpleasant of tasks. I know it first-hand, having myself been once one of those recruiters.

And not simply an area or district recruiter, but responsible for an entire city. An onerous, burdensome, most difficult, but pressing task. Charitable groups must raise their operating funds. They do it any way they can. Enlisting the assistance of volunteers is an effective method - encouraging willing people, often people who have a vested interest - to go door-to-door in their neighbourhood, to convince their neighbours to advance the interests of some cause.

For me, it's always involved charitable groups that support medical research or assistance to people suffering from medical conditions, or both. So when that recruiter calls, I'm a prime target. An unwilling one, but ripe for the picking. Just prick my conscience, tell me no one else is available, that they're not receiving any responses, and I invariably sigh, and agree, I'll do it.

This time it was for the Arthritis Society. Do I have arthritis? No, but my mother did, I dimly recall, and I've a friend who has arthritis, and I know some of my neighbours do, although they're not necessarily the ones who will respond to the appeal. Off I went, last week, on a dark evening, to begin. I'd put it off for long enough. Determined to at least make a start; the first time out is the most difficult.

I'd do the top half of the street, leave the bottom half for the next round. It's my usual modus operandi. And it works. The top half of the street where, coincidentally, I live, tends to host those most amenable to responding, and the most generous. Although, truth to tell, any positive response, however meagre, satisfies me, as it would most canvassers who go out in support of such causes.

It's those who shut their faces to you, then shut the door in your face, who leave me bemused and bothered. Those whom I know well, who inform me that they'll pass, this time, but know how to do it in a civil, friendly manner, have my respect; they're few and far between. Ah, but the ones whose faces light up when they see me in mutual recognition of our humanity and neighbourliness; give or not, make my day.

The experience is a humbling one. And it encourages me no end. From that experience I bring away the feeling of true appreciation and affection for those people with whom I live in fairly close proximity. Their response enhances an emotion of shared concerns, a recognition that all of us will at one time or another require medical treatment which funding of research will most certainly result in improved treatments.

And in the process, I re-acquaint myself with my many neighbours. In the process I also have learned, over the years, which houses will spurn my overtures, and over time and a series of encounters better forgotten, I've convinced myself there's no need to continue approaching them. Today I know that there are so many lonely people, so many people for whom my brief appearance at their front door is important, as well.

Someone, though we see one another on occasion briefly - in the most friendly but socially remote circumstances - who will invite me into their homes and unburden themselves of the trials and tribulations of current events. I become a sounding board, a quietly-listening and empathetic witness to the events in their lives over which they often have no real control, and through which they must find their way.

From that lovely, friendly woman who, when we first met 17 years earlier, had raven-black hair, and happily pushed a stroller with two infants, her husband striding contently along beside her, whose hair is now streaked with white, whose husband suddenly left. To the now-retired, 64-year-old neighbour whose wife left him because of his constant womanizing, who always confides to me his loneliness in his large well-kept house, who has now found contentment because he adopted a cat from the humane society.

Our neighbour halfway down the street who happens to be the chief oncologist of our local hospital, and who has just recently undergone treatment for prostate cancer, greets me warmly, and generously, happy to pass on words of encouragement each time I drop by representing another charity. Another neighbour whose prostate cancer treatment pre-dated his, and more recently underwent heart by-pass surgery bemoans his sudden elderliness, and I commiserate.

Parents of children whom I knew and often spoke with when they were five, six, seven years old, now married, or attending university, tell me of their children's successes, and their new liberated plans for their lives, sans dependents. Today happened to be an overcast, but mild day, and in the mid-afternoon I set off to complete the canvass. I carefully omitted calling at those houses where I knew from long past experience I'd be unwelcome.

And confining myself to knocking on doors which have always responded civilly, a matter of several hours permitted me to complete the canvass. There were more than enough generous responses to make me realize that the bottom half of the street is, after all, equally endowed with people concerned with their society and with responding to requests for charitable donations as the top half I'd convinced myself were more responsive.

It's sometimes a matter of timing. When people are working out their bank balances and find themselves temporarily short, like the man, now retired, who moved to the street six years ago, with a woman half his age with whom he had two very young children, whose wife left him for a younger man. He wasn't averse to carefully explaining to me that his finances were a tad tight of late - although truth to tell he never did offer to respond; his wife had.

It's perfectly all right if someone, approached to support the work of a particular charity, has no interest in that particular institution; people do often respond only to those medical charities with which they have a vested interest. And, conversely, often enough those people who reveal to you that they or a member of their family are undergoing treatments for cancer, for example, still have no interest in responding.

We're different, we have our idiosyncrasies, our traits and our inspirations, to be a part of the general community, or keep ourselves removed from it. The choice, in a free society, is ours.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Edging into Fall

The cornfields are now bare of their tall, heavy stalks of corn. Finally fully harvested. Canada geese in their thousands have alighted on those fields to feast on whatever has been left for them, before their long, determined flight from winter. Fields planted with pumpkin now reveal themselves. The frosty nights have discouraging the pumpkins' leafy surroundings; dried up completely, now revealing those headlight-bright orange orbs' suspected presence.

Blackbirds, squirrels, groundhogs and crows scratch through the fields and the nearby woods looking for edible leftovers. They seem oblivious of the scrabbling presence one of the other, intent in their pursuit. Semi-hibernating animals dependent on their clever storage of bits of sustenance; the birds looking for readily available tidbits, not as vulnerable to winter misery as the groundhogs and the squirrels, though one will migrate the other stay.

In the ravine, the ground that was only yesterday beginning to dry out - the first time we can recall throughout this long very wet summer - is once again drenched thanks to last night's generous rainfall. Earth that was so dry it was beginning to cleave into quite discernible cracks, now knitted comfortably together again. Overnight, the force of the wind and rain knocking long-dead branches down off their stubborn clasps of the trees that grew them.

Apart from the crimson candles the sumac hold aloft, their long slender compound leaves have also turned bright fiery-red. Underbrush is drying out, absorbed as the detritus of the forest floor. Ash trees are loosening their leaves, those pale yellow leaves. Elms, already long under duress, have shed their leaves, brown, crinkled, onto the ground below. Willows still fresh and green, not yet ready to welcome fall. Nuthatches clamber down a tree trunk, chattering chickadees close by.

The beech are showing hints of colour change, and the maples - oh, those maples, those outrageously magnificent maples, with their blush-peach gradations, their flaming red, alternately bright yellow leaves, they're the leader of the colour parade. Under foot already there's a random sprinkling of fallen leaves, and their sweet acridity caresses our nostrils as we crumple through the crisp offering.

It's all so nostalgic. Everywhere, the frantic activities of the squirrels; the tiny red officious squirrels, the quarrelsome black, and the elusive grey squirrels of our local forests. And the swift activities of the resident chipmunks, in their concerted search for food items to convey to their winter caches. Bluejays cry out their shrill objections. Is it something we said in our lament for the passing of summer?

Hard to believe the passage of time that has taken us so swiftly through yet another summer. We hardly had the opportunity to fully appreciate it, we're convinced. Yet it's gone, to return only once we've experienced the full cycle of fall and that long, so long winter.

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Aspiring to Fall

The hummingbirds have long deserted us for kinder climes. The unmistakable sound of collected Canada geese cleaving the air in their seasonal flight to the south, brings a pensive air of something akin to sadness to us. Our summer is fast fading and already we're lamenting its passing.

The sudden realization that darkness has crept stealthily into our long daylight hours, bringing us early to dusk and instant nightfall, further reminds us of the presence of early fall. Night-time temperatures plunging us into frost conditions after the occasional day of above-average temperatures tell us unequivocally we're headed toward winter.

We've cut back no-longer-blooming perennials. Although our climbing roses, our honeysuckles, our clematis are no longer blooming, our wonderful morning glory vines are working overtime to make up for the others' absence of colour.

The morning glory gone rampant on the trellis on the red brick wall adjoining the garage - where morning and early afternoon sun shines bright - upon which we look out now each morning to enjoy the ravishing beauty of countless bright blue blooms offering us comfort in the past glories of summer.

The huge lush balls of the hydrangeas have turned to a rustling brown from moist white. The spirea has begun to flame, the potentilla still holding up random tiny white blossoms. The burning bush has begun its slow journey to fire-tones. The tiny bright red apples, of the Jade and the Sargenti crabs, inedible but for late-departing and early-arriving robins, lend their colour jolts to the overall scene.

The magnolia trees have grown spectacularly this summer, given all that life-affirming rain, and they have set their long slender buds for next spring. Exceptionally, the magnolia in the back garden bloomed again a month ago, and still holds aloft a bright magenta bud ready to reveal another magnificent, unseasonal flower. Time to dig up those dahlias, which did so poorly this summer, but for one in the front garden.

The sneezeweed has been cut back, and so has most of the fabulous phlox, along with the sensitive plants. But the turtleheads are in full bloom, and the Japanese anemones still flaunting delicate pink-white blossoms. So are the asters in the garden and the mounds of black-eyed susans and the purple coneflowers as well. Bumblebees are still flitting about, visiting the pollen-laden flower heads - and dragonflies too keep returning.

Coral bells' long delicate wands with their tiny crimson bells still wave their cheery floral displays. Some of the later-blooming hostas have hoisted aloft their long tendrils of mauve flower heads. The daisies and the astilbes have been cut back, and soon I'll have to dig up and store all those begonias to re-plant next spring. But the amaranthus, cleome, dianthus and gazania are still perking up the gardens.

The lobelias and the petunias, the portulaca and the salvia, the verbena and the vinca, along with the zinnias have had their day, and are withering where they sit, forlorn. Still, though, there's colour and substance aplenty. From that still-heartily-blooming bright yellow rose, the pale pink one, the brilliant red one. And scads of colour yet in the many garden pots and urns planted with orange, red, white, yellow begonias.

They're all wonderful to behold in their collective beauty, and we resolve to recall their architectural texture, fragrance and colour during the long white cold winter days. To remember what the garden looks like in its summer leisure, that time now fast fading with the inexorable advance of fall.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Punishing Excess

I guess no one could anticipate that university administrators would have much of a sense of humour. Or humility, for that matter. But it is somewhat troubling when evidence of a lack of proportional response is exercised, along with an utter disregard of their own responsibility in a matter that has brought embarrassment to them. University administrators after all, appointed to direct the institution toward instilling a sense of adventure in learning to its students, also serve, through their function, as guarantors of sound academic practise.

Granted, there will always be students, from those in elementary school on through secondary and those at the college or university level, so secure in their opinion of their level of intelligence and knowledge that it pleases them to confront and challenge the authority of those in academia whose function it is to expose them to learning situations. So here's a mature student at Carleton University who is interested in a career in information security.

For his pains in pointing out directly to the university administration that their security is inadequately shoddy, and very vulnerable to predation, he has been charged under the Criminal Code with mischief to data along with unauthorized use of a computer. Charges which, if proven, can carry a prison sentence of up to ten years. So much for student presumption, so much for shrilly aggrieved academic administrators.

The student, Mansour Moufid, in his second year of math at the university, forwarded a sixteen-page "report" to the university's administrators and to students. The report outlined the fact that he had accessed Campus Card accounts of no fewer than 32 students. And while he demonstrated that he was able to access those accounts, he took no steps to enrich himself in any way by acquiring unauthorized information, academic or financial.

Instead of recognizing their deficiency in adequately protecting student accounts, the university righteously accused Mr. Moufid of deliberately undertaking criminal activities and then boasting about it. He claims his intention was to alert the administration; else why would he have brought the matter directly to their attention? The administration is intent on papering over their lack of information safety accountability by victimizing the perpetrator.

Insisting that he pay for the cost of new student cards, along with the cost of extra security staff "due to the unknown risk caused by the breach of the campus card system"; commit to community service at a food bank, and complete an ethics course. The university would retain the right to monitor all of his online activity through the use of Carleton's server for as long as he remained a student there. Under the circumstances that might seen reasonable, but it smacks of a vendetta.

"I wrote the report because I wanted people to know; Carleton has to know that there's a problem. Obviously they didn't know that certain things were possible with their system, and I thought students should also know because it directly concerns them. To be clear: I did not create any security problem, but simply revealed it. I did not alter or destroy any data although I could have.

I did not take any advantage of any student, either financially or otherwise, although I could have. I was acting in good faith, with the interests of the student body - of which I am a part of - in mind", according to a statement released by Mr. Moufid - who further mentioned it hadn't presented any difficulty for him to crack the system.

He claims also that he respected the information security industry's practise of "full disclosure" through informing the university and the students of his activities in revealing the flaws in the security system. It's the university administration that has created a furore over this matter, rather than take their lumps for inadequate security.

One might imagine it to be in their best interests to take Mr. Moufid's research under advisement; in fact, to confer with him how best to strengthen the security process since it has eluded them thus far. Rather than succumb to meting out the kind of discipline one might impose upon on an undisciplined, recalcitrant child deserving of punishment.

Small minds, alas.

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A Novel Half Read

And even at half-read, that's more than enough to form an opinion. I've resolved to set aside a novel by Paul Theroux, titled "Blinding Light", despite the generosity of reviews such this most misleading of descriptives: "A shrewd and cunning novel full of malleable personalities, psychedelia and considerable sex. What more could a reader ask for?...Los Angeles Times." Well, shame on them. Despite the predictable bait of "psychedelia and considerable sex", the book's an unqualified bore.

Quite aside from the irritating fact that the print in this Penguin-issued novel is minuscule, all 438 pages of it. It's a consummately irritating book, not worth the effort I've wasted slugging through the 200-some-odd pages I managed, squinting at the typescript by the light of my bedside lamp. It hasn't been all that long ago I was confronted by another softback, one by Adelle Wiseman, published decades ago, with similarly miniature print.

Her book, however, was well worth the effort. It was an excelling novel, a period piece well realized and outstandingly well written. A novel must have principles and it must have actualized principals. There should be something about the main characters and the plot that grip your interest, your imagination, to ensure you continue to forge through what, in the instance of this book I'm rejecting half-read, has been a struggle.

I detest not reading a book through to completion. I feel it is insulting to the author whose creative work you're rejecting without making the effort to go through it to the very last page. And then evaluate the book. If you've taken the trouble to evince an interest in it to begin with, it must be because you're somewhat familiar with a particular writer's work and like it.

Or, you've thumbed through and found what you've picked up through thumbnail views interesting. Or the book has been reviewed and you've read the review with approval, or the book may have been recommended to you. In the case of Paul Theroux, known primarily for the excellence of his travel books, I've read enough of them to recognize him as a very good writer.

His books like "The Great Railway Bazaar", "The Old Patagonian Express", "Sunrise with Seamonsters", "Riding the Iron Rooster" have entertained both me and my husband. I've read his novel "The Mosquito Coast", as well as "The Consul's Wife" and "Half Moon Street". And liked them; not so much "Millroy the Magician". So wouldn't it seem reasonable that I'd enjoy his "Blinding Light"?

Alas, it was not to be. Apart from the absurdly tiny type chosen, which had more to do with his publisher than him (unless perchance they were so unsettled themselves of the prospect of this unworthy book issuing with their imprimatur that they sought to minimize its impact...), the novel proved to be an utter waste of my time. Of which I haven't all that much left, given the normal human life-span.

There are so many books I aspire to read, from so many outstandingly good writers, and too little time to waste on throwaway novels teased out of a creative talent that appears to have irremediably shrivelled, dessicated, worn out, disappeared. Is it so hard to call it a day when one has had a succession of very good books, both fiction and non-fiction? Perhaps his book about V.S. Naipaul might have been a whole lot better had I read it.

They're at hammer and tongs. One might think that Mr. Naipaul's book that I last read, "India", didn't cost that author too many sleepless nights and days of creative energy, since its creation was the result of a multitude of reminiscences, studied historical background and interviews. But it was enormously instructive, and well worth the read. There is, alas, nothing of value in this of Mr. Theroux's book that I've rejected.

So, I'm with Mr. Naipal in his falling-out with Mr. Theroux, fair or unfair. This novel, "The Blinding Light" is a truly monumental misery; dense, uninteresting, reliant on name-dropping, on gratingly gratuitously descriptive sex encounters, and of course, a mind-altering chemical derived from a lovely flower, the Datura - aka Brugmansia, Angel's Trumpet, discovered on an exotic trip to Ecuador.

Perhaps the ingredients for a good story might be in there somewhere; a has-been writer of one acclaimed travel book who has earned a fortune through clever marketing of travel appurtenances to the moneyed set aspiring to find their own out-of-the-way exotic Paradises replete with readily-attainable recreational drugs. But the book is bogged down from the very beginning with the detritus of ego.

It is a colossal bore. Poorly written, and burdened with an overabundance of details only its creator might enjoy for the weakly amusing allusions, the purportedly sinister repartee, the degraded sex passing as true love, the irritatingly senescent masochism, the overwrought irony, its misanthropic vision. This is the kind of book one plods through methodically, ever hopeful that it will miraculously begin to reveal its purpose.

Alas, it never does. An utterly witless novel, ravaging of precious time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day 7 - 11 September 2008

An unusual night, to say the least. Irving had already been up several times to the bathroom when, at 3:30 a.m. I suddenly woke again to find that Riley, who never pokes his sleepy little head out from under the blankets, was stumbling about, on top of them, gingerly making his way over our legs, looking for a comfortable place to settle.

I pulled him off my legs, tried to encourage him to duck back under the covers where he always settles quickly into a deep sleep, but he exerted every ounce of his little body to defy my intent. Finally, he decided he would settle down, against my hip atop the covers. I knew he would never find the kind of comfort he normally craved like that.

He needs warmth, and this was a cool evening. I tried to throw the edge of the blanket back over him; to no avail. He fidgeted with discomfort, finally beginning to shiver in a misery of cold. Very unusual behaviour. Finally I prevailed, urging him back under the blankets, to sleep.

We had packed the night before. Intending to load up the car as early as possible. the plastic clamshell that fits on the car-top carrier would have to be put in place. The very large oil painting in its elaborate, hand-made wood frame that Irving had wrapped so carefully - we'd gone to a Dollar Store for tape, a local grocery for knocked-down cardboard boxes that he used to box in the painting - would have to be stuck on the back seat of the car.

Just enough room to accommodate its size. The car trunk, as well as the clamshell would be too full to take the painting. There was a square box with the wrapped-against-breakage of a 19th-Century garniture - a figural clock with two matching candelabra - to be carefully packed.

Along with the housewares we always take along to augment the basic items in the cottage kitchen. Food we hadn't consumed, to be packed in a freezer chest. Our clothing, our hiking gear. And plenty of gifts to bring back, for our daughter, granddaughter, neighbour, ourselves. We do not travel lightly.

Assembling all of this baggage for carriage out to our Honda Civic, I always wonder how on earth Irving manages to pack it all in. But he's an experienced hand at this exercise in the frustratingly-impossible.

I digress, I know. I meant to emphasize our intent to get to bed prior to departure, earlier than has been our wont; close to midnight. We had thought a 10:00 p.m. goal might be possible. But then Irving came across a channel on television that was running one of his favourite shows, with his favourite actor.

At home one of the few television shows he looks forward to is "Law & Order, Criminal Intent" mostly because he's fascinated with the acting style of Vincent D'Onofrio, and here he was on the little screen. So, while he watched, I delved into The New York Times Sunday magazine, a story about the Taliban.

As a result, no early bedtime materialized. And the prospect of a long drive home loomed with insufficient rest. Given, particularly the night-time demands of his enlarged prostate. Added to the fact that his wife doesn't drive. And now little Riley's peculiar behaviour, robbing all of us of needed rest.

Having him hunkered down, finally, where he usually quietly passes the night, did not work out as it should have. For one thing he continued to shiver conspicuously, despite my expectations that he would be warmed and comforted. Instead of falling back to sleep however, he soon crept back out of the covers.

He toddled over my legs, then sat himself between us. I fumbled for the little flashlight on the bedside table. And found him sitting there, a mournful look on his face, hunched forward miserably. Irving awoke, I told him Riley wasn't well. Too much to eat, I hazarded, recalling earlier at dinnertime, having protested his habit of giving Riley tidbits from our dinner.

Irving pulled on trousers, socks, a warm hoodie and took Riley outside. Where the little misery proceeded to evacuate from all his orifices. Later, in the bathroom, Irving washed his little muzzle, his backside, them popped him back under the bed covers. And Riley was asleep in a wink. Irving soon afterward, and me much later.

Button made certain we were up early enough; 7:00 a.m. She felt that was time enough. And we grudgingly agreed. wouldn't be so bad if we could share the drive, if I could spell him, but I can't and I won't. Never did I have the remotest interest in driving, though I always felt a guilty pang about my lack of ability.

I even took a drivers' education class and driving lessons at age 65, but found that though it was moderately interesting (in a class of teen-age kids) and the driving kind of fun, soon lost interest and never did get around to applying for a permanent license, happy to let the skills slide into neglect.

It was cool when we departed, the sun out, the sky half-host to beautiful cloud formations. There was an obvious overnight temperature inversion. Some areas may have seen frost. Mist rose in billowing sheets from the mountain slopes. Water still vapourizing off the asphalt of the highway. Majesty rose before us as we approached Franconia Notch.

A pair of turkey vultures circled above and beyond. Sun glanced off the great naked rockfalls on the granite shield of mountain slopes. Eagles Nest rose sharply over the highway. We recalled the delicate mosses and lichens seen there long ago in a grotto behind the prominence on our second ascent taking us to the pinnacle of Mount Lafayette.

When we were younger, and our children yet younger.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Day 6 - 10 September 2008

We took no notice of Button's demanding whine that we haul ourselves out of bed, even if she is the acknowledged leader of our pack as the presumed alpha female. Just too comfortable, lying there. Riley too ignored her presumptuous demands, in his own bliss, deep under the covers. We did, though, hear ample evidence that he heard her, and resented the rude awakening.

He distinctly growled, we heard it deep from the interior confines of the bedclothes. It silenced her for one heartbeat, then she resumed her plaintive appeal, goading us to guilt. Despite she'd already been out, despite she would initially spurn her breakfast, holding out for an additional incentive; say crumbled bacon from our breakfast.

My eyes came slowly, protestingly unglued. Sunny, for certain. And I was mesmerized, watching the fronds of the Sumac outside the bedroom windows form a complex shadow pattern on the white bedroom wall, waving to us, in unison with Button's appeal/demand.

Fascinating how she could so effortlessly alter the cadence and pitch of that deep-throated whine. Loud, shrilly demanding, then muted, softly appealing. In concert, it seemed, with her partner, her brief alliance with that Sumac, much to Riley's disgust.

Intriguing: the bright morning sun throwing the clear shadow-image of the tree's fronds on the wall, the morning breeze shifting the fronds' position on the wall. They danced gracefully, languidly. Then gradually their emphatic shape was diminished in sharpness, eventually disappearing, as the sun was obscured by swiftly-moving clouds.

A counterpoint of skilled synchronicity, the envy of any choreographer, with Button's emphatic, then diminished, finally quiescent concerto of up-and-at-'em.

A very cool morning. Yesterday's rain brought along a cold snap. Fine with us, bit of a relief from the heat earlier in the past week. In fact the day itself would mirror in a sense the morning's awakening performance. Each time the sun's rays were interrupted by clouds, the wind and shade demanded cool-weather attire.

When the sun succeeded in freeing itself, warming the atmosphere, time to shed jackets. A ballet of faltering determination and spontaneity of response.

A dark, wide-winged Raven croaked hoarsely above, cresting the wind as we approached the majestic bulk of mountains at the Franconia Notch. The grey granite mantle of the mountains lofting to the sky, as clear today as they were obscured in heavy mist and fog yesterday. Ying and Yang everywhere, in all things.

The deep, cool green of the forest mounted sentry-like beside the highway, marching up the mountain sides, to the treeline. Self-effacing at the summits, humble in height and girth, beset by the vulnerabilities of climate and weather events.

We followed the Pemigawasset River with its raging stream refreshed by mountain run-off, spuming, spluttering and foaming over its boulder-strewn bed.

A towering hemlock, the patriarch of the hemlock forest beside the trail that led us through to the Pemi-Basins Cascade Trail, held us with its stolid girth. At the Basin the madly-swirling waters continued their inexorable carving-out of the granite bowl, before continuing, its fury undiminished, on its mission to further swell the Pemi.

Hemlock now joined by pines, spruce and birch. Along with Sumac, striped maple, dogwood. Ferns, asters, goldenrod, completed the picture. Blow-downs aplenty, the result of some obviously compelling wind events. We turn from the Pemi trail, slipping off Button's and Riley's leashes from their harness, onto the Basin Cascades trail.

Which abruptly ascends, the trail a misery of hard-trodden wear and weather-and-time-wrought deterioration. The resulting heavy erosion has left deep earthen indentations among the criss-crossing of long-revealed roots, tumbled rocks; all encumbrances to easily heedless ascent.

Side trails invite the hiker to temporarily postpone the ascent for brief, or not-so-brief opportunities to leave the confines of the forest trail for the wide-open welcome of the smoothly immense granite sheath at the mountain side.

From these perches come the breathless vistas of sky above, mountains beyond, forests to either side, and the descending broad rockface below, ascending above, interspersed by boulder-hurtled anomalies, geological features of incomparable beauty and unimaginable scope.

We rest awhile, admire the arras, where the normal plume of a single flume of roiling water has morphed into three, hurtling down the mountain side, replenishing the river below, its flow emphatically increased by yesterday's thunderstorms.

How better to celebrate nature's magnificent manifestations? The immense sky, gigantic mountains, streaming water courses; flora and fauna.

From the slugs revelling in the damp piles of flotsam's detritus, to the occasional warmth-seeking reptile, the soaring denizens of the sky, the evidence of moose imprints on the damp soil, the delicate mountain sorrel, the miniature world of moss and lichen.

A man, a woman, their two dogs. The synergies of nature's unerring, random design.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Day 5 - 9 September 2008

Skunked. Rained out. No opportunity to indulge in our outdoor trekking passion. We had, of course, anticipated this day. Even before leaving on this week's trip we had checked out the long-range weather prognostications. Noted the 10-day weather forecast for the Waterville Valley. So we were forewarned, armed with the knowledge that we'd have at least one day of all-day rain. Which still left us a week of extremely good late-summer weather.

So, given the morning confirmation on the weather channel we expected a surfeit of rain for this day. But still harboured the hope there might be a slim window of opportunity, to squeeze in at least one short trail hike under, perhaps, a light rain - the forest canopy shielding us sufficiently to accomplish at the very least a half-hour trek. Not to be.

We woke to a heavily-overcast morning, and constant drips leading to continual downpours. An emphatic, awfully close clap of thunder heralded the first event, while I was in the shower. Then it broke, no suspense here, with an immediate deluge. Glad we'd taken Button and Riley out a mere 15 minutes earlier, into an already-drenched atmosphere.

We were cozy and comfortable in the cottage, watching the rain pelting everything, unable to see the mountain backdrop, hidden behind an opaque veil of water washing the dust and atmospheric particulates of the past several sunny days earthbound. The two little goats in the pen across the way were snug and dry in their straw-strewn shelter.

Button and Riley patiently awaited their morning treats, post-prandial dog biscuits and, sigh, a carefully shredded Johnson's maple-flavoured sausage, sharing in some minute portion, our breakfast. Which we took our sweet time enjoying in the comfort and security within; the outer gloom ignored for the time being.

Local cantaloupe, large ripe bananas, eggs, sausage, toast and tea/coffee. Reading and commenting to one another in respect of items featured in The New York Times of the day before. No particular hurry, after all. We'd enjoy our leisure and the pleasure of consuming good food, waiting out the rain.

The break we waited for simply did not materialize. Nature was incomprehensibly adamant; her rain-event took precedence over our desires and expectations. The lull we anticipated was not to be. Fine, we'd settle down to read, to talk and winkle out the story behind the story, to revel in our intimate companionship of vintage dimensions.

By noon it was clear that the rain would be unrelenting. We'd proceed to Plan B. This was the obvious opportunity to devote the afternoon hours to perusing and perambulating along Antique Alley, an ambitious drive from the cottage. Our way was clear; no time lost to lunch, for we never eat lunch, in any event.

We packed the few items we thought indispensable to the dogs' comfort; water, along with their carrying bags. A notebook and pen, rainjackets and a little sweater for Riley,and off we ventured. The car, in the process, gaining a primitive car wash, cleansing its outer skin of the previous day's accumulation of road-grime.

Both dogs, seasoned travellers, immediately assumed snooze positions. Rain clattered on the car roof, pummeled the landscape. Visibility was severely limited. And we wondered why it was that the U.S. never did get around to enacting vehicle legislation that would ensure American drivers could depend on all-time headlights, automatically turned on with the turn-over of the car engine, as a proven safety measure for all weather and driving conditions, as Canada does.

When visibility improved as we drove southerly, we could contemplate the billowing flumes of vapour rising in a steady-state of heavy mist from the mountain valleys seen from the highway. Vans, SUVs and commercial trucks sent up relentless sprays of fine aqua-essence in their wake, slathering our windshield. The misfortune of opting for an ordinary passenger vehicle rather than a gas-guzzling behemoth.

An impressive topography viewed through the watery lens of a heavy-rain event, the massive grandeur of the mountains appeared as ephemeral as though they represented a feverishly-imagined landscape of the mind. We wondered, idly, if any summiteers had got caught up there. Depending where they were, there were mountain-top huts with kitchens and bunk beds. We'd once got caught in a violent thunderstorm as we got to the top of Mount Moosilauke. You get wet, very wet, watch your footing with increased vigilance.

When we reached Concord we were within a short distance of our destination, a miles-long strip of haphazardly placed malls, each representing the livelihood of a collective group of purveyors of objects owing their allure to hand-made appeal, creative authenticity, superior materials and craftsmanship, and rarity - alongside pure aesthetic appeal. To qualify for inclusion in the collector-desired opinion and value-system, age and heritage round out the requisites.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most sellers of "antiques" know precious little of those qualifications. They tend to acquire and hoard for sale items they deem to be collectible, hoping for a quick turn-over in inventory and to realize a good profit. Most often these items exemplify 20th-Century junk, the flotsam of a disposable-oriented culture reflecting the inability of the greater population to recognize quality and originality of meritorious artistry.

Still, perusing the offerings affords us pleasant contact with invariably unpretentious and pleasant people, occasionally trade-knowledgeable. One vendor also sold blueberries he'd picked himself, and we availed ourselves of his generous pint for dessert, to round out this evening's menu. Our little dogs, each slung over our respective shoulders in their carrying bags, always elicit pet-lovers' comments and people speak fondly of their own pets, to us. Mostly dearly-departed.

We assess and occasionally admire paintings too pricey for our budget, when they appear on those rare and much-appreciated occasions. Glad we had the opportunity to admire them. Many American oils and watercolours we'd bought in the past, we later registered with the Smithsonian. As with porcelains, bronzes and other objects of intrinsic value; we're interested. We mentally shrug at the appearance of detritus among the valued objects.

After some initial enthusiasm and murmured exchanges between us, the decision went against committing to the European 19th-Century barnyard genre painting. Something; either the board it was painted on or that the canvass was adhered to, was warped, badly. I especially liked the brilliant colours; my husband, the art connoisseur, found fault with the technique; a pity.

The cold-painted Harlequin figure was attractive but a trifle clumsy, insufficiently articulated. But the netsuke, it was a fine piece, genuine to its period and a clear winner. The figure's kimono embellished minutely with infinite care dedicated to perfection of execution. It's that of a Buddha figure, albeit with a childlike bloom on its face; its beatific smile wishing all who look upon it peace and calm.

We had carefully scrutinized the contents of three group shops. The fourth was closed. In the past we'd bought excellent articles from all of them. I clutched the little ivory figure in my hand, as we drove back to the cottage. It felt smooth and cool, fit comfortably into my palm. The cherubicly chubby and bald head of the Buddha gently carved into its pacific attitude, right hand upright under its chin in prayer, left hand dangling a string of prayer beads.

The rain had stopped. The highway surface was beginning to dry. A Great Blue Heron lifted off from the Merrimack River, coasted across the highway, its long legs strung out behind.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

So Soon Gone

It's hardly to be credited that the summer of 2008 has so peremptorily departed. We're now officially into the fall season. That which has passed will not pass this way again. It will of course, be renewed in a sense, but into another year; we and the world we know a year beyond. There, we’ve slid quietly into fall, goodbye summer of 2008.

But wasn’t nature kind to so gracefully offer us a day redolent of the kind of weather perfection late summer is capable of, yesterday? The weather we experienced here yesterday must rank as the epitome of perfection at that juncture when summer submits to fall. Despite morning frost on the roofs, the sun warmed up to 24-C degrees, with a clear sky and a teasing breeze.

We’ve experienced a truly peculiar summer, this year. Not nearly as hot as it often becomes during the dog days of summer, but inordinately wet with continuous rain, whether from light showers or alternately violent thunder storms. Still, we did have our share of sun and warmth; no complaints. Still, it was awfully wet.

The result of which has been that it turned out to be a miserable year for soft fruit; hardly any apples on the trees here, scant plums, and the raspberries, strawberries and blackberries, with insufficient sun, haven’t ripened to their usual piquant sweetness.

And the constant rain meant also that the fruits absorbed too much liquid and as a result weren’t able to keep long before spoiling. Corn, on the other hand, that we’re acquiring from the our community's nearby fruit farm and occasionally other roadside farmers’ stands, is as good as it ever is.

Our dahlias, those giant dish types, haven't been blooming all that long, and now they're on the cusp of expiring with the next really solid overnight frost. That fabulously-blooming passion vine that I had so assiduously cut back for the winter, taken down into the basement to sit directly under a window overlooking the back, only began taking on a growth spurt a few weeks ago. Not one bloom did we get.

The tomatoes growing on our vines have finally, in the last several weeks, turned bright orange, ready and ripe for picking and eating. They've no aroma typical of sun-ripened tomatoes, though their heft and feel are promising. A promise dashed as soon as they're sliced for the table, for they've no flavour nor have they the acidity that normally balances sweetness.

On the other hand, the garden fared relatively well, with hardly an effort on our part to keep it well moistened; nature did all that for us, this summer. We had ample fresh green parsley, aroma-laden sweet basil, and chives nicely sharp for our salads, soups and pizza, so no complaints there. The texture and colour of the gardens didn't lack at all, the perennials coming on stream when they should.

Now, when we enter the ravine for our daily walk, the bees that have built their hive high up in a hole of the great pine at the bottom of the first descent are not in evidence. Yet when we complete our hour's ramble, ready to ascend that same hill, the sun has sufficiently warmed the hive so the bees are once again active.

That same tree houses red squirrels and chipmunks; the aggressive squirrels will chase the smaller chipmunks, but they live together in some semblance of harmony, each feasting at this season on the plentiful pitch-and-seed-laden cones of the ambient spruces.

Already the hawthornes have lost all their small green leaves, and the trees stand there, stark, dark against the verdant backdrop of pine, spruce and fir; but for their bright red hawes their skeletal, forlorn look reflecting a winter landscape. The showy billowing scarlet of sumachs festooned with their bright red candles give promise of a brilliant fall showing.

Robins in adolescent packs flit through the trees, scatter themselves along the trails, working up their readiness for migration. Which the Canada geese have already begun, and we hear their mournful departing honking, look up to see them creasing the sky above. Occasionally, the piercing cry of a bluejay, the whirring wings of doves.

We're entering another season, another reason to respect and appreciate natur, in all her manifestations, from the furry bright yellow caterpillar ambling along the trail heedless of danger, to the bees determined to carry away the last bits of pollen on goldenrod and asters.

We'll soon enough be shuttered indoors against the icy blasts of winter.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Colonialist Ire?

We haven't exactly missed his presence, nor his pronouncements, nor the revelation that he has launched yet another discourse on society through the publication of yet another tedious, opinionated tome. I do recall not all that long ago, having read one of his earlier works, an attempt at an adventure novel, wretchedly amateurish, and miserably wrought. Obviously not representative of one whom some refer to as a leading Canadian intellectual.

We admired his spouse, Adrienne Clarkson, when she was tasked by the government to represent our British heritage, as the primary representative of the Crown in Canada, taking up the mantle of Governor-General. She functioned as such most admirably, with a truly regal bearing, and an obvious grasp of the task before her, doing her utmost to reach into every geographic nook and cranny of the country. From sea to sea to sea.

She proved herself to be a definite, unifying asset, and most Canadians felt very appreciative of her august presence, her resolve to represent her imperial duty to a one-time colony of the British Crown. Her magisterial presence, her presence of mind and intelligent addresses to Canadians never failed to impress us all. Her spouse, known then as His Excellency, riding on her coattails, somewhat less.

He appeared as morose as she was gracious. Internally furious, one might imagine, that his intellectual prowess as a self-acknowledged and internationally celebrated philosopher and arbiter of current events was so little recognized, let alone admired nor his opinion sought, in Parliament. He was an after-thought, an addendum, a virtual nonentity. He played the part well.

It's a peculiar thing that Canadians who so often espouse the values of the liberal left, themselves often display all the attributes of the entitled, an aristocracy of academic and social achievement, facetiously deigning to notice the great masses who toil, yet do not appear capable of recognizing the import of reasoning intelligence and cerebral debate.

Adrienne Clarkson, although she fit that mould herself, was most gracious in temporarily suspending herself from that accustomed style, and representing herself as a champion of the people, as an emissary from the Crown. The liberal left in Canada demonstrates its superior view of the world by mocking its neighbour to the south, the politics played out there, and their social and cultural values; or as they would have it, lack of.

John Ralston Saul, for his part, simmered in resentment, dutifully, quietly, unwilling, as a good husband should, to unsettle his wife's splendid representational duties. For the most part, but not entirely, since he saw fit to publish, while she was in office, a book severely critical of our most important trading partner, our close geographical cousin in democracy.

Now, with the publication of his latest book, his spleen has found release in a critical series of assays labelling the capital city of his country, the National Capital Commission, and the government as grovelling colonialists. Accusing the political and bureaucratic elite of the city and the country of errant ignorance, claiming for them the title of "mediocrities".

"A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada", has enabled Mr. Saul to tell it the way he feels it is, from his jaundiced point of view. He has that right, after all. It's a free country, and he, like anyone else, has the guaranteed freedom to state his opinion. And he most certainly does. In the process pointing out some well known facts; certainly not informing anyone of anything new in his startling revelations.

But for a proponent of the liberal-left he was somewhat incautious in claiming that Canada is really a "Metis civilization". Proud aboriginals and Metis will be particularly puzzled at that scornful designation. Half-breeds? Us? We're resigned to and inclined toward the "aboriginal" way of doing things? Tch, tch, how unoriginal, and how insulting to our first-nations populations.

Nowhere does he excuse himself for resigning himself to the role of His Excellency, while his wife represented the past of the exalted British Empire, the Canadian Monarch, an impressively imperial position that states quite clearly where our legacy stems from, where our traditional values resulted from, our politics, our justice system.

He just toughed it out, poor man, not revelling in the company of the wealthy and powerful, enjoying state dinners, fine wines and grand events his elevated position-by-a-remove entitled him to. He rails against the myths we have accepted in a celebration of our historical presence. Big deal; doesn't every country enjoy their particular myths?

He detests the bureaucracy in Ottawa, its disinterest in details, in revelations and opportunities he would have been only too pleased to supply them with. The political elite, he charges with utter disbelief, is anti-intellectual. Goodness me. They only read briefing notes, fear "to think and read".

The bureaucracy he criticizes are expected to do the bidding of their political masters, neutrally. The political elite has been democratically elected by a majority of voters who have discerned in a particular political party the reflection of their values and the hoped-for ability to produce good governance for the country as a whole.

Canadians are fully aware of the failings of human nature, and we also are quite well aware that our political elite leave much to be desired.

Why then, does someone like Mr. Saul, who claims the distinction of intellectual superiority for himself, echoed elsewhere in the hallowed halls of academe, not choose to put himself forward for political office and show everyone how it should be done, properly. To govern with full intelligence.

Mind, our current crop of party leaders can all of them claim a certain degree of intelligence. All of them have succeeded in securing university degrees. Some have had the opportunity to teach in universities.

Somewhat like Mr. Saul, come to think of it. They are all imbued with critical faculties, all claim to have the best interests of the country uppermost in mind, while they pursue the ultimate prize, to govern the country.

Surely Mr. Saul, with his great ability to view the larger picture, with his grievance against the pettiness of human nature - himself obviously not immune to unleashing his own brand of pettiness - knows that we know all of this. Why would he feel that his opinion is of such great moment, that being so?

Ah, his broad self-regard, his obvious belief that he sees what we do not. Obviously relieving himself of a whole lot of irritating resentments.

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Day 5 - 8 September 2008

Morning sun. Cool, but bright. No rain forecasted. Time to reach into this new day, already launched with promise before Button insisted on her imperial right as the house matriarch, to rouse us to duty. Irving tended them both outside as they performed their duties, then sniffed about, relishing the still-weak warmth of the sun.

By the time he got back into the cottage with Button and Riley, I was in the shower, and then it was his turn. During which time I set the breakfast table, prepared our meal, fed recalcitrant Button and eager Riley. Our turn; we relaxed, enjoying our leisurely meal, feeling well pleased with the weather ahead and the prospect for the day.

Our days are invariably divided into two-fold, unrelated activities. With the first part of the day devoted to outdoor activity, to enable us to engage in hiking the mountain trails. To exercise ourselves physically, along with our little dogs, and to enable us, through that same process, to celebrate our vital connection to, and need for, a narrative with nature and her creations.

In a sense, it becomes, at times, a journey of the spirit, a re-connection with the earth, the flora and the fauna that represent life's constant renewal.

The second of our purposeful and pleasurable intents is to peruse the offerings of area shops purporting to present themselves as respectable purveyors of material objects imbued with both age and aesthetic appeal. Commonly known as antiques. And, on rare occasion, proving agreeably to match their often-hyperbolic descriptives by mendacious shop owners.

It comes as a particular treat to discover the presence of an antique dealer who is knowledgeable, forthright and trustworthy. They balance the distaste we feel of the alternatives. Because of our focus on the personal need-fulfillment of an enjoyable trek through nature, the second of the activities cannot be fully enjoyed without the fulfillment of the promise inherent in the first.

Today we decided our first order of the day could be mounting the relatively modest height of the West Rattlesnake. The drive there as picturesque as always. Puffy-white clouds in a mostly-blue sky, the backdrop of mountains, one peak melting into the next, a contiguous granite grandeur, offset by deep-green forests.

When the final lap of the drive, along the winding road skirting the mountains on one side, Big Squam Lake on the other, concluded at the parking lot we were familiar with, which serves several trails, we were pleased to note the presence of a new parking lot, on the correct side of the trail, with new, direct access to its trailhead.

Off we set, trundling ourselves up the first portion of the ascent. Over time-eroded, rock-strewn,root-crossed trails. Which local nature-loving volunteers had planned to ameliorate by laying logs at inconveniently-wide placements - suited to the steps of giants - obviously meant to assist the hiker in ascending the mountain slope as a notional series of rough stairs.

Which most people make a deliberate effort to side-step, preferring to traverse the natural lay of the land, upward. Button, as usual, trots lightly ahead, eager to discover new experiences, while shorter-legged Riley, half Button's age, lingers mournfully behind. We - particularly me - don't mind his more measured gait in the ascent and exhort half-deaf Button to patience.

It becomes an exercise in nimble footwork to keep from stumbling, slipping, tripping. Beware the unwary mis-step. We forge on, and Riley manages to muster the effort it takes to half-heartedly leap obstacles to forward motion. Obstacles to him, far less so to confidently nimble Button, our 15-year-old wonder dog.

Roughly a third of the way we come across a group of women, over fairly rough terrain. I do a triple-take as we close in on one another; we ascending, they carefully descending. These are elderly women, all shapes and sizes, a half-dozen smiling, happy-to-greet-us ladies, laughing at the presence of Button and Riley. Though expressing kindly concern for Riley's diminutive presence.

Surely, I think to myself, the thin white-haired woman clutching the walking stick, is at least 80! The others, some with fashionably coloured hair, some not, don't have an especial look of fitness, and I wonder how they could have managed the climb. We mouth the platitudes of well-met, and continue our separate ways.

We note the lower portion of the mountain slope given completely to deciduous trees, primarily oak, maple, birch, with a smattering understory of ironwood and moose maple. Further up the slope, pine, hemlock and spruce assert themselves, among the predominant oak. Acorns litter the trail and we wonder where the squirrel population might be?

Having seen none, nor indication that the acorns have been squirrelized. Dogwood dangle their white-red clusters of berries. Lilies-of-the-Valley, Solomon's seal, baneberry and bunchberry, their tangles of tiny red berries enlivening the colour scheme. Asters, in hues of white and of mauve, with brilliant yellow centers, vie for space with goldenrod.

Then, again moving toward us, a group of elderly men. I laugh inwardly as we move abreast, and greet one another, then verbalize my surprise, admitting how smug I felt about being able to exercise my physicality at the age of 71, when it seemed obvious that others, seemingly older, were similarly inclined and obviously capable.

That elicited a group response of delighted laughter. And we learned that they were aged, uniformly, 76. Of the graduating class of l954, Tufts University. A group who arrange an annual assignation where they gather from distant places to celebrate life and climb the West Rattlesnake. They and their wives.

This, from a slender, tall man with a patrician bearing. While a short, overweight companion, puffing still from his dismounting efforts, wipes his brow and ruefully claims this to definitely represent the last year for his participation. We empathize, tease him by letting him know we also make similar claims, at predictable intervals.

Some 20 minutes after we part to re-commence our upward hike, two young women ascending behind us, take Riley's notice and he stands immobilized until they come abreast, vetting their presence. They ohhh and ahhh over adorable apricot-haired Riley, our reluctant Alpinist. Soon they pass us, effortlessly. The tall, slender, dark-haired young woman and her shorter, weightier blond-tressed companion.

We trudge on after them, appreciating no end those brief periods of evenly-gravelled modestly-ascending trail. All too soon reverting to a more elevating steepness, complicated by the foot-trickery of exposed and tangled roots. Increasingly, also, the presence of broad expanses of smooth, horizontal granite patches.

Surprisingly tiny black lethal mosquitoes make their presence known; sharply, irritatingly.

Finally, at the top, we enjoy the spectacle of the lake laid out far below us. We offer fresh water to Button and Riley, then take some photographs, and watch as an ambient freshening stirs the lake into silver ripples, glinting in the sun. The top is a broad expanse of granite, interspersed with random boulders and wind-and-weather-challenged, stunted trees.

There are ample places to sit and enjoy the view. But no shelter from the sweltering sun; the mountain top fully exposed. We call Button repeatedly back from her exploration of the rock-face. Her adventurous spirit has kindled a desire to stand too near the edge of the precipice.

As for Riley, he is people-oriented and has waddled over to where the two young women have seated themselves, overlooking Squam Lake. He shamelessly plays to their admiration and they appear quite prepared to indulge him, rubbing his ears. They live locally, they inform us.

Both, to my surprise, recently back from Boston, just graduated. I hardly thought them old enough. She of the short dark hair, in Psychology. She of the long blond tresses in Sociology. They plan to practise in Boston, will live there together for the nonce, school friends and confidantes. They're fresh-faced, eager, happy. Prepared to make their futures.

We speak together of many things. I ask them their opinion of the presidential race, what they think of Senator McCain's vice-presidential selection, Sarah Palin. They grimace, look at one another. Frightening, says the dark one.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Leaving No Opportunity Unturned

There they go, Michael Ignatieff and Maurizio Bevilacqua, high-ranking members of the Liberal Party of Canada, one of whom is still a leadership aspirant, the other highly representative of the country's immigrant community - as who isn't, in fact? - touting the responsible initiatives on behalf of immigrants their party is prepared to take, when they once again assume power.

And listen, it could happen fairly quickly, if all those close to their date of migration to the country and needful of support in migrating family members take their message seriously enough to vote Liberal. Which is, needless to say, the reason for their prompting, for their sincere promises.

Promises are always sincere at the time they're proffered; they have a way of dissipating in importance and imminence of transaction once the need for their offering has been mitigated. Election promises have a peculiar way of vanishing into the ether of unfulfilled dreams, once the election goal has been achieved.

This brace of MPs, electioneering for their party and their leader, extend to the voting public the knowledge they have that the current government has taken an anti-immigration course of action in giving new discretionary decision-making powers to the minister of immigration. Whereby he may reject "whole categories" of applications.

Which is to say, as in the highly successful Australian model, opt for majority immigrants suitable for integration into the mainstream, those endowed with a working knowledge of the language, and a good level of education ready to hit the employment circuit running.

Which would not, needless to say, close the door on other types of immigrant potential, but would close in on the type of immigrant candidates that would be most likely to fulfill the needs of the Canadian economy, and fit in most comfortably with Canadian society, sharing like cultural values. Leaving space for refugee claimants and family re-unification cases.

There is much to be said for screening applicants, since Canada has experienced in some part, the pain involved in accepting migrants whose histories are clouded, those involved in criminal or terrorist activities. Migrants from justice in their countries of origin.

Individuals whose ideologies run against the grain of Canadian norms. We have, often enough, unfortunately and unknowingly, admitted former military or political principals of administrations that have violated their populations.

We have brought into Canada individuals later identified as having taken part in the atrocities; from Germany, from Rwanda, from India, who have denied on their applications that they have a criminal past and who have later been brought to justice. Or who have taken great pains to produce terrorist activities from Canada, resulting in dreadful consequences to those whom they have targeted.

Yes, the country could use a workable strategy to make use of the skills and talents of all of its new citizens who have been trained in various professions in their home countries and who wish to continue in their trades or practises or professions here, once they qualify to Canadian standards.

But the fact is the Liberal Party has held the governing seat for a very long time and they have done nothing to ameliorate an admitted problem in that kind of integration.

They bemoan the fact that they claim has led to the current government admitting fewer immigrants to the country than formerly. While the fact is that there exists an enormous backlog of applications which does not appear to be moving expeditiously. A situation that the current government seeks to address in its alterations to the Immigration and Refugee Act.

The Conservative prime minister has taken steps to remove the hefty fees for immigration that the previous Liberal government imposed. But the writers of the Liberal party promises have put forward their plan to substantially increase funding for enhanced language training, and job-assistance programs matching applicants' qualifications.

Easier said than done, since industry and the professions have their standards that must be met and this is not a government issue. They promise that a Dion Liberal government will assist new Canadians in obtaining certification from various professional groups, and that's really good, but what's taken so long?

The Liberals have been in power an awfully long time, and nothing had been done to ameliorate the obvious shortage in Canada of some professions like medicine. They state that a Liberal government will commit to fairness, accountability and opportunity.

Most Canadians can distinctly recall a time in recent history when fairness, accountability and opportunity meant little, other than that the governing party pork barrelled their corporate sponsors and business friends, along with their political supporters and insiders.

With accountability absent, and opportunity given to the corruption of legitimate government ventures. It's tedious and dispiriting reading all those fulsome promises in the knowledge that once ensconced in the seat of power, nothing of true relevance ever comes to fruition.

Particularly through the auspices of a party so long accustomed to governing that it felt no need to exert itself to do due justice to the privileges and opportunities given them by a trusting public.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Exemplary Life, Well Lived

In her eighty years she accomplished infinitely more for the good of her community and her country than most people could even dream of. That is, if they shared her immense capacity for empathy for others; that is, if they were prepared to dedicate themselves to the compassionate care of others; that is, if they were imbued with intelligence, energy and the spirit necessary to carry it off. She was one of a kind.

She represented womanhood at its very best. Seeking temporal status of power not for what it might reflect back on her as an accomplished woman, but for the opportunity it would afford her to convince others around her of their moral, ethical duty - as social liberals in a then-mono-cultural society - to the world around them. The Ottawa of her day, like the Canada of that time, while a country of immigrants, lacked true inclusive diversity.

She set out to change that in many different ways. She worked tirelessly, as a three-term mayor of Ottawa, the nation's capital, to transform the civic administration she was a part of, to exchange ideas with the citizens of the day, to encourage the enterprise of social acceptance of those outside the mainstream culture. And she succeeded, admirably, through the sheer force of her indomitable personality.

She was well ahead of her time; not a strident feminist, but a workaday, committed woman with a well developed social conscience who recognized the inequities of her society and worked tirelessly to even out opportunities for society's outcasts, the poor, the gender-differenced, the forlorn immigrants languishing in squalid refugee camps that she herself helped bring to a welcoming capital city.

She epitomized, as one close friend remembered her back then, the think-globally, act-locally philosophy, and then turned it on its head. Her sunny demeanor, her unswerving loyalty to those who elected her to make a better life for everyone in the city, earned her enormous respect and admiration. No moral or ethical lapse was beyond her considered gaze.

She declared the city a nuclear-free zone 30 years before it was given credence elsewhere. She lobbied to have California grapes boycotted in City Hall cafeteria, in solidarity with underpaid workers. She championed women's rights and gay rights; protested the U.S. invasion of Grenada, and made it her personal crusade to fight overcharging cash-chequing that exploited the poor.

Television images of Southeast Asian refugees desperate to flee their plight, using barely-credible sea-going vessels grabbed at her heartstrings. She met with the city's religious leaders, Immigration Canada, and pledged, with the assistance of avid supporters, to sponsor 4,000 refugees in a city whose indigenous population totalled 400,000.

A mother of five, and a Roman Catholic, she nonetheless struggled against her church's prohibition of female priests and its immovable stance on birth control, homosexuality and gay marriage. Trained as a public health nurse, she was a stay-at-home mother while her five children were in their formative years, to care for them.

After her thirteen-year stint as mayor of the city, she acted as chair of Oxfam Canada, and was appointed chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Police Services Board. She was also president of the federal New Democratic Party, and executive director of the Canadian Council on Children and Youth. She was a champion of the arts. Was awarded the Lester B. Pearson peace park award. And finally, the Order of Canada.

Could any life be more surfeit with accomplishment than hers? Well done, Marion Dewar. Rest in peace. You have left society a better place, for your tireless efforts on behalf of all of us.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Day 4 - 7 September 2008

What could be simpler? Just a mile up the road from our cottage - explained the White Mountain Guide - was a moderate ascent, some attractive views, an elevated pond. Roughly an hour up, the same back; a two-hour jaunt. Perhaps a trifle longer, for us. Neither Riley nor I now like to rush things. We now have a tendency to ramble, not rampage, along mountain trails.

Cooler this day than the previous four. Rain coincided with dusk's arrival yesterday; earlier in the mountains than elsewhere. And it rained heavily throughout the night, relieving the discomfort of the preceding nights. This would be an undeniably nice day, forecasted for wind, low UV index, mid-humidity levels, mostly overcast, high of 70F.

Reading The New York Times, listening in to C-Span's lectures, lingering over a robust breakfast, we were in no great hurry to set out. Eventually, though, backpack prepared, collars on Button and Riley, yesterday's kitchen waste out for collection, linen out for replacement, we were ready to go.

But not before a visit to the dwarf goats' enclosure, to reward their curiosity, heads tilted in our direction, softly bleating for recognition. We picked some long fresh grass blades, and they, eagerly anticipating, beat their tiny hooves in anxiety. Then munched greedily, satisfyingly at the offering, as we sped a retreat.

When we parked the car ten minutes later, we changed into our hiking boots, led the dogs around the gate, then set off, up the heavily gravelled yet vegetation-choked fire-road. To the right stood an old sugar shack. We could see the dark blue hoses leading from the trunks of old Sugar Maples to the shed's grey-weathered boards. It surprised us to note just how great a distance those sap-running hoses covered, from tree to shed.

Not far from the last of the intersecting hoses stood a forest giant, right beside the fire-road. Its dark, ridged bark emphasizing its girth and imposing height. Five, 5-1/2 feet in diameter, Irving hazarded an educated estimate. An ancient oak, a maple? No, the largest, oldest Ash we'd ever seen, its compound leaves in the high distance aiding identification.

Pine and hemlock, spruce and fir grew plentifully among the yellow birch and maples surrounding the ash tree. Ferns and dogwood, moose maple and slender, immature white birch formed the understory. Asters and goldenrod thrived among the ferns.
We hiked steadily upward. The Guide had informed us of a 1200-ft. rise to our destination on Peaked Hill trail.

Steady and moderate. Button and Riley forging ahead, picking up interesting scents. Approaching a meadow-like area - obviously a clear-cut, not remotely close to restoration - we were relieved to opt for an alternate route, a dense, moist, fragrant trail running through conifers.

As we forged on, the sound of rampant water became evident, growing gradually in volume as we proceeded. Some ten minutes later, the trail verging beside a steeply descending bank with trees marching steadily down the mountain slope, the sound came to a crescendo, and we just were able to make out a distant stream, flowing down the mountain, glinting in shards of sunlight.

The dense canopy of leaves overhead ensured enduring shade. The sky, glimpsed through the thickets of branches above, revealed blue, interspersed with a still-dense cloud cover. Trudging upward, jewelweed, milkweed, cinquefoil and turtleheads joined the profusion of goldenrod and asters. Painterly hues of white, pink, blue and yellow.

The trail opened to a partial clearing on the right. The ground smothered with white lichens, and alternately, pink lichens, and among them, complementing them, a selection of alpine mosses and additional miniature flora. One of nature's spontaneously-presented ornamental miniature gardens. A visual treat one expects to see on a mountain, ascending above the tree line; premature here.

The trail commenced upward and grasses began to populate the hard-packed soil of the trail, still wet from yesterday's rainfall. Large dragonflies drifted lazily by. Thrushes lifted themselves silently from the trail, flitting past into the dense bush. There, on the right of the main trail an offshoot. Another narrower, overgrown trail, delving deeper into the forest.

No, our expedition leader proclaimed, not the trail we're in search of. We were able to glimpse, through the curtain of tree trunks, a body of water in the distance. Quite obviously the pond we're in search of. I protest, this is the very trail we're looking for, but dear leader disagrees and presses on, while I do a mental shrug, and follow.

The major trail has us bypassing the pond, and it's a long, stretched-out body of water. Peering through the screen of tree trunks and underbrush we can make out widely displayed aquatic weeds; lily-pads arrayed along the outer reaches of the spread-out pond. But, as we progress, there is no appearance of another offshoot trail, allowing us ingress to the pond.

From the trail, as we plod along on the right, is the screened pond, placed well below the trail. On the left is a marked rise of land beside the trail, hosting legions of symmetrical hemlock. Obviously the result of re-forestation. Planted too close together, the tree trunks are slender and tall, in competition for space and sun. And under the trees on the sandy slope of the hill, grow mountain laurel.

We've finally reached the end of the fire-road-cum-trail. Turning back to access the formerly spurned side trail. Which does, indeed, meander down to the lake. A semi-clearing affords us a long view of the pond. It's large enough for a "mountain lake" and looks shallow. Clearly, the stream and cascades we had seen and heard not too far distant, drains the lake.

It appears also that some locals (there is partial private ownership of the pond; two cottage-owners, aside from the National Forest ownership) make use of the pondside clearing. Evidence of campfires, an empty bottle of Jack Daniels. Under trees nestle a canoe, red, and a skiff, aluminum, silver, tarnished. No paddles or oars in sight.

We take photos of the pond from several perspectives, then begin to retrace our steps. Fifteen-year-old Button, now we're on the return leg, picks up speed. we don't want to lose sight of her. Riley's usual plodding pace is more in keeping with our own, even given our accelerating progress, because we're descending steadily.

We resort to fitting on Button's harness to which we affix her leash, and thus control her energetic impatience. We frighten a pale brown newt, as it scrambles frantically under shelter of a pile of leaves. Neither Button nor Riley, as so often happens when we occasionally come across a snake, for example, seem to notice the presence of another creature.

Our descent is sufficiently speedy, without undue haste. Riley obviously agrees, toddling comfortably close behind us. The sky has by now freed itself of much of its cloud cover. Sun rays begin to make inroads through the leafy shelter above us. The sun and its heat beginning to infiltrate the green bower above, adding to the increased body heat of our exertions.

Soon, surprisingly soon, we're closing in on the trailhead. We recognize, in reverse order, all the geological and verdant features we had noted and enthused over, on our way up. We greet each as though they're familiar acquaintances. We know we're coming close to where the old Ash stands and plan to have a closer look at it.

There is a sudden loud rustling from inside the immediate vicinity of the forest interior, drawing our attention. And some 40 feet from where we stand on the trail, we focus on something swiftly descending from the trunk of an old beech. I catch a glimpse of something black and furry; and think, big squirrel. In a big hurry, scrambling down the tree.

As we peer curiously, trying to make out precisely what could be making such an inordinately loud sound - never having heard a squirrel even come remotely close - it impinges on our consciousness that we are looking at a black bear. It has reached the ground, has its rump toward us and is trundling hurriedly off into the interior. Obviously as swiftly as it can manage.

Its familiar territory has become somehow threatening, with the presence of creatures it cannot quite identify, but they're large, bipedal, colourful, accompanied by furry companions that bark. Although, truth to tell, neither Button nor Riley, who ordinarily will bark at the presence of other animals, appears to have noted the swiftly vanishing presence.

Damn! We reacted too slowly, too late to try to snap a photograph. We'll just have to file away the mental snap we took as we ogled a yearling black bear vacate the premises.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Where The Heart Is

We're so anxious to get away, to experience a different environment, face challenges other than those we cope with in our everyday lives, that we enthuse about vacations, holidays elsewhere that we feel will add a refreshing new dimension to our lives. Invariably they do. That old adage, "a change is as good as a cure", speaks of boredom, of the ennui involved in the commonplace, the quotidian assurance of predictability, the rote involvement of ritual.

It's certainly not that we endure life, by any means. Those of us privileged to live out our existence in wealthy countries whom circumstances have given the opportunity to live in comfort and ease, know how fortunate we are. We like to coddle ourselves, offer ourselves different landscapes from time to time. We make the most of those opportunities, whether they represent trips abroad, or week-end visits to the family cottage.

In our own case, it's the return, usually several times a year; in early spring, in early fall, to the lush green mountain landscape of New Hampshire. Where, for many years in succession, we brought our children as they were growing into their early teens and beyond, into adulthood. Where we shared the pleasures of discovering new mountain trails, ascents that would challenge and take us, however arduously, to the summit of mountain tops.

There to look out over the valleys below, and more remarkably, over the summits, some taller, some shorter, of countless other mountains in the Presidential Range. We enjoyed the varying scenery, the density of the surrounding forest, and above the tree-line the delicacy of the alpine growths. The heat of the sun, the coolness of sleet attacking the mountain as we ascended oblivious to the cold, our industry creating our own circles of warmth.

Although we're no longer capable - nor would we wish to push our strength and endurance beyond the reasonable - of ascending the considerable heights we once did, we still take immense pleasure in the ambiance, and the opportunities presented us in hiking reasonably rising trails in those same mountainous areas; the three Notches, the Waterville Valley, where we tend now to centre our ambulatory adventures.

It's great fun, a lovely adventure, a break from the ordinary. And then, when the week allocated to all this expeditionary discovery is concluded, we're so anxious to return home. In our absence, our home has somehow morphed into magnificence unparalleled; we see all the familiar rooms, the gardens, the furnishings and the paintings in a new light. How could we bear to leave them, however temporarily?

They furnish us with such comfort and delight. Our own spacious and linen-dressed bed, comfortable beyond comparison. Even our two little dogs snuggle in comfort in their own places in the only home they've ever know, with us. Our large and well designed kitchen, where everything needful is right at hand. Our bathroom, with all its comforting and relaxing appliances. Our library of books!

Sometimes you have to temporarily abandon what you have to later value these aids to gracious living. Soon after return there was a need to see to the gardens, a bit of nip-and-tucks here and there, cutting back spent perennials so that others, freshly blooming, have the space they need. Staking up lushly blooming roses, asters, coneflowers. Admiring the rampant blooms of the begonias in their garden pots.

Taking our daily morning stroll through the ravine, hurrying to grab an hour in there before the rain descends in earnest; left-over from Hurricane Ike coming our way. It's uncommonly humid, misty, and the sodden leaves overhanging the trail keep shedding the earlier rain, drenching us. But no matter, it's a delight to be there. We stop, fascinated, at the sight across the creek; a tables' width collection of saucer-sized bright orange fungi.

Along with all the common asters in white and pale mauve, there are the beauties of the fall aster world; luxuriant bunches of bright pink asters, larger flower heads, greater numbers of thick petals, and also bright dark purple as well. They're a delight to the eye, rivalling in beauty the cultivated specimens in our gardens. A tree trunk sports huge, broad shelf-fungi, the constant dampness encouraging these spectacular shows of nature's diversity and abundance.

Through the length of our walk, my husband has been unravelling a tale, entertaining both of us as he describes the storyline of a film he had watched on television last night, while I read the newspapers. He'd thought the film was an excellent rendition of some aspects of the human condition, with excellent acting, and some well-placed comedic insertions to relieve the starkness of lives interrupted by fate.

He does this frequently. It can be retelling the thesis behind something he'd read, expounding at length, eliciting my opinion which does not always match his; or framing a fictional story taken from a recently-completed novel. Or as he did this morning; describing the action and story line in the film he'd watched last night. When we were young, newly married, and I was ill in bed, he would comfort me by reading softly to me.

Fifty and more years later, he's still doing the same thing. And that's where my heart is.


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