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

Friday, July 31, 2009

The World's Latest Pop Celebrity?

Hard times make for hard choices. Alas, the papacy appears to have fallen on hard times. It is not only nations and countries, institutions and corporations who are struggling to surmount the economic difficulties thrust upon them by the world financial collapse, but evidently - and why not, since the Vatican and its properties are as of a country dedicated not to national unity but to international unity - so is the Holy See.

Bringing Pope Benedict XVI to the difficult decision to popularize his dulcet-toned voice for mass-market consumption as he warbles and intones litanies and chants honouring the Virgin Mary. He will recite holy passages in some of the many tongues of the world he has mastered; Latin, Italian Portuguese, French and German. Definitely not Hebrew, but why not, one wonders?

His Holiness's sacred performances have been, furthermore, recorded in St. Peter's Basilica. Where the choir of the Philharmonic academy of Rome exercised their great good fortune to accompany him. The CDs to be released on November 30, by Universal's Geffen label. One can only wonder what manner of advertising will be embarked upon to elicit the interest of the public.

Will Geffen's public relations unit seek to enhance opportunities for sales by temptingly releasing tidbits on popular radio stations world-wide, creating in the process a burgeoning industry in papal music to equal that of popular culture? Knowing the nature of sacred music and duly appreciating the sublime essence of its melodic genius, one might think the Vatican and Geffen will have a hit on their hands.

The money will flow, enabling Geffen to boast it has become the most influential and prestigious label on earth (is it that already?), and granting the Vatican ample opportunity to dismiss its debts and redouble its holdings in real estate, art, antiques, religious paraphernalia and holy relics without anguishing over the wherewithal.

Wait for it.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Next Day

Not a hint of moisture in the atmosphere. The humidity has completely dissipated. No clouds in the sky. Did we just imagine that torrential rainfall throughout the day yesterday accompanied by a raucous orchestra of brass, bass and woodwinds? Must have, since little remains to remind us, around the house. In the ravine, however, that's another matter altogether. There is a nice brisk wind and it, along with the sun have been hard at work helping the saturated ground absorb yesterday's rainfall.

The creek is still busy rushing its way to the Ottawa River watershed, but nowhere near as frantically as it did, yesterday. And though the trails themselves remain soggy - much of the stonedust and gravel that had been deposited over the last few years having washed downhill - they are not as mucky as they were. And the vast puddles of rainwater that had sat on the level portions of the trail have been mostly absorbed, so we are able now to skirt around them, which wasn't at all possible yesterday.

The robins, the cardinals, woodpeckers and goldfinches are out in full force, lustily singing and celebrating their place in nature's scheme. We come across a neighbour, walking a larger dog than ours, a terrier-mix. She hasn't been in the ravine for over a week, she tells us, because of the rain. Her dog had decided to plunge into the creek as it often does to deal with the heat. And was surprised at the unaccustomed level of the water whooshing it along.

She had to talk it into making its way along beside the bank and over to an area where it could obtain a purchase on the slope of the bank to finally pull itself out of the water. The little dog was completely drenched, but no worse the wear for his little predicament, nicely solved.

As we reached the last bridge to begin our final ascent out of the ravine and onto the street where we live, we came abreast of a group of about seven boys in their early teens. Their bicycles were left on the trail, and they stood strung out on the bridge.

Watching while one of their number, up to his knees in the murky mess of the creek, was trolling with a stick where a debris-laden mass had hung up, making an impromptu dam across the creek which the high-level creek yesterday cascaded over in a waterfall that had mimicked the thunder of the heavens.

Later, in the gardens, I commiserated with the almost-drowned annuals, but observed that they were, for the most part, holding their own. Drenched they had been, right royally, but now they were drying off and putting up a brave front. The huge trumpet lilies have finally begun to bloom, and their heavenly scent cast a bloom of fragrance over the entire area.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another Drenching

Guess yesterday's innocuous weather, giving us mostly heavily overcast skies but yet occasional sunny periods was enough to pull us out of the mental state we've been labouring under of late, anticipating nothing but rain and more rain.

Granted, in the morning there was one cloudburst, and it resulted in a good rainfall, but so what? It was the stupendous thunder that followed a mere half-hour later, announcing its imminence from the distance, a thunder that asserted a menacing (thrilling, actually) reality that crept forward becoming louder and ever more threatening.

All right, guess that's enough of purple prose. Suffice it to say that when those thunder claps hit right overhead and unleashed truly impressive volumes of rainwater, we were, as incredible as it seems even to us, given our recent experiences of day after day downpours, entirely taken by surprise.

A thunderstorm, we thought, soon over and done with. But it wasn't to be. It came down unrelentingly, one wave of thunder and its attendant lavish downpour after the other. I took photographs of the front garden, standing on the porch, with rain pelting down around me. I feel, actually, inspired as a result of these seemingly freak weather phenomena. Freak only in the context of frequency and ferocity. This month, in this city, will go down in the annals of Environment Canada's records as the coldest, rainiest in history.

Upstairs later, there was one tremendous clap and out went the lights. And I heard a loud "ping!", then remembered I'd left the computer on. Thank heavens for those expensive but reliable circuit breakers (surge protectors). We could even hear, as the rain lashed the windows, that rain was coming straight down the chimney, and plopping inside the fireplace with a regular, dream-beat precision.

Good thing we have a commodious garage, for even though there is a car in one half and the construction materials for our new garden shed in the other half, there is ample room left still for the electric saw set-up to cut the lumber to length. Which is exactly what my husband busied himself doing, throughout the morning and the early afternoon, storm be damned - or rather admired and respected.

The thunder and the rain eventually relented. Just wore itself out, got tired of teasing us and after rallying for one last thunderous swoop through the area finally decamped to plague others, elsewhere on its trajectory. We swiftly accoutered ourselves, with raincoats and waterproof hiking boots, and ventured into the ravine.

We could hear the creek roaring from up the hill, and as we descended, it grew in sound volume most impressively. Mosquitoes were having a most enjoyable time of it; they've hatched in great numbers, given the perfect conditions prevailing with accumulated rainwater ponds everywhere. With them we were not impressed.

The creek has become a ravening river of mud rushing madly along carrying with it tree limbs and all manner of washed-out detritus, and in the process smelling deeply of swamp gas. We were truly impressed. All the more so when, although we had to trudge deep in muck up and down the trails with our little dogs faithfully following, the sun began to filter through the foliage.

And we saw mist beginning to rise. And had our heads combed by pine branches brought low with the weight of accumulated soakings. The sight of goldfinches, chickadees and robins flighting about the trees - behaving as though nothing had ever been amiss, as though this is but another summer day - seeking out advantages; a worm here, an insect there, reminded us of the resilience of all things dependent on nature.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What! No Complaints?

None. None whatsoever. What for? Without reason for complaint, there are none. All is perfection. At least as close to that state of mind and being as is possible. The weather is a transitory phenomenon. We cannot debase ourselves by claiming that as goes the weather so does our day, our thought processes, our comfort levels, our ability to cope, our happiness.

True, inclement weather can be a nuisance, but in the absence of catastrophic weather, it remains but aa nuisance that can be readily dealt with.

Unless we are so ill-balanced that our dependence on sunny skies and our abhorrence of dark horizons overtaking the brightness above renders us incapable of measuring our emotional responses. Yet psychologists speak of people adversely affected by episodic lack of sunlight, rendering them incapable of being mentally alert and functioning adequately, slowing down the thinking and the reaction processes.

As for us, I must admit it; we would prefer not to swelter in late summer heat.

So for us, personally, the unaccustomed cooler weather that July heralded in, accompanied by twice as much rain as July would normally surrender to, has been a welcome relief. We don't mind it one bit. It has not been totally unrelenting; between rain events, however torrential they've seemed, there has been the relapse into normalcy, with heat and bright sun enough for us. Selfish, I know. But we've no cause to fault Mother Nature.

Our gardens give us pleasure, rain or shine. They thrive, and so do we. Better rain than drought. Nothing stops us from enjoying the out-of-doors regardless of the weather. Through the course of any day there are opportunities to head outside, to make the most of brief let-ups in the rain. We are not languishing for want of opportunities to make the most of our days. We are busy with so many interests there is scarcely time to do everything.

This was a rare, rainless day. Sitting in our backyard, surrounded by the growing things that we love, the quiet atmosphere was suddenly punctured by the transcendentally sweet trill of a cardinal, sitting on the very tip of the tallest branch of an apple tree. The goldfinches that flew from branch to branch were silent; little winged lemons. They awaited the nuts sprinkled twice each day near the garden shed.

And we recognize our good fortune, and are grateful for it. We tell the gargoyle sitting watch on our porch that frowns are not in order, but the lolling, wickedly extended tongue is permissible, accompanied by that knowing eye-twinkle.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Pique (a) Boo!

We're drenched, utterly rained-out to proportions not hitherto experienced during a lost summer. We awoke this morning to the distant sounds of thunder. Delicious as those sounds normally are, they elicited in us an "uh, oh!", anticipating yet again a day of incessant downpours. Following hard on the storms of previous days, weeks and, let's see ... months. This has been an inordinately, extraordinarily wet summer. With few signs of abatement.

It took some time, but the system approached, gradually and purposefully. And when it reached our very direct vicinity it unleashed its pent-up energies both in sound and impact. The rain pelted our landscape unceasingly, pounding its presence on rooftops, roadways, gardens and all else that presumed to present as innocent to its intent. Lashing windows and passing vehicles and incautious cyclists alike with its persistent deluge.

Post deluge, sun. Who could complain other than those with flooded basements or farmed crops with fields and patience already inundated and frayed beyond endurance? Flooded basements and deferred vacation plans are one thing; area crops disastrously impacted, not to be brought to market, another thing entirely.

Unlike the morning's thunderstorm with its prolonged, noisy approach and portentous promise, what took its place throughout the balance of the day was stealthy pop-up downbursts that arrive unheralded at half-hour intervals. The questing camera picks up the measure of the sky's portent as clouds quietly and darkly thrust by the wind rush their way across the landscape of the sky.

The aconite in our gardens so lately come to stately presence and bright monks-hood bloom is hard put to resist following the earlier collapse of the rain-sodden and wind-whipped delphiniums in tragic broken foliage. The bright-headed poppies and the vibrant, sunny tickseed succumb too, to the weight of the rain and the insistent wind; the gardens brought low by pressures they are incapable of resisting.

A half-hour elapses, and another ferocious downpour. And. then. the sun. And then the clouds shuffle back with dark and rainy intent and we rush again for cover from the downpour. Another sunny interval, sun full out and doing its very best to dry everything, mist rising slowly from the steaming walkway. We know this will not last, the choreograph of mistaken identity this summer eager to return to the stage.

And yes, another unleashing of the sky's rage at the impetuous sun. And then, predictably perhaps, the sun became aggrieved and slunk off behind the clouds in an affronted huff. And the rain called a brief, placatory time out. Impasse.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Encourage Life, Support Removal

If need be, society should not encourage, but support people whose health has become so degraded that their quality of life mitigates against continuance, in their opinion. They, after all, have to live with the pain, the uncertainty, the anguish and the misery. And if, as thinking adults, they decide of their own volition that there is no longer any wish to continue living an existence that offers them nothing but pain and anger, their wishes should be respected.

People living with chronic depression are in another category altogether. Mental instability and the insecurities that accompany the bleak emptiness of depression, the black depths to which peoples' souls sink cry out for some kind of medical mediation, some kind of successful therapy that might persuade these lost people that there is a way they can manage their depression and in so doing appreciate new opportunities to live a reasonable life.

Elderly people suffering health conditions for which there is no protocol to improve a poor prognosis for longevity, those who live with rapidly receding faculties, both physical and mental and who have no wish to prolong their deterioration to the final moment of death, might choose their own time and place of dying. People living with the devastation of losing a life-long partner and seeing no future without them, as well.

In the face of intractable debilitation and oncoming death there is no reason why society must adhere to the notion that laws should prohibit assisted suicide. Those who abhor the practise of gently guiding sufferers to the end of their misery, need not have anything to do with the process. Health professions who dedicate their life-practise to ameliorating the pain and devastation of impending death by managing pain and helping to lead sufferers can learn to accept that people have the right to select other means if that is their wish.

If, in responding to an end-of-life condition that causes unbearable pain, an attending physician administers opiate dosages that, while helping to cope with the pain will also bring the patient closer to death, they will have done a service to the patient whose choice that is. People who feel morally or religiously offended by the very idea of helping people to leave their lives of pain, need not be involved.

Palliative care works for some, but not all. There are some issues that palliative care cannot address. If a man or a woman sees no value in a life bereft of a loved one that choice should be respected. This is not a happy thought, that life loses all meaning for people because of their sole investment in happiness with one other person, but it is a reality for some. It is not those people with whom thoughts of insecurity in position should linger.

It is, in fact, the young, afflicted with mental illness, severe depressions, for whom the right combination of chemical protocols or life remedies remain elusive, leading them to take their lives. The young, living lives of no appreciable value to themselves, in degraded social and economic conditions that offer them no insights into the value of life - such as aboriginal children - requires us as a society to make a greater effort to give meaning to their lives through improved conditions.

It is estimated that four thousand people die every year in Canada, as suicides. That represents a greater number than those who succumb to death through traffic fatalities. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for young men. And those are the attempts that succeed, representing a far smaller proportion than those of unsuccessful attempts.

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Enduring Rain Events

We were most certainly inconvenienced by last Friday's incessant rain, the heavy downpour that simply did not want to subside. And when it finally did, it was for the briefest of opportunities for us to venture, late in the afternoon, out into the ravine for a short jaunt. We set out in a light drizzle and returned in a more robust rain, not yet up to full strength but not long in the realization, once we set foot into our nice dry (humid) house again.

The ravine, of course, like the grounds upon which sit the house in which we live, was completely sodden. Not only puddles on the trails, but emerging lakes on either side of the trails, with muddy water gushing down the length of the creek, and all the tributaries in the ravine which are normally dry at this time of year, echoing the activity of the mother-stream. The following day we enjoyed hours of sunshine before the rain returned.

We have not been discommoded at all. We do not, in fact, miss the really hot weather that seems to have bypassed us this year. We aren't too unsettled about all the rain. We haven't had to water anything in the gardens and our garden pots this year; nature has done all that for us, most handsomely, if rather to excess. There has been no need to use home air conditioners this summer, floor fans do quite nicely.

Yet there are, not all that far away from where we live - the opposite end of the city in fact - hundreds of homeowners who have suffered the dismay of seeing their basements begin to fill up with floodwater, insects, detritus and sewage. Many of these homeowners know their insurance will not reimburse them for their losses. And many do have quite substantial losses; furniture, electronics, rugs, and other belongings that cannot be saved.

Public roads have been washed out and traffic diverted to other areas. We're informed that in some parts of the city up to 105 mm of rain came down on Friday. The Ottawa River received rainwater mixed with sewage over a two-day period, because the waste water treatment plant was bypassed due to the heavy carriage of rainwater, some 175,000 cubic metres representing about 40% of a typical summer's rain.

Area farmers are bemoaning the lack of summer sun to help crops dry out between rains that have inundated their vegetables. While we have enjoyed some sun, it is not representative of the amount of sun we normally have at this time of year, and which crops depend upon to ensure growth and adequate maturation. Instead, there is the real, looming danger of crops not coming to maturation and in fact, rotting.

That's the larger picture and it isn't a very good one, overall.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Sodden Landscape

We'd managed to squeeze only a short and late-day hike in the ravine yesterday. There was simply no let-up in the volume of the rain; one sweeping rain event after another drenched the entire area. Although we could get out protected in rain gear, it's different for our little dogs who would soon become completely soaked. So we sat it out. And at half-past three saw our brief opportunity. All of us geared to encounter rain in our trek. Glad to get out to stride about, and enjoy the brief interlude of drizzle.

The month-long daily rain events have left us with a completely sodden landscape. The big surprise is that the gardens don't appear to have suffered unduly, although local farmers' fields have, unfortunately. By mid-morning this day there was sun, a welcome sight. And surely it would begin to dry things out. We went off to the ravine, no raincoats on this occasion. We anticipated that we would see some unusual things. And we did, thanks to the effects of the overwhelming humidity and soaked ground.

There was no shortage of lichen; bright iridescent greens, yellows and oranges, clinging to tree trunks. And peculiar fungi formations, from riotous moist-looking orange heads poking through the drenched soil, to groupings of Indian pipe, and yellow-capped mushrooms, as well as translucent-appearing white fungi growing like stalagmites.

Like yesterday, the creek was in full flood, muddy and roiling, carrying debris with it and rumbling its way through the ravine. When we completed our initial descent into the ravine and deposited peanuts at the base of the huge old pine, a drama unfolded before our eyes. First one little red squirrel approached from the right, grasped a peanut and ran helter-skelter back to the right with its prize.

And approaching speedily from the left, another tiny red squirrel took possession of its prize and just as speedily decamped with it. Then in quick succession appeared a black squirrel barrelling down the trail we had just descended, to skirt around and approach the base of the tree and avail itself too of a peanut, before scurrying back off. We have been made aware of the heated competition between the squirrels, having witnessed them in full chase, one of the other, from that location.

They're not by any means the only squirrels we see in our perambulation through the ravine trails this day, there are many other out as well, awaiting their due. Goldfinches flash their bright yellow bodies through the branches of trees, and robins sing beautifully in obvious pleasure at this propitious weather.

There are bees everywhere we look, lingering on the Queen Anne's lace, the bright yellow goatsbeard flowers, the cowvetch, and the ragweed. The latter sends its sweet fragrance everywhere we walk. We see the first of the jewelweed finally in flower, tiny bright orange orchid-like flowers. There are clumps of bright purple ajuga everywhere.

As we ascend the first of a pair of hills, Riley's attention is suddenly taken by the presence of a creature we hadn't noticed, as it blended so perfectly into the background of the detritus-laden ground. We were delighted to have a rare sighting of a toad. It moved only slightly as Riley's nose nudged its small dappled body, just enough to bring it to our notice.

Evidently, that encounter sufficed for Riley, and he trudged onward and upward, we following. And then we encountered evidence of other life-forms having taken their ease in the ravine, albeit creatures rather more 'wild' than those who belong there. Three plastic lawn chairs sat neatly one atop the other, at a juncture about half-way through our walk.

Neighbourhood youth up to no good as usual, and some householder will have gone out to their lawn this morning to discover that a few of their outdoor pieces of furniture had suddenly vanished. Whether this is the result of a grudge, or that it simply pleases young people to abscond with others' property, or that some bright group felt it would be more comfortable to have their covert little camp fires seated on plastic lawn chairs is anyone's guess.


Friday, July 24, 2009

There Are Limits

So, it's finally come to this. Not the end of the world, granted, and no big deal. It's just that like anyone else, I'm accustomed to doing things in a certain way. We get in a rut, sometimes, I know. The thing is, I detest large supermarkets. All the more because they market items that are durable, things that have no business being in a market specializing in edibles. I always hated those aisles of clothing, kitchenware, electronics, even cosmetics. When I go shopping for food, it's food I want to see.

And then there was the thing that this was a small independent grocer, as it were. A franchise operation. I thought the big corporations didn't need my food dollar. So when that Food Basics store opened almost twenty years ago, I began patronizing it. The sound of it was in line with the way I thought; basic foods. It was a relatively small operation, the building was really too small and the result was cramped aisles, which was certainly no plus.

But there was far less of an emphasis on convenience and pre-packaged foods, and more on - what else? - the basics I wanted. And the prices were really competitive. I liked the cashiers; older women whom I quickly became familiar with. They had good specials, and if I began to think they weren't paying adequate attention to procuring really fresh fruits and vegetables, I just had to look harder to ensure I bypassed those.

I had my nose a little out of joint at first when I asked the manager if he would consider putting a bin somewhere out front in the store where shoppers could deposit foodstuffs for the local food bank and he rebuffed the idea. No room, he said, and anyway, it was too 'political'. He did find room for non-edible products eventually. I did like that they charged for plastic bags and bought three of their large plastic bins that have served me well over the years.

I hated it when they seemed to forget to re-stock the shelves properly, someone in charge not ordering replacements in time. Or stopped carrying an item I particularly liked. Or didn't give adequate attention to 'best before' dates. I'd bring these irritations to their attention. It helped for a while, and then it would start all over again. I rationalized that the price was right, and as long as I exercised care I'd get the freshness we needed.

Several years ago the franchisee who had, in the interim, proven that the business hadn't disappointed his expectations by driving a 75-series BMW, sold out. Mostly because he hadn't much choice; it had gone from a franchise operation to a corporate-led one. Under this new management a lot of interior renovation was undertaken and shelving changed, and miraculously the aisles widened through better-designed use of existing space.

Things improved noticeably. I no longer saw the store trying to sneak non-food products onto the shelves as the old owner-manager had been doing. Fruits and vegetables were in far better condition. And there was a marked increase in convenience and pre-cooked and pre-prepared foods. More choice in the meat counter. And the fruit juices and yogurts. And then the quality of the fresh foods began to deteriorate.

On again, off again; they'd be in good shape, then dismal. Not everything, but disparate and discrete fresh items and various products, and I figured I could deal with that. Then last week everything changed. I had of late been having to discard bagged baby carrots, despite a long best-before date. Poor handling, I guessed. Milk, despite a similar best-before date wasn't keeping.

There was a special last week on soft berries. I looked carefully through the plastic to evaluate freshness, and found the raspberries stuck together with mould, the strawberries similar, and the blackberries as well. Bought none of them. Cherries too were on sale and those I carefully selected, but they were disgustingly bad, we discovered later. The hard little red seedless grapes were terrific, but that's some bad score, isn't it?

The red bell peppers were so awful I just had to bypass them. The green beans were stringy and dessicated. The snow peas and the snap sugar peas were imported from China, although the signage above them boasted they were 'product of Guatemala'. There were none of the Campari tomatoes to be had, only those tasteless ones that I bought instead. The grape tomatoes were in such bad shape I had to discard one-third of the box.

The fresh red grapefruit juice I always bought was not available. They were out of Biobest yogurt, unflavoured with live bacillus. Well, bloody hell. I could have spoken with the manager, and had on previous occasions, never having felt that I was being taken seriously. The kind of unprocessed fish that I prefer to buy is usually unavailable, all these little irritations were exasperatingly unnecessary.

I decided to write an email to the provincial head office detailing all the miserable offerings on hand at last week's shopping. Next morning there was a telephone call from the store manager to whom the email had been forwarded. Not their fault, he said, they changed warehouses and this was the result. Their fresh produce suppliers were unreliable. Not the consumer's problem, I told him. He wanted to know when I was in the store and I told him the time.

He would, he said, speak to the person on duty. Not the fault of the personnel, I retorted, they're exemplary staff. Not so, he responded, otherwise they would be picking the rotted food off the shelves. I restrained myself from outright braying in his ear. What alternative do they have when the entire shipment is anything but fresh, but to put it all out, given the specials advertised? And I'd rarely seen the overworked staff picking out rotted fruit.

He urged me, next time I discover things amiss, to go directly to him. Right. Well, there won't be a next time. My husband chafes at having produce from China put on our plates. He's disgusted with all the produce we had to discard because of inedibility. When he saw me washing the blueberries preparatory to baking a pie, he peered more closely than I did and saw plenty to be discarded.

Remarkably, he offered to accompany me shopping at his favourite supermarket, the one he occasionally shops at, on his own. The first time in years we've done the food shopping together. It was amazing, the quality of the fresh fruits and vegetables on offer. I almost shouted for joy. We make a great team, shopping together or anything else we do together. He hated going into the Food Basics store, and never accompanied me there.

The times they are a-changing...

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Congratulations Due

Congratulations on a hard-fought battle for the election of a new grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations during their general assembly in Calgary. A full eight rounds of voting before the electoral success could be finally settled on the youngest of the candidates, the one who was singled out initially as the front-runner. Who was given a hard run for his success, nonetheless.
Newly elected Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo is lifted onto supporters shoulders after giving his addresses the assembly  following hs win on a marathon eighth ballot Thursday in Calgary.
Newly elected Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo is lifted onto supporters shoulders after giving his addresses the assembly following hs win on a marathon eighth ballot Thursday in Calgary.

Photograph by: Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald

We are ever so satisfied that someone of the ilk of Terrance Nelson was not elected. And it would be ever so satisfying if the new Grand Chief, Shawn Atleo, recognized that it is incumbent upon him to represent the very best interests of the First Nations Status Indians rather than defending the administrative turf of the Assembly of First Nations. Should it ever come to pass (and we hope in the relatively near future) that Canada's indigenous people become capable of full independence and thrive under their newfound security and self-support, that may be the time for the AFN to dissolve.

But as long as First Nations remain dependent on Federal Government handouts, relinquishing responsibility for their singular needs, living in traditional tribal areas in clearly unsuitable geographies where there are no prospects for employment and meaningful pursuits of any kind other than to languish in poverty and degradation, where their children are robbed of a decent education and the opportunity to integrate into the wider world, the Assembly of First Nations is assured of its longevity.

Shawn Atleo's most important job now is to nurture the future for Canada's aboriginals, to encourage First Nations peoples to become staunchly independent as many other Indian bands have been successful in doing, living on or off reserves. And once a growing element of success has been established, he can slowly begin to distance the AFN from the management of the reserves, allowing each to achieve full autonomy and self-respect.

Putting himself and the AFN out of business and encouraging and enabling First Nations to be responsive to their own needs and responsible for their own futures and those of their children, will be the best thing that could ever happen to them.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Like Salt, It Never Stops Pouring

We are given no opportunity to dry out. We're completely sodden again. Calamitous. Not for us, but for area farmers. The soft-fruit crops were dreadfully impacted; too much rain, not enough sun created tasteless berries. And other crops are suffering as well; area farmers opine that they're at least two weeks behind where they should be in their growing period, and that isn't taking into account the seeds that drowned, that never managed to germinate at all. For house-holders who love to garden the danger is that they may lose annuals to root rot.

For agriculturalists and consumers of agricultural produce, which is all of us, this uneven weather pattern plaguing us at present can be catastrophic. For amateur gardeners it is a nuisance, nothing more. My neighbour claims to have lost some of her tomato plants to rot; mine are flourishing. On the other hand, some of my many large garden pots are not doing as well as they should. Where some of the potted plants are managing themselves quite nicely, others less so, even of the same types, like begonias, for example - show-offs in one pot, not so in another.

The constant rain and the continuous humidity has resulted in a bonus for us, however. We've got lovely mosses and even tiny, fragile plants that have bright pink flowers, smaller even than 'pinks' growing in the minute cracks between our brick pavers, and they're lovely. I have a plant that I just admire tremendously, a chameleon plant that has grown over the years and become a real mainstay in one of our garden beds. A few days ago I bought two large pots of the plants, and yesterday carefully took them apart.

I planted them in groups and singly here and there, all over our various garden beds and borders. And still had enough left over to give five or six of the plants as a gift to a neighbour for her gardens. Oddly enough, I had attempted, unsuccessfully, over the years to take rooted bits of this plant and transplant them, and never succeeded. The same thing has happened with the Japanese anemone; I've realized no success with it, as well.

With the chameleon plant, and its lovely tiny white flowers now distributed in many of the garden beds I look forward to seeing more of them. The bonus here, with this weather is that I haven't had to water all the plants I've been transplanting; nature has been doing that for me. The same neighbour who accepted the chameleon plants has fallen in love with our California poppies and I've promised to give her the seed heads when they mature.

When I was taking a break, sitting on the deck in the back with little Riley beside me on the glider, I decided to have a look at the newly-planted stock, going around to the front, forgetting to return, transported with a kind of rapture, viewing the splendid look of the gardens. I had assumed that Riley would stay put, where, after all, my husband was working under the deck, filling it in with cement pavers, to keep it neat and clean and as free of weeds as possible. Curious Riley eluded our expectations and turned up in the front, in time for a photo session.

Later, ensconced once again on the glider, reading the newspaper with Riley asleep beside me, my husband deep in the interior under the deck to complete his work, we heard light little 'pings' on the canopy of the gazebo. The pings became more insistent, louder, and impossible to ignore. The sky had suddenly transpired from clear to cloudy, and unleashed upon us yet another sneaky rain event. I stayed high and dry on the deck and so did my husband, under the deck, as the rain picked up steam and thundered atop the gazebo.


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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hot Diggity-Dawg!

How stupid? How utterly unaware, oblivious? How completely enthralled with their own agendas, wedded to their singular egos and incapable of imbibing the most fundamental of society's observances? Well, there are the occasional instructive stories of what people get up to, that just boggle the mind and leave one gap-mouthed in astonishment.

That there are adults in chronological years, but arrested in juvenile self-absorption, is no secret to anyone in modern society, witnessing events that betray peoples' inability to behave intelligently. And strange things seem to happen in some places in particular. In particular, British Columbia seems so often to host peculiar people. Although this could have happened anywhere.

How about the pathetic value of a thief politely enquiring of a home owner when would be the best time to drop over? Something quite similar occurred at an Abbotsford police station. Police - you know, those who are trained and authorized by society to ensure that law and order among the populace is observed, and when malfeasance is occurred, the law-breakers be apprehended?

Yet here was a pair, a 22-year-old male with his 21-year-old female companion, both entering a police station to take possession of a previously-impounded driving license belonging to the woman. Seized by police for impaired driving, who issued a roadside suspension to the woman. She was only seeking the restoration of that which was hers.

They arrived in his truck. And parked it outside the police station. In an area with clear signage that read "police vehicles only". When they presented themselves within the station to conduct the business they had arrived for, it was evident that she was under the influence of alcohol. Which was when police thought they'd have a look at the truck, too.

Inside, said a police spokesperson was a revelation. "The vehicle contained both empty and full containers of beer." A sobriety test was then administered to the male driver. Whereupon his license too was seized by the police.

Dang it!


Idiotic Responses

There is that about some elements of human nature that seems to bring out the worst in us. Our fascination with the macabre, the destructive powers of nature, of catastrophic accidents. People succumb to the allure of wanting to witness these events, going out of their way to visit the scenes of disaster. Even, for some, celebrating those disasters. As though their occurrence would be a suitable occasion for partying, for whooping it up.

We'd like to think that these are people with a lack of conscience, a group of individuals who lack perspective, humility and empathy for others. But it isn't necessarily so. They're often just 'folks' bored and looking for some distractions. They can be social perverts in the sense that in preparation for embarking on a journey to witness disaster people will drink themselves half insensible.

And that appears to be what police in Kelowna, B.C. are themselves witnessing.

The RCMP have set up road blocks, installed for the purpose of stopping event-seekers from driving into the still-dangerous evacuation zones where wildfires have been burning out of control around the Kelowna area. Despite the road blocks and the presence of RCMP officers, there are those determined enough not to miss out on anything that they've simply bulled their way across the barricades.

"Motorists are failing to stop for police", Corporal Moskaluk informed reporters. He has also indicated that some of those drivers who have been stopped by police just outside the barricades were clearly under the influence of alcohol. It is just so unreasonably unfair that the police are stationed there for the explicit purpose of stopping good-time fellas from having a blast.

Forest service officials and firefighters are desperately placing their own lives at risk in their rigorous and dangerous attempts to stifle the fires with a minimum of damage to persons and properties in the path of the fires. Thousands of home-owners have been evacuated, and anxiously await word of the success (or failure) of fire-fighting efforts. Hoping to return to their homes, and hoping that everything they own will not have been destroyed.

It has been speculated that human carelessness - if not deliberate arson - has been responsible for the fires. The extreme drought conditions in the area are incredibly receptive to either carelessness or determined efforts of pyromaniacs. One might think a disaster of this nature, of this all-encompassing proportion would sober people, bring out their better, more restrained instincts.

Instead, talk-radio programs have issued what has been termed 'idiot alerts': for men and woman cruising along the edges of the fire zones, ogling the proceedings. Lit cigarettes in careless hands as people smoke, windows down to ensure their indoor air is not contaminated, then flicking the ashes and the butts out the windows.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

With Fulsome Praise

We're slowly beginning to dry out. No rain since Saturday, and that has become remarkable. There were a few lazy drops of rain while we were sitting out after dinner, enjoying the cool breeze whispering through the gazebo on our deck. The sun was full out, the sky mostly clear, but directly above, a small, dark cloud. And the lazy drops of rain pinged on the roof of the gazebo. An utterly comfortable and comforting scenario for us.

The ravine is tarrying in its dry-out schedule, the creek still fuller than is usual, and its tributaries still running swiftly where generally at this time of year it is dry. The trails are beginning to dry out, there are many muddy patches, but no longer the wide puddles of accumulated rainwater to slosh through. Deeper in the confines of the wood, however, remain wide swaths of stubborn little lakes, hesitant to depart from their cool confinement.

From these areas come the mosquitoes that follow us so avidly, lovingly taking our blood. There has been a fairly constant presence of an unusual bird that we've sighted for the last several weeks, a small phoebe. It flits out from under one of the bridges as we cross and alights on a nearby tree, always, it seems, the same tree, allowing us to admire it, as we pass by.

In the gardens surrounding our home those lovely California poppies are now in bloom. The Annabelle hydrangeas with their full-blown huge white balled flowers are in their boastful stage. The Princess spireas are bright with pink flowers. Among other roses still in bloom, our Fairy roses raise their many-headed modest pink blossoms. The Monarda are in bloom and so are the lilies.

The garden pots have filled out nicely, the New Guinea impatiens, the begonias, dahlias are working overtime to present their blowsy, full-blown blooms for our admiration. We find some unexpected surprises informing us that mischievous little red squirrels have been at work, pulling out defenceless annuals, digging up bulbs, leaving them there for us to rescue and place carefully back into the soil so they may continue their life trajectory.

Work commences apace under the deck, as my husband, having completed adding another layer of stonedust to level the area, discovers that nothing deters the chipmunk. He has busied himself, improbably, digging into the new layer of stonedust that has been tamped down firmly to make it stable and impervious to the predations of the little monster we feed with raw, blanched peanuts twice each day; a fair exchange since he allows us to believe we have ownership of this place.

Two trailer-loads full of large cement pavers were brought home this morning, and they are in the process of being neatly laid out to entirely cover the area under the deck. It will be neat and clean and unamenable to the growth of weeds, and present for us when it is completed, a perfect storage area for our many garden pots to be over-wintered.

And tomorrow I will begin the distribution-planting of the chameleon plants that we acquired yesterday. I had nurtured one single plant years ago and it has grown mightily since that time, spreading and climbing and flowering. In the fall its red-streaked leafage turns even brighter and more beautiful. It hasn't proven amenable to allowing small rooted pieces to be re-planted elsewhere in the gardens.

The two pots-full of this plant will provide more than adequate volunteers to become established elsewhere in the garden, to delight us with their variegated bright colours, architectural texture and lovely little white flower heads.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Rainless Day...!

Under the blessing and assurances of a mostly blue sky stippled with innocuous, scalloped white clouds, the ravine looked far different than it had yesterday. The creek still rushing along, dark and detritus-filled, but its urgency, rain-swollen state and mad rush was vastly diminished.

The wind bustled about us, rustling the leafy canopy above. The trails now only muddy, not surfeit with deeply wide miniature lakes. We heard the insistent call of a nuthatch, but no accompanying chickadees. A cardinal singing nearby filled in the gaps very nicely for us.

The soddenly drenched look of the ravine had been transformed to that of a flourishing wooded summer landscape. Not so much that we mind the rain. But the sheer number of downpours yesterday following a seemingly established pattern of repetitive rain events day after day does cry out for some relief. People are grumbling that this is the summer that never was. Not us, though.

Despite communal miseration over too much rain, the breadbasket provinces of this country suffer under drought conditions. So dry there that wildfires present an additional seasonal dilemma, over and above crop failure. In Kelowna, British Columia, thousands of residents are having to evacuate areas where such fires are raging out of any semblance of human control. So, we're fine, just fine, thanks very much.

We take our usual leisurely stroll. Good for all of us, to slow down, and just enjoy ambling along, and in the process also challenge our hearts and lungs with the ascents and descents since this is, after all, a ravine and its geological topography is precisely that. Today we saw the first goldenrod sporting its yellow flower fronds. And we see for the first time that the 'berries' in the bunchberries have resulted from the lovely white 'dogwood' flower that blossomed in the spring.

And now too, joining the configurations and colours of the other summer wildflowers, thistles and burdock have begun turning their lovely mauve colour. We watch as a pair of butterflies engage in an aerial dance, oblivious to the presence of anything else. Who knows, after all, what ecstasies creatures unlike ourselves are capable of experiencing?

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Weather! Gardens! Wildlife!

We enjoyed a late breakfast, interrupted only by a telephone call from our granddaughter. Who wanted to know what kind of apples would be best for an apple pie. She had decided she would try to bake her first fruit pie. Anything, I said, other than delicious-type apples. Spartan? she asked, and no, I said, won't do. They did have royal gala, but it's a shame to waste them on an apple pie. She would decide on something else, she said. And we said, we'll be over for a short visit later in the day.

It had rained heavily all night, and continued into the morning. We hardly felt we would be able to get out for our usual jaunt in the ravine, but we were, after all, able to take advantage of a brief interlude, and rushed out there, for a bit of exercise and fresh, very wet fresh air. The stream was a muddy raging torrent, thundering its way along its course. The trails were replete with wide, deep rain puddles. The skies a portent of more to come.

Later, we set out for our hour's drive to our daughter's house. The rain had stopped, but the clouds moved quickly along in the sky, sometimes showing patches of blue, but so little invested in clearing that one cloud level, and formation and colour after another made for a changing atmospheric landscape. Either side of the highway there was another kind of colourful landscape.

Black-eyes Susans in bloom, vipers bugloss, Queen Anne's lace, clover, daisies, yarrow, cattails and other rushes, along with pinks, purple loosestrife and trailing lotus kept us bug-eyed with appreciation, not wanting to miss any of nature's wildflowers decorating the byways of the nation's capital. Mid-summer's gift to the traveller. And as we travelled further there were other landscapes.

Bucolic and mindful of the importance of the growing season in a northern hemisphere country. There were vast fields of corn, reaching to respectable heights. Cultivated fields of silage, fields of rye, oats and barley. We saw herds of milking cattle, and fields with horses, neat barns and silos standing back of farm houses, with gardens of lilies and daisies and dahlias, and kitchen gardens to serve the needs of the family.

As we entered our daughter's driveway, she stopped mowing her lawn, and gathered her dogs around her, away from the drive. Just as well they are well disciplined, since there are ten dogs, ranging in size from a toy Pomeranian, a slightly larger chihuahua, all the way up to an extremely large German-shepherd-malamute mix, a rescue from Iqaluit. And out ran our 13-year-old granddaughter; just becoming accustomed to having achieved her teens.

Hugs and kisses exchanged, we were informed she had baked a raisin pie. And we were to take home a piece of it with us. As large a piece as we would like. Furthermore, the loose-leaf binder of her writing and her artwork that she had been working on for a matter of months was now complete, and that too was ready to take the journey home with us. A memento for us of our grandchild's emergingly-mature consciousness.

The camera was whipped out; I cannot go anywhere without my camera, must needs preserve for future visual pleasure and personal posterity all that my eyes behold, value and love. I am enraptured by our daughter's capacious gardens, the beds and borders she works over with such conscientious care, as a naturally-born gardener, knowing just what will work, where, and what each plant whose placement she designates requires to thrive. It helps, immeasurably, that she uses rabbit litter to fertilize those same gardens.

Among the astilbes, the roses, the phlox and the hydrangeas, there are other denizens of her garden that pique my interest. With her wetland directly below and behind her house, and well placed rocks within the gardens to provide texture and an architectural sensibility, her gardens are irresistibly alluring to snakes. There is a beautiful and small garter snake resting among her daisies. And in front of the house there is a black water snake, large, but not nearly as large as they can grow, whose nest is nearby.

Our granddaughter is most certainly not enamoured of the presence of the snakes. She is more than a little squeamish at their unwanted presence. The dogs, to their credit don't seem to mind sharing the landscape. And there is the glory as well of butterflies and dragonflies; orioles, all manner of woodpeckers, robins, chickadees and hummingbirds for whom these gardens are a must-visit. Mostly because of the many feeders hanging about at regular intervals.

The squirrels and the chipmunks and wild hares also make this area their home, more than willing to partake of the offerings to the birds, and they're welcome to do so. When our daughter takes her zoo out for their twice-daily jaunts on her property, she comes across deer regularly around her meadow, and foxes as well. Her personal Garden of Eden.

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