Ruminations

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Too Posh To Pick

Isn't it just like we people from comfortable backgrounds living in wealthy countries. We want to have it all, and don't see any reason why we shouldn't. We like our dainty treats, but don't feel we have to do any of the back-breaking work involved with securing them. There was a time... That old story, of days gone by when people did the work that was required to bring in a crop. That old time-warp that gave people satisfaction in knowing they were reaping the benefits of necessity.

Now no one living in 'advanced' countries reliant on high science and technology and a different type of service industry is interested in going back to the past when work required not only cerebral function but hard physical labour. So farmers work hard to put in their crops, and they're doing so on a larger scale than ever before, and when harvest time comes around there's no one willing to put in the hours to pick tender crops that aren't amenable to mechanical gathering.

That's where countries in Europe and North America began to look elsewhere for field labour, to countries whose economies weren't burgeoning as theirs were, where people were glad of the opportunity to go abroad, virtually as indentured labour, to earn more money through the sweat of their brow in a foreign country than they could working equally hard in their home countries.

Some stayed in the foreign country as labourers, others worked the season with temporary work permits then returned home with the wherewithal to support their families' needs until the following year when harvest time would beckon them once again. And since these labourers were poor peasants they were treated as such, not much thought given to the inadequacy of their living arrangements, their food, the medical needs.

Nasty first-world exploitation of third-world need. And although we're conscious enough of the situation, and things have improved somewhat through public pressure, the same syndrome pertains where workers from Mexico, for example, are brought in to Canada to bring in crops that need to be handled carefully by hand.

It's interesting to read that Britain's National Farmers Union has declared a real danger that summer crops may be left unharvested, as migrant workers normally relied upon to bring them in at the end of the growing season are going elsewhere for their seasonable employment. One wonders where the spirit of enterprise is among these people. And why students looking for summer employment cannot be enticed to do some of the work - for decent accommodation and wages.

"There is no getting around the fact that manual harvesting is very physically demanding. You are out in the fields, bending down, and it might be raining or it might be really hot," said a spokeswoman for one farm. "And the fact is that strawberries have to be picked by hand, there is no machine that can do it."

Quite. Have they attempted the clever tactic that smaller, more urban-centred fruit farms have utilized, persuading happily gullible consumers to bring their family along for an afternoon of fun in the sun, picking their own berries for a reduced cost? The family that picks together, after all, consumes them together in sweet harmony.

Obviously, there's a run on available foreign fruit pickers. Either that or they're sick and tired of the burdens placed upon them for inadequate recompense. The lack of thought to their well-being. The long absences from loved ones. Perhaps some countries are becoming more aware of their need to offer better working conditions for migrant workers, encouraging those workers to leave behind the countries that don't much care about them.

Perhaps growers should be re-thinking their strategies. Perhaps city folk should begin to appreciate the farming community's efforts at feeding them in a new light.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

From The Cow To You And To Me

Who ever could imagine that cows were so enterprising? And here we arrogant humans always attribute low intelligence to bovine specimens. I mean, who knew that Marge the cow might be so fascinated with producing healthy milk to benefit humans that she would alter her genetic endowments for the good of humankind. (Alternately, she would appeal to the Great Cow in the sky to deviate sufficiently from the norm of milking cattle - in her case Friesian - to gift us with her very special output).

Bless Marge.

For her milk is one-of-a-kind indeed. Meant specifically for all us health-conscious butter and cheese lovers. Marge, you see, produces a skimmed milk product. No kidding, she does. Furthermore, her milk is high in omega-3 oils and contains polyunsaturated fat. Marge is a living miracle. She has not been specifically bred to produce her quality product. Her outstandingly healthy product was discovered in 2001 when researchers purchased her in New Zealand - after having screened millions of cattle - for the modest sum of $240.

A company based in Auckland, New Zealand, called ViaLactia had high hopes Marge would deliver calves with her extraordinary ability, that is to say her very particular genetic mutation. And she has! Her daughter has now produced milk just like the mother. Now the researchers are waiting with bated breath to determine whether Marge's male offspring - commonly known as bulls - will be capable of passing on her traits.

And if so - they're off to the races! er, the dairies. The biotech firm which has been so carefully nurturing Marge, evaluating her extraordinary output and that of her daughters, are still trying to identify and isolate the specific genes that Marge hosts. Just think about it; even the butter produced from Marge's milk is different. It spreads readily even cold from the refrigerator.

That's our girl. Mooo!

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Monday, May 28, 2007

What a Difference Some Rain Makes - 24 Lovely Hours






We had no ravine walk yesterday. We could have, we could have dressed ourselves in rain gear and gone out for our usual walk. But it was also windy and cool, and although Button would have managed well enough, Riley, much smaller, would have been miserable. He isn't at all fond of cool and wet. So, instead, I gave them haircuts. And don't they look swell. This morning dawned bright and clear, after yesterday's full day of rain. But the sun didn't last long, and before we knew it, dark clouds obscured the sun once again.

Our walk today was later than usual, as happens when I do a regular house-cleaning which takes hours out of the day. By the time I'm finished cleaning the house, I'm really raring to get out there and commune with any element other than the need to dust, mop and wash floors. We knew it would be mucky on parts of the trail, and so it was. The water level in the creek hadn't changed substantially, still now at its usual summertime low and lazy level. We hadn't progressed very far when a pileated woodpecker flew low, right across the trail, before us.

A special gift, to see its bright red head so close. In its flight it was almost as though it momentarily hesitated halfway across the trail to give us a heightened opportunity to appreciate its beauty at closer range. Later, we heard his lunatic call peal across the woods. As we ascended one of the long hills we could hear above us children on bicycles and called out to ensure they knew warm bodies were heading toward them. Despite which, two young boys, bicycling home from school, were hard put to brake adequately toward the bottom of the steep hill, and we congratulated them on their swiftly efficient descent.

The wind and rain had whipped all the blossoms off the many apple trees, the hawthornes. In their place the dogwood bushes were now in full bloom, surprising us, as we'd seen nothing to warn beforehand they were prepared to blossom. And everywhere in the woods between the hardwood and softwood stands were honeysuckle bushes flowering in white or in pink blossoms. Darned if we didn't see one single, solitary buttercup - already! And already we can see the hawkweed are getting ready to bloom. There are knots of bright white bunchberry dressing up the forest floor.

And there's one henbane in bloom as well. Isn't it kind of early in the season? Amazing what a full day's serious rain will produce. There are drifts of foamflower everywhere. The overcast skies and the drenched atmosphere accentuate the richness of form and texture, the greens-on-green of the deciduous against the evergreens. And then, climbing up one of the hills we see it: an old fallen trunk and growing out of its sides impossibly huge, flat white fungi, dinner-plate size. We stand and gape.

But later on, there's more, growing on a still-standing leftover of a trunk, a series of equally large, equally improbable, but shades of grey, fungi. These are truly flamboyant wonders of nature. If I forget to take my camera long tomorrow, how can I possibly persuade anyone of the wonders we've seen? Note to self: take trusty camera along on tomorrow's jaunt.

Duly noted.

29May07 - Returned to the ravine, this time with camera. To discover that the nature-loving youngsters of the area had admired the magnificent white fungi to death, demolishing the tender structure with a few well-placed whacks, scattering the pieces over the peace of the forest floor. We discovered the other fungi still intact where they remain on the old snag of a tree trunk.

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Cutting Back the Dieback






Amazing what results after a full day of rain. As though that was the blessing from above the garden awaited to persuade it that now is the time to fully awaken. Not that it hadn't been doing too badly before, truth to tell. And I wonder to myself whether I have this impression every spring that things are popping out of the ground at an alarming rate. And maturing even faster. We've got powerfully good garden soil, thanks to the regular dumping of compost resulting from all that kitchen and garden waste we feed into our composters.

The richly enhanced growing medium, the hot sun and occasional rain do wonders both to our spirits after our long winter, and to the garden on which we labour so lovingly. There's always so much to be done. The various clematis vines are in different stages of growth, some just beginning their thrust out of the soil and straggling upward, others burgeoning all over their trellis supports so vigorously that I can hardly keep up with the need to encourage wayward strands to curl neatly to the metal fans spread on brickwork and fencing.

The rain has gifted us with many additional surprises; the Siberian irises that a day before gave no hint whatever of raising flower heads suddenly, this morning are full of floral heads. The two rhododendrons have decided to open their overwintering flower buds and their crimson flowers shout in triumph at their debut. The magnolia, now covered expansively with its shining hard leaves, still holds aloft its magnificent flowers. The tree peony in the front garden has thrust open its lusciously huge pink flowers.

The irises have suddenly all raised their flower heads, promising to open as we speak in hushed, unbelieving tones, pointing all these wonders out to each other. And then there are the garden puzzles; the two Tamarisks, one in the back garden which has finally begun to grow its fuzzy little leaflets which will eventually branch into a fuzz of complex tiny pink flowerets. The other, in the front, standing between the Amur maple and the splendid flowering bridal wreath spirea has not a tinge of green on it yet. It may require severe trimming.

The purple smoke tree in the border along the back fence has finally started its bright mahogany growth, but the tall whips that had hosted leafs last year stand bare and naked. Yet the branches low on the bush are growing at an exponential rate and have already begun their efflorescences. It didn't manage to bloom at all, last year, despite its outrageous growth. I can hardly wait to see it flower this summer. The miniature weeping willow that stands in front of the deck has suffered dieback on either side, and I've cut it back mercilessly.
It looks lopsided, but will eventually reassume its balanced umbrella head.

The dreadfully disappointing humming bird vine that we had babied for six years and which had never once given us a flower, because our soil is too rich and it prefers a more meagre growing medium, was cut down early last year, because to add insult to outrage it kept growing like a lunatic weed, reaching up over the eaves of the garage and curling itself over onto the low garage roof, as well. I had, a few years earlier, taken a "pup" it had produced and planted it in the back border, just below the rock garden and now I see that the parent vine has somehow endured and resuscitated itself, in the front.

Just this very evening, as my husband took the garbage out to the curb for morning pick-up, he decided to fill up one of the paper compost bags, and took the liberty of "evening out" the purple smoke tree, cutting down the bare whips as he had threatened, even as I restrained him, hoping they would soon show signs of life. When he informed me of what he had done, pleased with himself, and describing the "ball" of new growth he'd left intact, I asked whether he'd left the longer strands with the inflorescences, and he responded: "what?".

Tomorrow, before the garbage is collected, I'll do some cut-back myself, trimming a few branches of the large pine in the front, grown too far over the oldest of our rose bushes and keeping the sun at bay. The new side branches growing so lustily on the magnolia will also be lopped, since they're beginning to interfere with the sovereignty of the Sargentii crab closest to it.

A gardener's work is never done. Sigh. :)

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Garden Fever






It cannot be helped, simply a psychological by-product of the time of year; anxiety and anticipation leading to garden fever. Many people have been affected by this type of seasonal disorder. Its symptoms are nervous tension, a high state of anxiety and apprehension. The tension, the anxiety and apprehension? Simply put, attributable to quiet queries addressed to the inner self: will that new perennial come up this year? got to get out and plant, just must, but damn, have to wait until danger of frost has cleared; and finally will there be anything worthwhile left by the time I get out to those garden centres and nurseries given the potted nuttiness of all those other gardeners?

Garden fever has a powerful antidote. That virtue of patience must be practised to permit the final arrival of frost-free nights, and then it's off to the races - or the garden centres - to politely but firmly vie with all those other fevered home-owners addicted to their gardens for the acquisition of those favoured plant species that brighten our days with their texture, colour, fragrance and insouciance. And that's when love's labour is not lost, but entirely spent through the dedicated deliberations of cause and effect. Because if I place this particular plant right there, will the effect be what I'm aiming for?

And the gardens thrive in the throes of their own efforts to entice winter-sheltered plants to once again announce their seasonal arrives, and in welcoming winter-tender annuals to fill in the spaces left for them. All too soon the trilliums and daffodils and hyacinths and crocuses and miniature irises and bergenia have begun to fade. But not to worry, since the flowering crabs, the magnolia, the apple and plum trees are proudly boasting their own colourful events, along with the pendulous bridal wreath spirea.

And the lilies of the valley are perfuming our space beyond belief. Violets have popped up everywhere in tiny knots of purple and white. The delphiniums are raising their majestic flower heads. Climbing roses, the tea roses, the miniatures, are all setting hundreds of buds. The tree peonies and herbaceous peonies have set their rounded buds and already there are huge luscious pink flowers on the tree peonies. Irises are set to open their large floral heads, creeping phlox is afloat with mauve and pink.

The weeping caragenas are flecked with their tiny yellow florets soon to be beanpods. Canterbury bells have proliferated in the gardens and the flower heads are ready to burst into white and blue bells. The heucheras have sent up their floral antennae in colours of bright red, white and pink. The allium are ready for their complex flower heads to unfurl bright purple balls. Leopard's bane is in full yellow flower, holding its own. Clematis vines have been scrambling to catch up and buds are appearing, promising a spectacular display.

And then of course, there are the garden pests. So soon? Who called them? Those bright orange lily beetles whose wont it is to lay their disgusting eggs and cover them with offal to distract the attention of would-be predators, in the process hungrily stripping new leaves and flower buds. Those tiny green larvae creeping over the roses, curling themselves into the tender buds, destroying beauty to enhance their life-opportunities. The tiny herds of aphids already assembling busily on the roses - and here we have been busy trying to eradicate ant-hills...

The garden planters stuffed with tender and exotic floral specimens situated here and there in the gardens at the front, at the back, on the brick cobbles of the patio and porch. They will eventually spread their presence and become lush with colour, fragrance and presence.

Sumptuous, glorious!

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Still Generating Schemes

The sad and silly Cult of Diana, Princess of Tarts, continues ad infinitum. Hardly to be believed. That this lost soul, this egotistically self-serving nonentity who was born to a life of privilege and whom destiny served up as a major irritant for a long-serving monarch who deserved far better from all of her children still bedevils us is beyond belief. Not she in and of herself, needless to say, but the myth of what she was not.

In the last word of venal aspiration, the two designers given the opportunity to create a garment for the royal wedding are offering the opportunity to Diana-cultists to own a piece of the fabric out of which her wedding gown was constructed. With amazing foresight, the designers had laid away the bolt of silk for an opportune time in history which even such as they might never have imagined would take place.

That silly, wretched excuse for a thinking and intelligent woman besmirched herself by her self-absorbed activities, her stage-managed emotional tantrums and her low-minded attractions. And for her troubles had the adulation of the public. Which defeats intelligence and understanding, both. After her death, which in its happenstance execution mirrored the stupidity of her life, the world was set on a course of frenzied mourning.

A mass outpouring of grief resembling nothing so much as a pathological disease sweeping over several continents drenched the world in maudlin sorrow at the too-early death of this most deserving personage, beloved of all. Her memory was handily exploited by every eager entrepreneur who could think up a scheme fast enough to evade the law of copyright.

Until her family took over and soberly established a charitable institution which would absorb the profits to be made by the exploitation of this overwhelming grief-by-association. Even her brother sought to profit, to swell his estate and his squalid reputation by aligning himself with her memory and setting up an appropriate shrine on his property.

Now the latest artifact of "remembering a princess extraordinaire" has been aired. For the modest sum of one thousand dollars, one of one thousand swatches measuring roughly 26 square centimetres can be had with a copy of
A Dress for Diana, produced by the husband-and-wife team of dress designers who had the foresight to ensure a lucrative future for themselves.

Ugh.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Figure You Can Finger It?

Wow, we're a matched pair. Me and him. Mind, we've been together for so long, well over a half century, we must have had some impression on one another. With no intention aforethought we have structured one another's lives, given our own meanings in transfer of imperatives to one another. Yet, we're still different, albeit one-of-a-kind.

Of course there's always that gender irreconcilability. One race, yes, we know that, but truly two very separate and often apart thought-processes, priorities, gender-driven directions and apprehensions. Still, we've managed to enjoy life in tandem. More than that, celebrated life as an inseparable brace of like-minded (for the most part) partners.

So here's this newly-published study out of the University of Bath which claims to have discovered a genetic link between finger length and inborn characteristics. Through sex hormones, no less. The differences, they claim, can be readily ascertained by the simple expedient of observing finger length in young children to determine their future attributes in thinking and in activities.

And wouldn't you know it, finger lengths have different strokes for different folks - male as opposed to female. Men with longer ring fingers than index fingers are distinguished by a greater likelihood to be more physically aggressive; to be fertile and claim more sex partners; to be at greater risk for autism; to be better at math and sciences than with language skills.

Women sporting longer ring fingers than index fingers can lay claim to being better at sports; to be better at math and sciences than languages. While women with longer index fingers are more likely to be fertile; more likely to be stronger in literacy.

And, those men who have longer index than ring fingers are at greater risk of heart disease; more prone to depression if ring and index fingers are of similar length; are likely to have better verbal skills if ring and index fingers are of similar length.

Oh, gimme a break. They've got him spot-on. Why did they botch me? So much for theory.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Ravine, and The Kids On The Block




Wow, it's turned quite hot, and it's also dry. Despite which, there is obviously enough standing water somewhere in the ravine to encourage the latest hatch-out of mosquitoes, damn things. In self-defence, not opting for mosquito repellent, we dress for the occasion. I wear a really white, light-weight trousers and jacket (bought 17 years ago at a Tokyo flea market) because they're not attracted to really light colours and the airy cotton keeps them at bay. I've also got a fine-mesh wide-brimmed hat on; protection against both the sun and the mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes harass Button, our little black female, but steer clear of Riley, our smaller apricot poodle. They adore her hormones and detest his. She gets kind of antsy anyway around this time of year when anything resembling hornets, wasps and bees get too close and personal, never having quite forgotten her earlier run-ins with them of years past. He's too unaware to care about such extraneous irritations in our woodsy adventures.

You know it's dry when you see large cracks appearing in the earth, and when the creek is really low. A few days ago we saw a pair of mallards paddling along in the creek, waddling up and over the embankment to another arm of the creek, then settling back down into the water, so obviously oblivious to our presence. The drake seemed to take charge, leading his lady fair - although he's the one with the wonderful iridescent greens - finally beyond our sightline.

Plenty of other bird activity though, with robins running about on the dry pathways, looking certainly not for worms, I'd venture. Red-capped sparrows and cardinals are about as well as goldfinches and their songs celebrate this day and presumably, their expectations of what providence will send their way. The apple trees, the hawthornes and chokecherries are all now in bloom and a slight wind sends their petals fluttering to the ground, like a summer snowfall.

Dandelions are there in abundance, looking delightfully fresh at this early point of the season. We see our first dogwood (bunchberry) flowers, and there are foamflowers sending up their white sprays. The wild lilies of the valley are finally in bloom, their scent shy, not quite there, not at all like their cultured cousins in our gardens whose scent is utterly sublime, wafting through the windows of our house for too short a period.

Perky little white strawberry flowers mingle with the white, mauve, purple and yellow violets. The trilliums are just about finished; very few still hosting their purple flowers, and we note that this year's crop of Jack-in-the-pulpit are scant in number, can't guess why. But there are plenty of trout lilies and straw lilies and flowering bellwort. False Solomon's seal is beginning to flower and red baneberry is now in flower as well.

We have our share of wild ginger, and I know they flower in April/May, but I've never been able to catch one of their shy flower heads at the base of the plant, actually in flower. There's more than enough to see, to point out to one another, to admire in this stretch of wooded ravine. And there's plenty we see that we'd rather not, like the hazelnut and dogwood branches deliberately broken, and small firs pulled out by their roots.

It's beyond our understanding why young people would think it an interesting experience to destroy flora in the ravine. The creek is littered with discarded beer cans from late-night revelry, and we can see where attempts have been made to light bonfires. Close to one of the bridges crossing the creek the rope suspended from an overhanging tree trunk is seeing plenty of use. The good-time boys have obviously scoured the neighbourhood for possibilities placed out by the curb on garbage day.

And there are small trees here and there whose tender trunks have been snapped in half. The caution placed on the trails to warn people that a portion of the trail had washed out and lay now at the bottom of the creek, along with a whole passel of trees, mature and immature, has been broken through and the signage, the wood barrier tossed into the creek by our local nature-boys. From time to time they try their hands at chopping down mature trees, setting fire to large pines, dislodging bridge floorboards. Boys will be beastly, won't they?

There, in the creek, beside the bridge, and under the swinging rope, lie a discarded door and beside it a mattress. Our adventurous nature-lovers would prefer their feet remain dry when they inadvertently let go the rope swinging from one bank of the creek to t'other.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It Groweth, the Garden





Now, finally, the garden begins to look like, well - a garden. The perennials are thrusting upward. The peonies have shot up in no time at all, and have already set their flower heads. The roses are throwing up their new growth, the Canterbury bells have proliferated everywhere. Last year's California poppies have seeded, and so too those wonderful red/orange/pink poppies, although it'll be quite a while before they flower. The delphiniums have all sprouted nicely and some of already have their immature flower heads proudly spiking to maturity.

Our magnolia tree is slowly unfolding its huge, spectacular bright pink floral display. The lungwort has spread beautifully, sending its sprays of blue flowers all about itself, meeting the violet flowers of the violets! The bergenia, spread here and there in our various beds and borders are flaunting their spectacular pink floral stalks. The spurge is now flowering, its tiny white floral heads sprinkled generously above the splayed green of its creeping presence.

The jade crab tree and the Sargentii crabs are speckled with tiny pink buds, soon to open to a glorious display of flowers. Our plum tree and our three apple trees have succumbed to the glory of springtime excess, with pink-white blossoms covering their branches. The lupin are busy growing at a rate not to be believed. Our clematis vines are creeping upward on their way to lush growth, and some have paused to develop their first flower buds.

The grape hyacinth have opened their luscious little grape-flowers, and the bright orange blossoms of the Japanese quince mark their colourful counterpoint. The various tinted, textured, various-sized hostas are now unfolding their leaves, pleasing me no end, adding to the architecture and the sheer unadulterated pleasure of their garden company. I have tucked in a wax begonia here and there in the understory of shrub and trees, and here and there dianthus. Cosmos is given space where their bright height will enliven the garden further.

Today, however, marked time to plant the many garden containers since surely all fear of nighttime frost has now left this area... The pots, ceramic, clay, stone urns have all been prepared, filled with soil and compost and I dig blood meal carefully into the mixture in preparation for their receipt of these tender annuals. The flats of tuberous begonias which we'd sheltered in the garden shed for over a week will now find their permanent summer home.

White, red, pink, yellow and orange, the colours leap out, demanding to be noticed, the paper-waxy petals stunning in their perfection. They will be accompanied in their container landscapes with startling blue lobelia, and perfect white lobelia, with tiny pink-flowered baby's breath, with ivy, with creeping jenny to hang down from those pots seen from their pedestaled heights. The Gerbera daisies, so utterly perfect they look unreal, a yellow one, a red one, inhabit their very own sun-kissed pots.

Hours later, many hours later, after the sweeping up, the watering, the tidying away of tools, the job, at least for the day, is done, and there is pleasing colour and the promise of much more to gladden our souls.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Doing What Comes Naturally

What is all the fuss about? Nature has designed its creatures to engage in certain circumscribed activities for the purpose of furthering their existence, for ensuring their future as viable creatures. Raising young is one of them, necessitating that representatives of either gender engage in physical union, activities certain to result in offspring. And when babies are born their mothers nurse them until such time as they are capable of consuming solid comestibles.

Birds do it, bees do it. As far as we know, elephants, rhinos, monkeys, crocodiles and butterflies do it; and even dinosaurs did it. Our primitive ancestors away back in primeval times did it. How else might we have come into existence as the powerful race that we are, masters of all we survey? So, this is a natural process, one that ensures the continuation of the species. We are hard-wired to reproduce, and take pleasure in the process, to boot.

Mind, once the act has succeeded in producing offspring, other and more deliberate responsibilities and values and actions kick in. The resulting child must be nurtured, its needs supplied, its emotions salved, its existence assured. The mother of the child, equipped by nature and her own responding hormones must begin the act of feeding the child appropriate to its needs and capabilities.

For the first few months of a baby's existence it should be nursed by its mother upon whom nature has bestowed potentially copious amounts of mother's milk post-partum. What the hell is the big deal? Just do it. For its part, the baby is naturally inclined toward that bulbous offering spouting liquid manna. Why on earth do new mothers complain this is such a difficult task, such a societally unreasonable expectation of them?

Why do young women weep at the unfairness of it all? They want to become mother to a child, but appear unwilling to nurture the child as nature intended it to be done. They claim that they are not adequately prepared by society to take on this infuriatingly burdensome and irksome task. Give the baby a bottle. That act in and of itself conspires to feed the child while depriving it of the most elemental human need; that of the physical adherence of mother to child.

There isn't enough information, not enough support, practical or emotional, they wail, weeping piteously for their misunderstood and unappreciated sacrifices. This is pretty frustrating to the casual observer, one who understands the natural process of existence, of responsibility and love of a mother for her child. What is so difficult about it? Why place obstacles in the way of achieving the kind of unity and harmony and nurturance the child needs?

I watched my mother offer her life-giving resources to her three children, those that followed my own birth. My mother gave me no direct information or advice. When I gave birth to my first child there was no information forthcoming from the obstetrician, from the nurses, from any source, including the larger circle of my relatives. I knew, dimly, I would be required to take in sufficient liquid to produce sufficient mother's milk. Then I did it. Three times.

No big deal. You do it. It's natural. Why have a child if you're not prepared to offer it the means whereby it can face life in a good head-start?

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Good News First

Which would you rather hear? Good news first, bad news to follow? I always opt for the bad news, and then the good news might just ameliorate the effect of the bad news. Conceivably. On the other hand, it depends on the type of news, doesn't it? If you really love your mother, you're devastated at the news of her death, and the news to follow, that you're the sole inheritor doesn't sound so wonderful. On the other hand, if you've had the misfortune of being brought into the world by a selfish harridan you may not mourn her passing too much, and take comfort in inheriting her wealth.

Human nature being what it is, and how we perceive things often being a relative thing, someone else's good news might be your bad news, and vice versa. So it's kind of nice to read that in Canada, unlike what prevails in the U.S. and England, teen-age pregnancy rates are on the decline. This, despite studies indicating that the average age for first sexual encounters remains at 16.5 years for both genders, while data still suggests that 12% of boys and 13% of girls experience sex by age 14 or 15. Wow, you think, (I do, anyway) that's kind of young for such a mature activity.

But human beings are curious about so many things. And the sex drive, combined with hormone-developing bodies in young people leads to a lot of experimentation. It was ever thus. And some societies and cultures just seem to handle this phenomenon of nature better than others. Early, arranged marriages in various countries, recognizing the powerful pull of sex on a struggling physical maturity sought to stave off the misfortune of unattached pregnancies, although the social and emotional efficacy of those practises may be questioned.

In any event, far more information about sexual information is now available to young people. And not only through the discomfort of sharing that information in a classroom. Popular magazines and the media offer advice, as well as medical sites found on the Internet. Health-care providers are less loath to advance needed information when parents find it inconvenient or embarrassing to do so. The end result is that in our more open society the needed information is there.

Thus a decline in the teen pregnancy rate. A brief upswing between the years 1988 and 1994 succumbed to a steep decline among younger teens by more than half. There are also regional differences, with PEI the lowest, the Prairie provinces, Quebec and the three Territories with higher rates. Regardless, Canada's teen pregnancy rate is now half those of the U.S. and England and Wales, although they've been slipping there also.

Good news, right?

At the other end of the spectrum, the rate of sexually transmitted infections is increasing exponentially among young people. While young women now find contraceptive services more readily available, they're still obtaining insufficient information about arming themselves for protection against STIs. The Public Health Agency of Canada has released figures showing rates of chlamydia, HIV, gonorrhea and syphilis are highest among females, ages 15 to 19, and 20 to 24. Staggering.

Unprotected sex with multiple partners is one reason given. And another appears to account largely for young women beyond their teens who establish monogamous relationships and eschewing condoms. While younger, sexually active teens seem to be more consistent condom users than older teens, mostly because, it would appear, their relationships are fleeting and unstable.

That's life, you get the good and the bad. And that's human nature, self-indulgent and carefree when we're young.

Nothing bad will ever happen to us.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tribes of Israel

As a historical phenomenon of a culture, a religion, a traditional way of life struggling against dreadful events throughout history to maintain itself, to resist attempts to obliterate it, obstinately and with great faith in its ability to survive, what else quite equals the continued existence of world Jewry? The historical expulsions of the Jews from their traditional homelands in the Middle East resulted in their group dispersals and adaptations to all manner of other countries, many of which bore no resemblance whatever to their native origins.

And the mystery of the disappearance of many of the ancient tribes of Israel, the magical stories handed down through the Old Testament has held civilization in thrall for millennia, while those very civilizations have indulged themselves in the mass hysteria of Jew-suspicion, Jew-baiting, Jew-hating and Jewicide. So many societies have benefited from the residence of entrepreneurial Jews in their midst, yet those same societies have seen it to be expedient from time to time to scapegoat and expel Jews from their midst, accusing them of harbouring ill will and intent to the host society.

Despite, and even at times because of the horrendous obstacles placed before Jewry time and again throughout history Jews have nonetheless remained true to themselves, staunchly defiant and yet cautiously hopeful about their futures. Time and again totalitarian, theocratic or royal regimes have earmarked their Jewish populations for expulsion, incarceration, conversion, or death, none exemplifying the extent of murderous determination more than fascist Germany, but all convinced they had good cause to express hatred and contempt for this group of people that truly constitute a people.

Yet there exists a universal undying spirit in Jews, a refusal to submit, a willingness to co-operate when feasible, a denial of defeat. That enduring spirit has ensured that Jews, or those who claim to have been Jews with vestiges of unmistakable practise and adherence still visible over the transfer of millennia, in places as disparate as India, China and Africa to survive with dim memories of handed-down tales of antecedents. How these people maintained their allegiance to a long-past culture and religion while in the embrace of diverse countries so alien to their own beginnings is a mystery.

And here is the enduring vision of Israel welcoming in one wave after another, Jews of Ethiopian ancestry and Jewish devotion to swell the population of Israel. What courage it must take to leave an ancestral cultural homeland to join an original unmemoried homeland of fabled religious/cultural beginnings? As vast a difference as leaving a wattle-hut existence for a flush-toilet lifestyle, with all those differences in between. An alien social system and culture, a new language and value system, a struggle to realize potential in unfamiliar surroundings.

It is the elders giving new life to the burgeoning young, to inherit their history and their place in a new society.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Container Gardens




This spring seems somehow to have accelerated all green growing things. It was as though winter, so reluctant to leave, finally did, so late that we were explosively thrust past spring into summer. One day we were huddling under the onslaught of a late winter storm, the next the snow melted and following that summer descended with uncommonly early heat, confusing us and the vegetation that surrounds us. Finally, the heat dissipated, bringing us back to the missing season. But again, the mystery that is spring awakening is so swift it has taken us aback at the alacrity with which tender green leaf-buds have been transformed into a full-blown green canopy.

Up until now I've planted a few more perennials in our gardens; delphiniums, phlox, that kind of thing. Their future dazzles my expectations of tall and regal flower stalks delighting our senses. The floral seed packets I've carefully hoarded would have to wait, I scolded my impetuous self, anxious to get out there and sow them prematurely, as has often been my wont, and their unfortunate cold-snap fate. Until today. Today, a sunny, balmy 20 degrees following a spate of several weeks of the same, seemed as auspicious a day as any to take the seed packets in hand and disperse them into the waiting, warmed garden soil.

The dahlias that I was eager to dig into the garden, but yet withheld that impulse, and installed in the basement to wait upon opportunity; the begonia bulbs that I'd carefully stored in a wooden box, the nasturtium seeds that I'd hoarded over winter, and the sole ipomea waited patiently for the right time. Meanwhile, in a burst of energy, my husband began hauling out all of our garden pots, the clay, ceramic and stone urns which we carefully place here and there and just about everywhere in our gardens, front and back. They comprise our Mediterranean-style garden when I bring out my mental artist-palette and arrange colour and texture and architecture in miniature displays of summer excess, cramming as many flowering treats and vines into each as possible.

It took hours for all the pots to be positioned, relying on memory and correcting for aesthetic appeal. And then began the task of mixing garden soil, peat moss and sheep manure to the desired texture, from the large bags containing same to the wheelbarrow for blending, then doling it all out, one wheelbarrow-full after another, into the waiting garden containers. When all of that heavy lifting was done, that's when I sprang into action, adding bone-meal to the potted soil, and dreaming of visiting our favourite nurseries. Knowing full well it would take more than merely one, two or three trips before acquiring sufficient quantities of mixed annual varieties for each floral-mix composition. That's scheduled for quite another day.

It sufficed this day to plant the dahlias in the little round garden surrounding our third-size copy of Discobolus, one each in front of the columnar cedars, beside the ball-cedars, in back of the still-luminous tulips. One of the dahlias has already sprouted, that cleverly eager living entity. Then attention turned to the boxful of begonias, most of which had already delightfully sprouted as well, one even hosting miniature red/green leaflets. Those were carefully planted in some of the many clay garden pots we've got assembled in the back gardens, and to ensure I would know what was planted where, I used black marker on popsicle sticks to identify what was planted, where. The ipomea, also sprouted delightfully in miniature, accompanied two begonias into a pot seated high on a pedestal, beside our Three Graces.

Then into the freshly-raked gardens, delicate seeds of gelato red Mesembryanthemum; new for our gardens, followed by varicoloured Nigelle, 'Persian jewels', all marked with identifying popsicle sticks in their little planted plots. Then to be dispersed, early-flowering, orange-brown, middling-sized sunflowers, planted here and there wherever it seemed sufficient sun would catch the flowers and there was ample room for each to reach to the sky. I dug out a few creeping Jenny vines from the rock garden to plant in a few of the pots alongside the begonias, and also planted seeds for black-eyed Susan vines. Looking good. And even though I've marked up popsicle sticks I know full well I'll make mistakes and mess things around, but some of the seeds will germinate and gift us with colour and texture and surprise.

The tender anemones, the snake-head fritallery, the Easter violets are still in bloom in the rock garden, joined now by the bergena, the bleeding hearts. The tulips are in every state, from still evolving, to full bloom, and some consigned to the past. Around we go to the front gardens, where nasturtiums are poked into a few hanging baskets, and mixed-colour asters are planted in the borders, along with azalea-flowered godetia. Tomorrow is another day, and it may perhaps be the day we decide to procure the many flats of annuals we require to fill the container pots. The challenge is yet before us, but the thrill of early-onset gardening has warmed our expectations and piqued our anxiety to get on with it.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Apocrypha

Apocrypha

In the beginning
there was chaos, but then a gregarious atom
encouraged a clubby atmosphere
where they all gathered and there was order.

At first there were hot gases, but then
cool season prevailed and
minerals and metals crusted the fires.

One lone amoeba suffered incurable hubris;
thought she could do better
and founded a dynasty
on her vision.

In time a she-ape clambered down from the trees,
pointed at the sea, and declared "there is my creatrix!"
Named her daughter Eve,

and set her the task of naming others. So Eve
chatted up giraffes and elephants,
whales and crickets. She called
a brash Adamai snake-in-the-grass

for offering her figs when she
couldn't give a damnation
for his ignorance. Everything
was fine until he learned to
wield a pen while she

continued to till the earth.
Eve provided crops for their
offspring and Adam pushed
back the night of eternity,
offering superiority and his

own rendering of ineffable truth: that of himself as
Supreme Creator - half of him
up there, the other down here.
1979

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Generalist Lee

Leonard Lee, that is, he being the founder of Leo Valley Tools. Once a bureaucrat with the government of Canada at the Department of Foreign Affairs, he struck out on his own creative enterprise when he got really pissed off at the lack of professionalism and dedication to the cause of assisting small Canadian business ventures, particularly those interested in entering foreign markets. He likely set out to prove something; to himself, that he could and would succeed, and to others, that through sheer determination and hard work excellence is its own victory.

There are those who would take exception to his characterization of the government department and its functionaries that he found so extremely, frustratingly unhelpful, but there aren't many around who would deny that Mr. Lee found his niche and demanding much of himself, he succeeded in offering Canadians an alternative to shoddy workmanship and planned obsolescence in the purchase of good, reliable, and well-made hand tools. It was to his shop that dedicated cabinetry buffs launched themselves for the selection and purchase of quality tools.

Not just for woodworking, but for any kind of work imaginable; Mr. Lee would scour the resource options out there in the great wide world and bring them to his retail outlet from which source an eagerly discriminating public would make their selections and go home happy with the knowledge they had acquired a fine working tool. He had a little bit of everything, from bits and pieces of small kitchen equipment, to fine wood-working tools, to gardening equipment.

I still have the pint-sized (my size) long-handled spade constructed of superior materials to last a lifetime, which I implored my husband to purchase for me, overlooking the stiff price, and it has stood me in good stead for about fifteen years. I've added to that gardening implement since then, and we've never purchased anything from Lee Valley Tools that we haven't had occasion to congratulate our fine discriminating tastes for. In fact, while Lee Valley started out with the intent of providing an alternative for wood-working, it's found in the last several years that its burgeoning gardening selection has gained it its greatest popularity.

Lee Valley does an impressive catalogue-order-sales business now, selling its selections throughout Canada, and having made a greatly-appreciated incursion into the United States market where people there have proven that the ability to recognize and appreciate quality is universal, in their enthusiastic endorsement of his business through their orders. Lee Valley's new (relatively speaking) building, alongside his old one, still used, is a kindly environment where people who make the trip to shop in person generally come across people of like temperament and perception. Those who labour there are friendly, patient, tolerant and knowledgeable, a credit to themselves and the business they represent.

Leonard Lee saw fit to retire from managing the operation, leaving his enterprise in the capable hands of his son in 2003. But he's obviously never lost his sense of curiosity and adventure and his determined search for excellence. Despite having 'retired', he's been busy through the succeeding years with a side enterprise, his 5-year-old medical instruments company, Canica. He has developed, along with assistance of Dr. Michael Bell, a plastic surgeon at the Ottawa Hospital, quite a repertoire of surgical tools, from scalpels to all other manner of operating-room stand-bys.

The latest of Mr. Lee's innovative surgical tools is a surgical extremity fasciotomy system; a bandaging device comprised of hooks and elastics which helps to close severe wounds without the need for skin grafts. "We thought that if we pull wounds apart to operate on them, maybe we can pull them together as well, to close them," said Dr. Bell. Now the U.S. army purchases kits for use at its hospitals, and for use in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Lee has invested a lot of his own capital in this enterprise, still getting off the ground, not yet realizing a profit.

But sales to the United States have increased by more than 400 percent in the last year alone; 7 military hospitals, as well as other major hospitals like Johns Hopkins and Massachusetts General have picked up wound-closure kits. 70 Civilian hospitals in the U.S. now use the kits, and in Canada, 44 hospitals use them. A study at the Ottawa Hospital suggests using the kits saves about $8,000 a person since hospital stay is reduced and home care is almost eliminated, according to Dr. Bell.

So generalist Lee has been transformed successfully to specialist Lee. And more power to him.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Campaign Life

What does that mean, 'campaign life'. Isn't everyone pro-life? We all value the privilege of living, of experiencing life to the fullest. I guess that sobriquet sounds a whole lot more noble than 'anti-abortionist', so who can blame anti-abortion demonstrators for terming themselves as being pro-life, with the resulting insinuation that pro-choice advocates are by their definition, anti-life.

The Campaign Life Coalition group held its 10th yearly rally on Parliament Hill yesterday. Despite their presence on the Hill the question of abortion, or mention of the rally outside didn't make it to question period, there being other items considered of far more moment under discussion. The reason for that is mostly because as far as most Canadians are concerned the matter is settled.

Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms Canadian women are guaranteed the right to end an unwanted pregnancy through a legal, practical and safe medical procedure. Sounds pretty good, but there are countless obstacles in many parts of this great country to guaranteeing a safe and legal abortion for women who wish to obtain one.

And although we now have a Conservative government with a prime minister whose personal values do not include a respect for freedom of choice, his political position has placed him in the situation of respecting freedom of choice. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has publicly avowed he has no plans to resume debate on the issue or to introduce new legislation.

In response to some fairly incendiary declarations by some Members of Parliament whose religious and ethical values place them squarely in the fold of the 'pro-life' crowd, one of whom compared abortions to jihadist-type beheadings, Mr. Harper said at the time: "This is the rhetoric that the pro-life movement often uses...it's their business.

"I don't think it's particularly effective in changing public opinion. Abortion is going to go on one way or the other, and I think it's part of life, rightly or wrongly. I wouldn't say I like abortion, but I think abortion is a reality that is with us." And I would venture to say that most Canadians feel just as Mr. Harper does. This intelligent man is a pragmatic realist.

No one enjoys the thought of aborting a foetus. But the need for such services is a decided reality. Women have always and will always, under certain circumstances, seek out such a solution.

Better safe and legal than what obtained formerly.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

There's a Summer Place

When I was a little girl, my immigrant parents took me, along with my younger siblings, to a group cottage area off Lake Ontario, where they spent a week with us, in the company of their landsmen. My father stayed only for the week-end, leaving my mother with us through the working week. I was four years older than my sister, six years older than my brother. My mother's attention was with the younger children. I was left free to wander about on my own. There were times that I spent in the company of other peoples' children, but more often I was left to my own devices.

The experience of being near a lake was a new one for me. I quickly acclimated to the new environment. I imagine I was 7 years old at the time. I can recall that at night when we children we put to bed, our parents left the tiny cottage to go out and spend time with their friends. This made me feel insecure, and there were times when I felt unable to sleep. And for the first time something made me aware of my mortality. Unbidden, the thought came to me that I could die there, and I was all alone, and my body would be placed into a cavity in the earth. I visualized the dark, the moist dirt surrounding me, the cold, and I wept.

Why such morbid thoughts would come to me is beyond my understanding. I'm not given to such morbidity at any time. But I can still recall how frightened, how frozen with fear and grief and regret I was. I don't believe I ever mentioned it to my mother or my father. I do sometimes think of that place on Lake Ontario, what it was like for me to be there, unhindered by a need to remain close to my mother. She was too busy, and seemed happy enough to have me go about on my own.

In retrospect, remembering what it was like to clamber about on huge rocks sitting at the edge of the lake, it might have been dangerous for a little girl to be out there all on her own. I certainly do know I'd never have permitted my own children, even much older, to be out on their own in like circumstances. We knew, because we experienced it, how the lake could throw up huge whitecaps during a storm, that would wash onto the beach, as though enticing us to follow them into the lake. The experience doesn't appear to have done me much harm, however.

There's a Summer Place

There's a summer place
in my memory and a small girl
warming herself on a boulder
overlooking Lake Ontario
face reflecting the sun, dreaming.

Seagulls rode updrafts -
she watched them and they her
as she clambered barefoot
over huge granite outcroppings
lining the lake - each day

venturing a little further
than the day before. She
explored the vastness of the
landscape, her fantasies
separating the waters and the

melting sky. The smells of
fish scales shining, baking,
drying. Birds swooping each
cresting wave. A jungle of
drifting fronds under the blue

the green of the water. Her
probing hands explored each crack
of the granite walkway
where one incautious move could
drop her into a watery dream
deeper than she could wake from.

Yet it was as much her element
as it was the dragonflies'
filtering about her as she lay
immovable, creating her future.
Once, I drove back that way

knowing the summer place was
still there; knew if I looked
I'd see the birds, the grey rocks
that blue vault still scudding
forms resembling clouds.

And the lake, those wild and
quiet waters, they too.
Only the child is absent.

1980

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Quality of Environment

Residents of the City of Ottawa are fortunate to be living in the nation's capital, a proud civic presence in a great country. Canada has many beautiful cities, but none more architecturally and environmentally pleasant and endowed with culture and artistic endeavours than this one. We have two rivers running alongside this city, and ample green through the presence of many parks, not the least of which runs alongside the Rideau Canal which provides boating experiences in the summer, ice-skating in the winter.

We've the nation's Experimental Farm situated unusually in the centre of this city, with access to an agricultural, farming experience for young families, in conjunction with agricultural sciences benefiting the country as a whole. Therein too lie an arborist's dream of trees both native and non-native somehow all happily living their lives in the soil of this Canadian city, thanks to the botanists whose concern brought them here and sustained their establishment.

Small green parks replete with play equipment for children discharge their duty quietly in every neighbourhood in the city. Our proximity to the beauty of the National Capital Commission-managed Gatineau Park just over the provincial border in Quebec offers residents in the national capital region hiking, canoeing, biking, swimming, skiing and snowshoeing opportunities to meet our seasons.

Yet, unbelievably, unlike more responsive and responsible municipalities all over this country, this city has never enacted environmental-protective legislation that would disallow the use of cosmetic pesticides on private properties. While the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society, among other groups, lobby heavily for legislation forbidding the use of lawn chemicals because of their inimical health fall-out, the municipality sits on the issue.

Which hasn't stopped the city's new mayor, Larry O'Brien, from indulging in some entrepreneurial bumph, challenging other Canadian municipalities to match this city's tree-planing programme. The city has embarked on a new programme to plant 100,000 trees and that's quite wonderful. On the other hand, it is complicit in the harmful practise of using deadly chemicals which endanger the health of its residents, not to mention that of vulnerable area wildlife.

Plant trees in parks and along streets by all means; give away seedlings for planting on private property - all very environment-conscious and laudable. But for the sake of the residents of the city, their children, their pets, the wildlife that abounds here, take responsible steps to make the use of cosmetic pesticides unlawful. People will realize that they can attain those nice green lawns without the crutch of chemicals.

The use of these chemicals is a distinctly anti-social act of selfish and ignorant property owners. Time we all grew up a little. We need to value human relations and human needs, not property values seen as being enhanced by a pristine green lawn.

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Chance and Mischance

Yesterday's perambulation in the ravine gifted us with our first sighting of those elusive Jack-in-the-pulpits. We know where to look from long experience. The previous day there was nothing at all to indicate they were prepared to launch themselves. Yet, there they were a day later, two of them together, one more isolated, but most definitely they. They're our favourite spring flower; of course we have other favourites as well, like Ladies Slipper and Columbine, neither of which are to be found in our ravine.

We were just starting our morning walk, just beginning to descend into the ravine, when we saw, approaching us, two grievously obese women struggling uphill, toward us. As we descended, they ascended, neither they nor we in much of a hurry. Chance encounters with strangers always hold out promise of a brief exchange and so it proved to be with these two women. What, we were thinking to ourselves, were two such lipid-laden souls doing wandering in the ravine?

The conversation that ensued illustrated amply the reason for their presence. Exactly the same as ours; a full appreciation for this jewel of nature at our very doorsteps. They exhibited the very same excitement at where they discovered themselves to be as do we. They warned us that just ahead, on the trail, there was a 'garden' snake. Sunning itself as snakes are wont to do in spring. As we spoke with some good degree of animation, a group of teen-age boys passed by us on bicycles on their way into the ravine.

Oh dear, said one of the women, wincing: the snake. Yes, said I, good reason to frighten them if they place themselves in such vulnerable positions, to encourage them to leave for a safer resting spot. We stood together and talked, about our love of nature, our recognition of what lay before us, and our delight at seeing everything appear in its season. Already, immature false Solomon's seal was present, and here, I beckoned to them, bending toward a group of lilies-of-the-valley, are the tiny complex flowerheads already showing themselves.

When we parted and continued our various ways, having informed them what street it was they were approaching to orient themselves, we turned right at the bottom of the ravine and watched as the boys who had passed us launched themselves from the rope liana they or some other teens had long ago thrown over the trunk of a tree overhanging the creek. They took turns, whooping with joy and swinging themselves on the rope from one bank of the creek to the opposite side.

If they missed, they would end up in the middle of the creek, deep in the muck of the clay bottom. The women had mentioned to us they'd seen minnows in the creek, and I asked if they mightn't have seen water striders, but they were adamant. We searched, but saw nothing resembling their description, and forged on, happy with the warmth of the day, the brightness of the sun, the dry trail, and the host of early spring flowers greeting us at every turn.

Wild strawberries were in bloom, their perfect white blossoms a lovely foil for the carpets of violets, shining back the sun in colours of yellow, mauve, and a rarer luscious purple. There were the yellow spotted trumpet flowers of the trout lilies, and smaller trumpets of the straw lilies; the shy carmine of trilliums nodding their heads in the slightest of breezes. Squirrels ran amok, and we even saw the occasional chipmunk rustling about in last year's detritus.

Riley was the first to notice someone approaching us as we crossed another of the bridges, not barking as he does when a strange dog approaches and we soon realized why that was. A long-time walking acquaintance followed by two King Charles spaniels soon met us face to face giving us yet another reason to halt our expedition and greet one another with delight in the weather and the unfolding of spring. One of her dogs had gone up to his elbows in muck and she was a trifle disgruntled but wouldn't dream of denying him that exquisite pleasure.

Finally, to accommodate our mutual urge to talk companionably, she changed direction and we all proceeded in the same direction, her two dogs and ours stopping occasionally to express their appreciation of the season by nibbling tender new grasses. It was odd to see her alone, absent her ironically grumpy husband, yet handily filling in his absence by frequent and spontaneous imitations of his cynical responses to conversations and situations.

One of their daughters, resident in Vancouver and employed by an international bank headquartered in China, was responsible for training call-centre personnel from India. A contingent of personnel from the Bengal region was in Vancouver, and she was herself destined to travel back to India with them as part of the training. She had telephoned her mother to explain that several of the Indian visitors had gone on to Montreal to the offices there, and had expressed an interest in going further, to Ottawa.

And might her parents mind taking it upon themselves to pick up her friends, show them the town, return them to Montreal from whence they'd fly back to Vancouver? Dear, said her cockney-voiced mother, tell them to hop on a bus, and we'll meet them at the station. Damn! was her husband's response about having to baby-sit foreigners and chauffeur them around. She informed us through her mincing mimicry of his moods exactly the levels of her tolerance for his inbred pessimism.

Her sunny optimism and willingness to give things a chance to unfold, winning him grudgingly, but invariably over to her initiatives. The stuff of which potentially oppositional, but conclusively successful partnerships are comprised of. Her mocking renditions of his complaints and fears bely the seriousness of his perceptions, but do not hide her love of her man. Her derisory reflection of his protests against their daughter's wheedling that they take on the mantle of hosts cracked us up.

Her enthusiastic endorsement after their successfully and mutually enjoyable hosting and sightseeing painted both in the sweet light of accommodation, toward one another, toward strangers - the friends we have not yet met. They were, she enthused, the two most polite, appreciative and quietly intelligent people they'd ever met, a young man and a young woman, business colleagues who impressed on them their intent to treat their daughter in India, as well as they had treated of them.

Before we departed on a few errands, the 81-year-old fit and bright woman who has been my area captain for the Canadian Cancer Society door-to-door canvass dropped by to pick up my completed canvass kit. Her volunteer convassers were fewer this year, as several moved to other communities and no one seemed willing to volunteer to pick up the slack. As usual, we had assembled a collection of soft-back detective novels for Kaye to take back with her, that we had finished with and her son-in-law would now read.

When they're finished with the books, four shopping bags full, they would distribute them in their turn, to a book sale at their church; for pick-up-and-away reading material to be placed in the health-care institute where her daughter works as a geriatric psychiatric counselling nurse. When Kaye left, so did we, on our shopping expedition, and when we returned, there was a colourful gift bag hanging on the handle of our front door, from her daughter. In it was a collection of hand-made greeting cards, each one faced with an original, coloured photograph of surpassing beauty and professionalism.

Later in the afternoon I decided I'd put off planting the two new clematis vines, the purple and the white delphiniums, the sundrops, the coreopsis we'd bought at the garden shop after our walk. Instead, another, competing priority intervened and I set up my little barbershop to trim Button's and Riley's hair. Spreading out the fabric I always use for that occasion under our large pine in the front garden we were well shaded as I proceeded to snip spare hair from the two. Not their most favourite situation by a long mile.

One neighbour after another dropped by having picked up their younger children at the school bus drop-off, for a little chat about this and that. Ten-year-old Michaela from three doors down dropped by to sit alongside us and stroke Riley while Button was being unmercifully shorn. She had scraped her forehead while jumping on Sara's trampoline, she told me. But that wouldn't stop her from continuing to use the trampoline; she'd just be more careful, she smiled.

Her six-year-old sister Cassie also had informed me a day earlier she too would be more careful, having fallen off her bicycle the day before, twice. She was wearing her helmet, but the helmet didn't protect her knee, nor did it protect her face as she fell face-first on the pavement. The result of which was an upper lip cut and swollen three times its normal size, and a loose, permanent tooth. Cassie had rung our doorbell, asked to be invited in so she could tell us all about her misadventure. A bagful of little chocolates cheered her up immensely.

Thus doth our world spin.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Reflection

After a long, busy day, a period of rest, of relaxation. We sat together companionably, restfully, blissfully, on the glider on the deck behind our house. A wonderfully warm day. A brisk breeze, perfectly clear sky. We've been together a long time, he and I. In several weeks' time we'll be celebrating our 52nd wedding anniversary. Celebrating not in the popular term, since we have no plans to go out on the town, gift one another with costly presents, but just a quiet acknowledgement of all that time together.

All what time together? Where did it all go? Why, it wasn't all that long ago that we were kids, walking together, talking together, dancing together, planning our futures. When did all that future happen? Where did the past go? We sat on the deck, on the glider, a slender collection of poetry between us, and we read. He's a faster reader than me, so I knew that when I was finished reading a poem he would have finished and it was all right for me to turn the page to the next poem.

I wasn't prepared for the poem on page 21. Couldn't recall writing it, although I could recall, sometimes fairly clearly, the circumstances that led me to write many of the other poems, the actual day and experiences we shared that encouraged a particular poem to write itself. This one was different.

Reflection

We fondle our past
with fingers of fond memory
echoing regret
at swift passing.

You recall me
soft and round
waiting and eager
that element of danger
of quick discovery
and swift withdrawal
but always there
waiting

and you
see in me still
that other
the one who
lingers back there
dark-haired and nubile
and you smile

here
I am, Love
don't you see me?
This pale reflection
refracting the
purity of youth
is only time
wrinkling the present.

Amazing. I wrote that poem 27 years ago.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Watercolour Sketch

Watercolour sketch? No, not really. It's a poem, a sketch surely, but then of course, a watercolour sketch, why not? It's what I meant when I wrote it so long ago, and it's what I mean now.

Watercolour Sketch: An Autumn Day on Lac La Peche

Our red canoe slices the water
like an arrow splicing air
its colour echoing the squadrons
of leaves tumbling to the lake
as the maples surrounding this place
repeat old patterns - bleeding fall.

A far-off mist rises over the hills
and the lake is a slate mirroring the
surrounding shore, the islands populated
with maple, alder and ash splendid in
chartreuses and crimson. Not a breeze
to freshen the water which breathes a

torrid fishy presence encouraging the
seagulls squawking and screeching at our
intrusion - climbing stray breezes or
themselves like white canoes bobbing in
the lake. Although the water appears to
swell beneath us the level is low and

waterweeds skirl under our paddles
churning sand. Rocks of the Canadian Shield
protrude on the shoreline, in the water,
painted like flags by the guano of years'
roosts. A brace of Mergansers watch
unblinkingly as our canoe nudges their rock
then lift in a panic of wings beating air.

Fish-hunting kingfishers splat the lake
from the shore's edge and a surfacing/
submerging loon ripples the water as we
skirt shoreline and island outcropping.
The perfect line of the water bisects a
double world of glorious colour and we

cannot discern which one is real; the one
we inhabit or the symmetrical other-half;
a faithful reflection and truly obverse
yet as real as the other. In that double
world is twinned beauty with beauty

objects become other than what they are
and we, like insects, skim the surface
middling this strange new otherworld.
1980

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A Passion for Poetry

When I was young - that is not young, but younger, I had a passion for writing poetry. Each time I experienced something that had an inner meaning for me I mentally composed an ode to that moment. I was continually writing in my head, an exercise that I found compelling, pleasing, satisfying and needful to me. I wrote of many things, of experiences and perceptions, using descriptives as they occurred to me that would fairly and poetically represent my inner self.

And although it has been almost three decades since I last succumbed to the need to divest myself of these emotional literary outpourings, I recently felt curious about what it was that had so moved me, then left me, so I took up a few published collections and poked about in their contents. What I read surprised me, and gratified me. And reminded me quite clearly of the events which inspired what it was I had written.

A recovery of memory. Not so distant, yet not so present, either.

Early Harvest

The sun edges past clouds
gleaming like a silver dollar
and we dip our paddles
the lake reflecting
darkness of oncoming rain.

There looses a kingfisher's
mad taunt from pinetops
circling the lake.

Water pearls in our wake
the wind gusts and
our canoe darts sleek as an otter
to a rock-littered inlet
where we beach.

As we thrust sharp sticks
the dark soil yields garlic
blossoming the air
with its heavy headiness.

Strawberries hide
their insufficiency under weeds.
We carefully pick what's there
for late afternoon jam.

Gulls scream overhead
and whitecaps scatter on
the lake. the clean feather-edge
of swallows slice the turgid air.


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Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Garden Revived




I cleaned out the birdbath and swished fresh water into its large cavity, then watched as bright yellow goldfinches and plump robins visited and splashed about, settling into the plum tree to scatter the droplets from their feathers. I hauled out the little cement child on a dolphin and put it back in place. Took out the turtle and set it under one of the benches. And the snail water sprinkler took its place under the Japanese lantern, where it belongs.

I gathered the three large yoghurt containers full of crushed egg shells and began to sprinkle them in a circle to encompass the area where I recalled, or could just see the tops of the hostas breaking through the garden soil. That precaution works handily to ensure that garden slugs don't munch their way through the lush hosta leaves throughout the summer months. Plantain lilies, hostas, in all their glorious variety, one of my favourite plants.

I launched myself once again into the dreary task of pulling determined glass blades and roots out of the garden borders, invasive nuisances from the lawn behind us. We'd years ago placed a plastic barrier beside the fence, but its usefulness degraded over the passing of the years. They insert themselves among the clematis, the iris, the lilies, the peonies, those craftily assertive green blades: behind the lilac, the burning bush, the purple smoke tree, defying my feeble attempts at eradication.

Button and Riley hear someone approaching up the side path toward the garden gate and raise the alarm. It's my husband, escorting Michaela into the garden. She has decided to call on me. He leaves me in her care, as she earnestly enquires as she so often does, whether she can help me with the gardening. She watches my ministering to the grass blades, observes my exasperation and commiserates. She plans to plant her own garden soon. Her mother has divided little plots, one each for her, her two sisters and another for her brother.

Michaela follows me up the rock garden, for I've offered to show her some spring colour. The bergena are flowering, alongside yellow fritallery, and red parrot tulips. All around the stepping stones, I tell her, is an interesting flock. She looks at me, puzzled. Guess what they're called, I challenge her. Hens'n Chicks! I say, and she laughs. Well, look at that really large one, it's a mother-plant, the hen, and see all those tiny plants around her, they're the chicks! Let me know if you'd like some for your garden...

And speaking of interesting plants, look at these getting ready to bloom. Here are the little flower heads, nodding downward, ready to turn purple and spotted. They're snake-head fritalleries. Michaela nods somberly, she has told me countless times how interested she is in just about anything and everything and she trails after me as I name other plants for her: ligularia, pulmonaria, and Michaella, it's also called lung-wort!

Peculiar, fascinating names, she says, and when I tell her the green mounds we're standing next to are called bleeding hearts, she looks puzzled and asks why such an odd name. Here, I tell her, and lift the immature spray of flowerets; when they mature they assume the shape of hearts, they're red, hence the name. She watches as I place a low wire fence around a bed of astilbe to keep them separate in their sprawling habit from the coreopsis and echinacea nearby.

She hands me the tomato cages that I've rescued from behind the apple tree, one by one, as I install them over the Jacob's Ladder, and Michaela laughs, showing me how she makes a Jacob's Ladder herself, with the string she's holding.

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Notable Neighbours

The children on the block, our neighbours, represent a truly mixed bag of personalities. As might be expected. Given the fact that some behaviours are genetically inherited, others inherited through familial practise, and others yet fashioned through individual exposures and experiences throughout the growing stages in childhood, producing our idiosyncratic selves. When we moved into this neighbourhood fifteen years ago, a very quiet, back-street great for children, there were in fact quite a few young children in residence.

All of these children became very well known to us. Some were shy, some happy to be noticed by adults but all of them with rare exception, were glad to form the familiarity of casual friendship owed to the consanguinity of an extended community in the absence of the closeness of extended family. It is as though for young children in our modern communities where families no longer live in close physical proximity, other childrens' grandparents are loaned out through pleasantly caring casual encounters.

When we were raising our own children in a variety of geographies we saw our own children experiencing the interest evinced in their presence and well being on the part of other adults, older and with greater experience than us. This exposure to the wider social contract gave us a definite sense of security, that our children were surrounded by some element of the larger society from the community in which we lived that represented people drawn to the lives of young children.

We had next-door neighbours at the first home we owned, as parents of young children, who treated our children in a very especial way, exhibiting a kindly tolerance for their chattering presence. An encouraging older-elder-presence that presented a familiarity, a stability, a comfort in the knowing that should they ever be in need absent our presence, temporary care would be extended to them in a dear and caring manner.

It was only natural that we would extend this attitude to other peoples' children when we ourselves gained elderly maturity, and the children toward whom we extended warm interest paid us back in kind, always happy to see us, to stop and chat with us, to talk about their concerns. With one exception: that of the two children who were our next-door neighbours, who, like their father, a severely introverted man, responded to no overtures.

Turning their head aside as though any greeting we sent their way had somehow wafted high up in the atmosphere completely missing their ears, they would scuttle away from our near presence. Most unlike their mother who was endowed with a personality in direct contrast to her husband's. A woman whose sunny smile of greeting and happy chatter would dissolve anyone's exterior of icy suspicion.

All the children aged 2 and 4 and 7 when we first came to this house we live in are now well grown and hardly recognizable physically from how they appeared when we first knew them. Our casually friendly relationship remains intact, although some are now in their final years of secondary school and others now attend university. The two next door have finally succumbed to the occasional shy mumble of acknowledgement.

And we've a new crop of youngsters, moved within the last few years into the neighbourhood. They're all friendly, happy and outgoing children, happy to be addressed by name, ready to engage in conversation. Among them is one group of siblings whose social graces and readiness to submit to a child-adult relationship goes beyond the norm. There are four siblings; three girls, one boy, aged 6 to 13; overwhelmingly courteous, curious about everything, eager to engage.

Yesterday, Cassie, the youngest little girl, was wheeling about on her bicycle on our quiet street. She was all alone, she groaned, because her sisters, 8-year-old Tessa, and 10-year-old Michaela, didn't want to play with her. She wasn't allowed, she told me, to bicycle past the corner unless someone like Alexi, her 13-year-old brother was with her and this displeased her because Alexi wasn't available, he was hosting a friend on a sleep-over.

Life was really so unfair. She hates being the youngest. She can't do anything. No one wants to play with her, although Michaela has offered, once a week, to accompany her around the block. Tessa doesn't want to be bothered. It just isn't fair! Ah, was my rejoinder, you may not know this, but as the baby of the family you're the most cherished ... that means loved. And her face lit up, a smile creased from edge to edge of her plump little face.

Really?! Yes, really. You feel neglected, but as the youngest you're everyone's favourite and if you really need something everyone, your mother, father, brother and sisters will always be there for you. Father? Andre isn't my real father ... no matter, he feels no differently about you than if he were. And that's another thing! they're always talking, never stop talking, don't they know we don't like it?

Who? My mother, Marianne, and Andre, they're always talking, why do they talk so much, why don't they pay more attention to me, I don't want to wait until they're finished talking! Well, Cassie, they're always concerned about you, doing things for and with you, don't you think it's fair they get the chance sometimes to talk to one another? A frown creases that little face with the lisping voice.

Cassie, why don't you try to play with Sara and Amanda, across the road? Can't. Why not? Michaela told me not to. She did? Yes, Amanda told Sara that I'm black, and Sara told Michaela, and now I can't play with them.

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