Ruminations

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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Is It Thus Fated?

What to do with all the lonely people in the world? Those people who have not had the good fortune to find someone with whom to live out their lives. The young, men and women alike for whom the opportunity to find their gendered counterpart has simply not occurred. What could be sadder than the prospect of having no one with whom to confide your thoughts, to share your happy moments, someone with whom to aspire to achieve a full and true partnership of life's experiences?

There exists so many unattached young and not-so-young men and women for whom the search continues. And the more time that fleets by, it seems the fewer the opportunities arise. Somehow, without a partner to face all the surprises and disappointments, the delights and uncertainties with, makes the prospect of experiencing all the wonderful things that life has to offer somewhat less appealing. Everyone needs someone to hug in happiness shared.

The irony of it is that there exists so many young and not-so-young men and women whose values and personal attributes, whose social orientation and priorities are of questionable value, yet they find companionship. The quality of the companionship can be questioned, but at least the opportunity has been afforded them and the experience, whether of short- or long-standing has been theirs.

The irony of it is that there are so many women for whom motherhood has been a wasted opportunity of bringing up children in a disinterested, half-hearted manner to become adults who exhibit traits similar to that of their parent; potential social misfits. There are men whose anti-social acts of small and large dimension mark them out as the dregs of society, yet somehow these men and these women realize success of some degree in finding partners.

People of real character, determined to live worthwhile lives, recognizing universal values and practising ethical precepts, determined to become a credit to their larger society through their active participation as reliable, credible and responsible members of society in the exercise of their social conscience and commitment to a life well earned, find themselves companionless. And why is that?

A sad trick of fate that those who search for their counterparts cannot find them. That those whose lazy acceptance of life as it plays out without personal commitment to communal values benefiting the entire society simply fall into one relationship after another, thus diminishing the quality of long-term commitment and a selfless love for another, is commonplace.

Why is it that women will gladly accept the attentions of a man who is clearly deadlocked in an adolescent anti-social lifestyle, a typical "bad boy" whose follies may include challenging laws which protect all of society and whose pay-back may include stints of penal incarceration, while blithely ignoring the presence of mature-minded and intelligent men whose actions define commitment and the promise of a stable future?

Conundrums abound when dealing with personalities and the confusions inherent in character development and value systems.

The situation is an ages-old one, where individuals, both male and female, exhibiting sterling characters and values are overlooked in favour of the forbidden, the unknown, the enticing excitement of dancing in lock-step with uncertainty.

If only it could be as simple as isolating and identifying those individuals whose personalities and orientations clearly are designed for one another. To reduce the complexity of human nature and the yearning for companionship to a simple search-and-rescue technique.

Sad beyond belief is what the presence of lonely men and women facing a partnerless future represents in the waste of human happiness and satisfaction with life.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Early Spring Surprise





He's accustomed to the vast landscape of the coastal mountain range in British Columbia and he's just returned from a vast array of experiences in New Zealand and Australia which included trekking up a volcano, ascending trails leading to the mountains running down the spine of New Zealand, we just couldn't resist taking him on a trail of an infinitely more modest scale, but one on which he was weaned as an adolescent, then a young man in our familial company during those years when he still lived with us.

The weather was in our favour, with a modestly warm temperature greeting us first thing in the morning and a clear sky, so it was generally agreed that we'd access one of our latterly favoured trails in the Gatineau Hills, hard by Kingsmere. It was clear when we arrived that similar thoughts had occurred to a good many others, as the parking lot had its fair share of vehicles belonging to hikers hankering after a pleasant spring walk. A pleasant hike it is, not physically taxing, just right for little Riley recovering from his surgery.

When we exited the car and accessed the walkway leading to the MacKenzie King estate, Button and Riley reacted as though they'd been winter prisoners locked away from nature for tediously long months. They were eager to run about everywhere, sniffing and happily squatting and leg-lifting to an expression of freedom and relief from confinement. It certainly did feel good to be out in the woods in Gatineau Park, even though the aspect was one of black-and-grey, relieved only by the occasional patch of grass growing alongside the trail.

At that elevation, with a temperature set to reach 14 degrees and a slight wind with cloudy intervals, it was still chilly yet holding out the promise of warmer days and delights to come. We did come across a handful of other hikers, but for the most part had the landscape to ourselves, to look about the still-naked forest, see the occasional chickadee flit about, see distant lakes and farm fields at overlooks and feel the freedom of spring-warmed limbs carrying us down hills and up slopes.

First stop was a small lake, not that long freed from the ice that had held it fast over the now-remote winter months. It was rich with schools of minnows and fat tadpoles, biding their time before morphing into bullfrogs, but it wouldn't be long. We dawdled there awhile, pointing out to each another one group after another of minnows and not being able to restrain ourselves from that old trick of scattering dried plant bits over the water to watch as the minnows gathered and leaped toward the vegetable matter, then spat out the unappetizing teasers.

Too early, I thought to myself, by several weeks, to see any of the early spring flowers. We did see a few Mourning Cloaks and small orange-winged butterflies like comas, and here and there a squirrel - up in a tree a porcupine. We'd seen several deer, not in the park, but on our drive up to the park, off the highway, in a farmer's field. We took Button off leash, confident that she would behave herself as this is her wont, while leaving Riley with leash attached to ensure he wouldn't break out in a run, taxing himself at this still-vulnerable recovery state.

And then I realized we weren't too early at all. There were violets coming along, beside the forested trails, the forest undergrowth and canopy's bareness enabling sunlight to wash over the forest floor. So yes, there were columbine, violets and trilliums, the flowers not yet in evidence but the fresh leafing-out setting the near-stage. But there were patches of blue-eyed grass in bloom, and squirrel corn and Dutchman's breeches, and we hardly knew where first to look.

There were vast green blankets of wild leek whose presence was enough to make us salivate in anticipation of their wonderful taste (but forbidden to pick, there in the park). All the creek tributaries were rushing madly along, taking with them the early spring detritus freed from their icy prisons along the banks of the creek. And there was the occasional sight of a water boatman spiralling at the edge of the water, and here and there a watery din of small waterfalls spilling over rocks and accumulated logs.

Water striders and tiny minnows and catus-fly larvae holed up in the cleverest of housing disguises all busy responding to the rhythms of early spring. We stopped awhile, and sat, we and our son, on a long old log not far from the main creek, where sandwiches were taken out and Button and Riley had their own doggy treats but hankered after the dim possibility of snatching the occasional breadcrumb, bit of cheese, or tomato that might fall to their hopeful little mouths.

Afterward, we continued to identify other little spring surprises, like Indian paint plant, trout lilies, hepatica, and colt's foot. What a bounty of early spring beauty, what an uplift, what a promise fulfilled year after year by nature.

How could I have doubted? Oh ye of little faith!

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Well On Our Way To Recovery


Actually, recovery to normalcy hasn't seemed to have taken too long, after all. For which we're grateful indeed. Our little fellow hasn't minded taking his twice-daily dose of antibiotic tablets (offered to him encased in cheddar cheese), and he evinced unhappiness upon seeing others go out for daily walks, but not him.

We've hesitated to expose his surgical site to the dirt endemic to a trail walk, and haven't wanted to challenge him physically his first week post-surgery. He swiftly became accustomed to being sausaged into baby sleepers to ensure he couldn't access the surgical site, nor the stitches.

Mostly because he doesn't at all mind wearing little sweaters and jackets. He's always exhibited discomfort, shivering and trembling at the first sign of cooler weather and we've always dressed him in cooler weather, even in the house, in little tee-shirts once worn by our granddaughter when she was an infant.

Unlike his older, female companion, who simply detests what she must perceive as an insult to the dignity of her imperial person when we dress her in a doggy jacket for outdoor jaunts during the winter months.

We thought that the constant weeping of serum and blood through the area around the incision, kept open minimally by the shunt inserted in one small area, would eventually lessen and then cease, but it never did. Necessitating that his little suits - which handily "caught" the moisture weeping from his wound so it wouldn't drip everywhere - be changed regularly.

We had been instructed to bring Riley in to the veterinarian hospital six days after surgery for a post-operative check-up, at which time the shunt would likely be removed. However, the veterinarian, while expressing how well he was healing post-surgery, recommended that the shunt be allowed to remain in place for an additional 24 hours.

So it wasn't until the following day that the shunt was removed. And we were relieved to see it go. Not only because we found it distressing that he carried around that plastic channel, but because we were certain it was a source of irritation to our tiny dog. For a full day post removal of the shunt the wound kept oozing blood and serum, but by the following day it had ceased.

We now must wait another six to seven days for the removal of Riley's stitches. We're happy no end that the huge lipoma no longer resides between his stomach and his leg, forever growing larger. And although we were fairly confident on the evidence presented to us that his mobility hadn't yet been impaired, we do feel because part of the lipoma had intruded to his leg muscle, it hindered him from leaping and jumping. A physical act which we hope will now be restored to him.

And we hope that there will be no return of the lipoma, as can occur. We prefer to think of the 90% possibility it will not return, as opposed to the 10% potential for return. Those sound like pretty good odds.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How Doth the Early Spring Garden Grow?


Most pleasingly. Although the temperature has reverted, post wild-winds of yesterday to normal day-time highs of 14 degrees, the sun still shines and last night's rainstorms have helped to encourage all the garden residents to continue their reach for the sun. The roses are showing their delicately budding red leaf growth, even some of the clematis vines are showing us green leaves coming along, as are the honeysuckle vines - and the hummingbird vine is shooting out green like nobody's business.

The crocuses, scilla, and miniature irises are almost finished blooming, but still colourful. The grape hyacinth are shoving up their flower buds, the irises and the lilies, along with the allium are thrusting deep out of the ground, as are the daffodils and tulips. The snake-head fratillaries are getting set to unveil their shy little heads, and the creeping phlox preparing its multitudes of bloom; the garden phlox and the lupins already thrusting through the soil. The complex, red-green shoots of the bleeding hearts are bursting forth, and the coral bells are robustly proclaiming their presence.

Today I planted a Karl Rosenfield peony, a red phlox, a yellow and a pink primula, two double-flowered hollyhocks, carefully analysing (trying to remember) where other perennials would be coming up not yet showing themselves, and positioning the new entries where sun exposure would be most complementary for their futures. I'll have to wait before I can plant the two dinner-plate-size dahlias I couldn't resist, but they've already sprouted in the package and will get a good head-start once I'm assured there'll be no more incidents of night-time frost.

This year I'm determined to grow passion flower vines because their huge blossoms are exquisitely beautiful and I'd like to have them around to glorify our gardens. I should have started sooner, but today I planted them in a little peat seed-starter kit, placed them close to the patio doors where they'll get plenty of indirect sunlight, and hope to get a decent head start with them too, come time to plant out of doors.

When I checked the begonia bulbs downstairs in the basement, but not too far from a window emitting plenty of light and even sunlight at certain exposures, it was evident that some of them are restless with the state of their long over-wintering sleep. A few of the dozens have already sprouted and although it'll be at least another month before they can be placed in the garden they'll be more than ready by then.

It's all so satisfying, so exciting, so anticipatory, so wonderful to be out there in the gardens, puttering about, scrutinizing everything, shoving aside the soil to peek about here and there, and planting new perennials which will give us pleasure for many years to come. Already, we're anticipating the lush green comfort our eyes will be greeted with, anywhere we turn outside our home, front gardens or back.

With winters like ours and such a relatively short growing season, we appreciate all the more the opportunities we have to work in our gardens, to enjoy our contemplative and serene landscapes of quiet beauty.

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On The Mend

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We've missed our daily walks, me and the little surgery patient. The walks have continued without us. The trails have dried up nicely in the ravine, and I get daily reports from my husband who has continued to walk with our Button, and who tells me he has already seen a few Mourning Cloaks where they usually show up at this time of year in the ravine.

Riley is on the mend. Yesterday the general veterinarian examined him and said he was doing fine, but suggested we return today to have his shunt removed; another day with it in place for the serum and blood to run freely would be a good thing.

We're all for good things, so returned with him today and the tubing was removed. Next on the agenda, some six days hence will be having his stitches removed, the whole long line of them. Until then, Riley will continue wearing his baby sleeper to ensure he doesn't lick his wound and in the process pull the stitches asunder, so he won't heal properly. We're not anxious for a return to the operating table, the anaesthetic and another trauma. His most recent trauma is still fresh enough in his memory.

Sufficiently so that when we're only half-way to the veterinarian hospital he seems to sense it. He tenses and exhales a little whine, which grows steadily until it's clear to us how unhappy he is at the prospect of an imminent return to the source of his separation from us and the ensuing pain, post-surgery. We're really pleased beyond words at his progress, his amenability, his swift return to normal. And we've no reason to feel worried at this juncture that his physical rehabilitation will be compromised. We plan to all jaunt off as usual on our daily rambles in the ravine.

When he hears my husband suggest it's time for the ravine walk post-breakfast his ears pick up and he stations himself near the back door, waiting for our exit. Since his operation he's become somewhat accustomed to watching my husband and Button exit, leaving him (and me) behind. He could be happier about that, but the solution lies a mere few days ahead. We'll likely venture for a brief walk in the ravine with him even before his sutures are removed, as long as we can be assured he'll behave, while there. And he generally does.

It's a tremendous relief to know that he is now without that large lipoma clinging to his underside and growing at that impossibly incremental rate. He's now a normal, and healthy little dog. He no longer seems as disposed to spending as much time sleeping during the course of the day. He's infinitely more alert, certainly more awake more often. He'll continue his antibiotic protocol for another few weeks, and it will all be left behind us as he resumes the normal activity of a seven-year-old little dog.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Batten Down the Fence Posts

Who might have believed that a mere week ago winter was blasting all thoughts of spring out of existence here in eastern Ontario, yet for the past four days we've been basking in bright sunshine and above-average temperatures. All in the space of one week, we're suddenly confronted with hauling out the garden furniture, raking up the grass, coddling the miniature irises, the crocuses, incredulous that all those perennials are already poking their bright red snouts out of the garden.

Simply amazing. But then, that's the kind of thrilling weather events we host here in Canada; wait a few minutes and everything changes. Thing is, we forget this from year to year. We forget that April which can ring in so beautifully with the promise of better things to come for winter-weary residents, can suddenly and spitefully urge winter's return, just to let us know who is really in control here. Lest we become too complacent. Heaven forfend.

With a high temperature of 25 degrees and full sunshine it seemed a tad - shall I admit it? - h.o.t. here in the nation's capital. We're quite simply not accustomed to it. Our little dogs were thrilled to soak up the sun in the morning, but by afternoon they were panting and jostling between them to get into the relative coolness of the house. They'd better get used to it, because there's more on the way - not too soon, though.

We're headed back to the normal temperatures for this time of year, reasonable 14-, and 15-degrees, with rain optional and sun probable, and vice versa. I've spent several hours the last several days yanking the occasional weed and grass plug out of my gardens, turning up the soil a bit to bury the compost, and assessing what's going on here and there in the various beds and borders.

How can I describe the bliss of shovelling and raking the garden soil, cutting back dead branches, gently shoving uplifted perennials back into their welcoming soil beds? And the sun, blessing the top of my grey head, my back. How wonderful it feels to exercise one's limbs in the garden, to the extent that memory of how it felt as a teen with nimble limbs floods over me, and I celebrate the fact that, in fact, nothing much has changed in that department.

Or so it would seem. And because it was so wonderful out we sought out so many things that we could do in the out-of-doors. Including cleaning off the deck, which my husband does yearly with an innocuous peroxide-based bleach agent, using a long-handled scrub brush to take away all that accumulation from the winter snows and summer moister to bring the pine boards back to their raw clean look once again.

And when it dried, hauling all the deck furniture out of the garden shed, including that most favourite piece of all, for me, the glider. I anticipate many happy and comforting hours of sitting on that glider, reading the newspapers, revelling in the clemency of the weather. Oops, forget to mention the wind. Lots of wind today. Really, I mean it; wind that makes you sit up and take notice. Or knocks you over.

In fact, while I was busy lifting one of our peonies because it tends to pout and not bloom as a result of being a little too deeply ensconced in the garden soil, I was alarmed at the sound of a huge clunk, and looked about to try to determine what had occasioned it. My husband lifted his head momentarily from the work he had at hand, but nothing presented itself as an explanation.

The bits and pieces of garden stuff, like winter blankets and rose cones that had been placed temporarily outside of the garden shed while he hauled out the furniture had blown about everywhere in the backyard and I was kept busy retrieving the pieces from the garden. Then another one of those loud clunks and as I looked up and through the slats of the back fence I realized what it was, as I witnessed another block of fencing fall flat onto the property of the fence owner.

There was a huge open gap between two neighbours, as it became obvious that two large blocks of fencing had submitted to the thrust of the high winds, exposing each backyard completely to the other. The two backyard neighbours in question, backing onto ours and our neighbour's backyards, comprised of young families with very young children have never, to my knowledge as much as passed a half-dozen words between themselves, in the five years they have lived side by side.

Better late than never. They can introduce themselves to one another, and get to work together building a new fence. Or not. What's with these people? One a Francophone family with two little girls, the other an Anglophone family with an infant. They live right next door to one another, after all. Granted the Francophones are pretty loud and noisy, but you don't get to choose your neighbours, usually.

Nice day, though. Glad we've got so many good neighbours on our own street, along with some on the street behind with whom we can chat and enjoy life.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Hint of Summer

Nothing like the transition from winter to spring, in Ottawa. It's less a transition that an abrupt surprise. Only a few days ago - Monday - we experienced freezing temperatures, along with an Arctic wind, and heavy, wet snow - about 17 cm. Followed by more wind, and a lot more precipitation, in the form of rain. That was some day. More than halfway through the month of April and we were shunted back to winter. The tulips, daffodils, crocuses and miniature irises shoving themselves through the spring-warmed soil were just as confused as we were.

But here we are, a mere four days later, and the temperature soared to 18 degrees, with full sun. Not to be believed. The tiny emerging flowers in our flower beds are celebrating, and so are the birds; the robins know that before too long they'll have live prey. Our little dogs are back in spring fever mode, agitating continually to go out into the backyard, and we're not averse to letting them do that, although we've got to watch Riley post-surgery. There are some flies flitting about, and we've seen a few butterflies, and ants.

I set about baking a carrot cake for this evening's dessert, and put a chicken soup on to cook, after breakfast while my husband takes Button out for a walk in the ravine. I've opted to stay at home to watch little Riley who can't yet be taken out for walks. He follows me around, while I work in the kitchen, because he wants to be picked up and cuddled. Alternately, he agitates to be let out onto the deck, to sit in the sun.

And later, all of us go out to the backyard, to enjoy the warmth of the sun. This is after my husband has installed a series of electrical boxes above the kitchen cupboards. He's busy on another project; closing in the tops of the kitchen cupboards to the ceiling. He'll install doors with stained glass inserts, so the installation of a light source to backlight the stained glass is part of the project. When he's finished, and when I've finished putting the cream cheese icing on the cake and mixing up the ingredients for potato pudding, out we go.

While my husband sits in the backyard on a chair he's just hauled out of the garden shed, I arm myself with a small hand rake and shovel and tackle the nuisance of grass growing from the lawn behind our fence in sneaky incursions into our flower borders. It's easy work, pulling out the roots, with the soil freshly released from its winter state. I smooth out the soil that I've hauled off the roses, and inspect everything poking through the soil.

Then I make my way alongside and up the rock garden and finally venture out the gate to the front gardens, with Button and Riley following along with my husband, who seats himself on one of the stone benches out front as the dogs bask in the sun. One neighbour after another comes by, sits awhile talking, and it's as though the winter never was.

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Home Again!

The surgeon telephoned at about half-past noon to let us know the surgery had been successful, that our little Riley was a healthy and strong little dog, and his recovery would be assured. Only a 10% chance of recurrence, I was told in response to my anxious question. And no, he hadn't encountered any blood vessels in the lump itself, and those he had got close to in the removal he had cauterized immediately. It had been a little tricky since part of the lump had been embedded in the upper leg muscle, but the surgeon managed to remove the entire lipoma.

The good thing about the surgery was that Riley was irrigated throughout the procedure and received nourishment as well through an IV. His reaction to the anaesthesia, our own vet said, was extraordinarily good. He was resting, in recovery, post-surgery. I'd informed our vet pre-surgery of Riley's low pain threshold and he had agreed that a slow-release patch would be useful, placed on his back. When we picked Riley up at half-past six that same day he'd been administered a dose of morphine.

Our vet also prescribed a steroidal anti-inflammatory to be given with food, and for the first night, two very powerful painkiller pills, if we felt he needed them. On the Monday prior to his surgery we had started him on a regimen of twice-daily-administered antibiotic pills. When we picked him up Thursday evening, I was frightened at the size of the entry wound and its very visible stitches. The colour of his skin, with his haircoat shaved off also made me fearful. I wrapped him in a little blanket and held him cautiously, carefully, fearful of hurting him.

Once home we deposited him in one of his little beds, taking care to line it with a towel, to absorb the bloody discharge that kept dripping around the plastic shunt. We began to place the Elizabethan collar around his thick little neck. All this while he was drowsy and hardly aware of what was happening around him, as a result of the anaesthetic wearing off, the painkillers he had been administered, but he lent himself biddably to the process of trying on the collar. Which we immediately took off and rejected.

Instead of which we dressed him in a one-piece baby suit which fit him well, with the bottom half looping around his back end, covering his wound, the stitches and the shunt. The baby outfit had belonged once to our granddaughter, and he'd worn it years before, also post-surgery; a far better solution for him than the E-collar. He emitted no cries or whines as he'd done on that earlier occasion, settled down beside my husband, and sat there, refusing to lie prone, to close his eyes. He spurned water.

We were unwilling to handle him unnecessarily, so didn't intend to take him out to urinate unless and until he expressed an interest himself. The evening was spent with him dozing beside us, as we read the newspapers. Button was singularly uninterested in him and did her best to avoid his near presence, surprising us. But she's always been distant, never seemed to have any affection for him, although they've accommodated themselves to one another's presence in this home they share with us.

Finally, we made our way upstairs to bed. They have always slept in our bed. Button sleeps at the foot of the bed. But Riley has always squirrelled his way under the comforter for warmth and security. Despite the blood and serum emanating from his wound we saw no reason to deny him that comfort at such a critical time. He wore his little suit; I'd spread a terry-cloth sheet over our normal bed sheet, and over it, a thick towel. We were thankful that he slept quietly all night, although that was more than could be said for us.

Finally, at half-past five he awoke and sat up, and so did we. It was obvious he finally had to urinate, and we took him out at the first light of dawn with the birds lustily singing us into a sunny warm April 20, to do his long urination before hauling him back up to bed. Where he slept, and we did also, until after nine. We first washed the area of his wound, then replaced his little suit, well stained with blood, with another, clean one. Again, he refused anything to drink.

But eat he would, and he most certainly did, with a robust appetite. Later, I placed a few teaspoons of baby food chicken mush and broth in a little bowl along with his antibiotic pill and he relished it, too. We hadn't had to use any of the peripheral painkillers; the original morphine shot and the patch which had kicked in after 12 hours were doing their work. He had no difficulty getting around and walked about the house as he normally does.

Because it turned out to be a bright day he continually asked to go outside to sit in the sun on the deck. He's on the mend.

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Confused Abandonment

That was uppermost in my mind, that the tiny creature who has lived with us all of his young life and whose dependence upon us and trust of us is so complete, would be left confused and feeling complete abandonment by us. The innocence of his little canine brain whose familiarity with a particular way of life and whose trust of us would be shattered by our having to leave him in the care of strangers. Perhaps not quite in those 'human' terms, but certainly in terms familiar to little dogs who are loved and pampered and suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar and threatening environment.

That, and our unwillingness to have the little creature undergo a surgical procedure kept us from making the decision to remove the lipoma that had been steadily growing under his back left leg, around his groin. When we first noticed the lump, it was small, but its existence frightened us. At the veterinarian hospital a pathology test revealed it was comprised of nothing but fat tissues, hence the name, lipoma. And at that first revelation, we were told not to worry, it was benign, and could be removed if it became a problem.

We were reassured. Our older dog, a miniature poodle, had had very small lipomas located under her coat which had originally manifested on her back, near her neck, but had been subsumed eventually. Not this kind of lipoma; from what we heard and read this one would grow, it would not disappear. When it was the size of a golfball, our toy poodle stopped leaping onto the sofa, and when he wanted to get up there, we'd lift him up. The lipoma grew in size quite steadily, never seeming to impair his mobility, never appearing to bother him.

But we were bothered, fearful of subjecting him to a surgical procedure, and the anaesthesia and the aftermath post-surgery of recovery. Until it grew to such a size that we feared it might imperil him in ways we couldn't imagine; certainly it could physically disable him. So the appointment was made. Our veterinarian offered to bring in a veterinarian surgeon, and we agreed. We knew that recovery would include the placement of a shunt to ensure that liquid could escape the cavity where the large lump had been.

We also knew from a previous surgery, when we'd had him neutered years ago, that he was not, like most dogs, stoic about pain. He voiced his discomfort and pain and we suffered along with him. So when we took him in to the animal hospital on Thursday we were anything but happy. We realized, however, we had no choice.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bask in the Sun and be Happy

Well, isn't that how it works, after all? We yearn to feel the warming, healing rays of the sun on our winter-weary bodies. We suffer through long months of winter hardship, coping with the cold, the arctic winds, the never-ending episodes of snowfall, of freezing rain and completely inclement days. And when by the calendar winter is assumed to have left our environs, what happens? Fooled you, didn't I? We're still coping with the effects of winter.

Not merely putting up with the melting snowpack and the resulting areas mired in muck from a landscape so completely saturated that each new rain and snow event simply adds to the misery, but wondering where, this year of 2007 and Global Warming, did spring go? More than halfway through April and we've still got snow on the ground. Little wonder, since this geographic jurisdiction took in 17 cm of very wet but very real snow only yesterday. Followed by rain and lots of it.

Which of course turns peoples' winter-weary minds to thoughts of warmer climes, temperate or tropical, and what it must be like to live in such places, sans the kind of winter we experience. Bliss. Surely it must be at the very least, complacently wonderful to live in warm-weather climates where the sun is wont to shine continually. How could it be otherwise, and wouldn't we be thrilled?

Oops, maybe not. A recent European Union poll would seem to indicate otherwise. Is that counter-intuitive, or what? In the EU-funded survey roughly twenty thousand people are asked every two years to rate overall happiness and long-term sense of fulfilment. The resulting scores are then checked against a larger survey designed by psychologists.

Mediterranean countries' respondents indicate they're the most miserable, despite all that sunshine, while Scandinavians are at the top of the heap in contentment and happiness, despite their cooler climes and relative lack of sunlight. "The idea that people are happiest along the sunny banks of the Mediterranean does not appear to be true," said Luisa Corrado, who led the research.

"Italy, Portugal and Greece are consistently among the lowest-scoring countries in the survey, while the highest scores were registered in the chillier surrounds of Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands, and among the highest-scoring Danes." Who would've thunk it. On the other hand, without having the weather top and foremost to complain about what would people communicate to one another about?

Rated on a scale of one to ten, Denmark came out on top at 8.3. They have a high GDP and low unemployment; they love their royal family and it's claimed that the region's happiness owes much to its balance between work and family life; city and countryside. "We are a small country and there is not a great difference between the top and bottom economically," claimed head of the Wonderful Copenhagen tourist board.

Sun or lack of it aside, it appears the countries that scored highest also reported the highest levels of trust in their governments, laws and one another. Happier people tended to have a lot of friends and acquaintances (unsurprising in itself, since people prefer to gravitate toward happy, not grumpy individuals), at least one close friend or a partner. No kidding.

I'm happy.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Spring?

Yes, it is supposed to be spring. We're more than halfway through the month of April, after all. So why is it that it seems logical about now to issue an SOS - Save our Sanity plea to nature? Will nothing save us from this wretchedly reluctant season? Triumphant winter has gifted us this day with 17 cm-worth of wet snow. This is our version of the powerful northeaster that has pounded the U.S. East with wind and pouring rain, occasioning worries of impending coastal flooding.

Heavy rain and thunderstorms made their presence known from Florida to New England with wind gusting to 114 kilometres an hour in some places. Storm warnings and watches were posted all along the East Coast with flood warnings from North Carolina to New York. Winter storm warnings were in effect for parts of New England and eastern New York state. Sustained wind of 64 kilometres and a storm surge of up to 1.5 metres have been issued by meteorologists.

So, after yesterday's all-day heavy rain, we weren't entirely surprised to find a deep winter landscape greeting us as we looked out first thing this morning. Disappointed, but not surprised. It's April 16, after all. Another indoor day, we thought, but all right, we both had plenty to do. Each time I shook out the dustmop or furniture dusters wind blew a sheet of rain over me. When the municipal snow plow came charging up and down our street, depositing knee-deep piles of snow at the end of the driveway it was time to haul out the snow thrower.

Good thing it hadn't been drained of gasoline and cleaned up to be put away for summer to await next winter's arrival. Out it charged onto the driveway, chugging away, under my husband's capable hands, throwing that heavy wet snow wherever directed. And then the rain stopped. Briefly? We couldn't guess, but did prepare ourselves for a jaunt in the ravine. We rescued our winter boots, dressed our little dogs in their winter coats, and set out under the dark overcast sky, wind rattling above.

Didn't quite know what to expect, other than a lot of wet snow which we all began slogging through. The landscape looked definitely winterish, no longer black and grey. Huge dollops of wet snow fell constantly from overburdened trees. That same heavy burden of wet snow that had taken down power lines just east and south of us cutting off power to tens of thousands of households - and over a hundred thousand near Montreal.

We scrunched through the top layer of dumpy snow to expose the muck beneath and slid down the hill into the ravine. No sounds of birdsong this day, but plenty of sound from the muddy, wide and deep rushing waters of the creek, hauling in its wake debris picked up from the winds rattling the branches of overhanging trees. To clamber uphill again became a struggle through the clamping snow, and the water-logged soil underneath expressed a new life transformed into rivulets washing into the creek.

Before too long I became aware that my left socked foot felt most definitely wet, and soon soaking wet as we trod through ankle-deep water under the covering of mushed snow. Still, we were outside, in the ravine, and making our way through the trails, sodden or not. It's always good to be out there, despite these peculiarly remarkable circumstances. It was cold, the wind was howling, the masts of the trees were dancing wildly and our two little dogs became enlivened by their soaking, their boredom alleviated.

Even squirrels were scarce this day, not venturing too far from their sloppy nests. Button and Riley skipped and postured, and watched and listened and ran about happily in the mess that soaked them thoroughly, just because it's good to be alive.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Trolling the Street Again

There's nothing quite like walking door to door in one's neighbourhood, in a canvass representing the interests of a charity soliciting research or operational/service funds to get to know the people you're surrounded by. This enables you to assess character and the quality of an individual's sense of belonging, of responsibility to the community like little else does, other than volunteering one's time. Knock at someone's door to solicit money and some people, regardless of the cause, reel back in horror.

On balance, at the other extreme, there are those who express gratefulness to you for doing the volunteer work they would prefer not to do themselves. Sandwiched in between is the greater mass who recognize the inevitability of the ritual of the door-t0-door canvass in support of causes with charitable status and who wearily submit to it, with token donations. Token or not, though, for the canvasser out there doing something he/she also hates to do - but does it because it's got to be done - even a token donation is welcome.

It shouldn't be this way. There are so many social, activist, research and service-providing groups in society which fill the gaps that government cannot adequately fund. That it becomes everyone's responsibility in that society to lend practical support for a purpose that enhances quality of life and opportunity for assistance on behalf of everyone needing it should be well recognized. And people should respond accordingly. After all, it isn't too much to ask that people who think nothing of buying junk divert the price of one fast-food item to charity.

Once you've become acquainted with the intricacies of confronting people at their front doors with the gentle reminder that it's that time again you realize what you're up against. Of course the responses are as varied as peoples' idiosyncratic reactions to any situations. Over time you learn which houses to dread approaching, and which you approach with confidence. There are those who view the canvasser with disdain and decline to donate so much as a dollar; others whose perennial gambit is to claim already having donated by other means. It's their right, after all.

Yesterday was my second foray in April for the Canadian Cancer Society. In January I'd canvassed for the March of Dimes, and in May I'll be out there for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. And then, I don't intend to canvass for any other charities again this year, although I've gone out in the past for Heart & Stroke, Diabetes, Salvation Army, Arthritis and others over the years, all good causes needing public support to fund public education, research, and assistance to those in need.

I learn to value and appreciate many of my neighbours for their generosity of spirit and kindness, from those who write cheques for $50, to those who ask for $10 change from a $20 bill. I'm grateful, as indeed I should be, to those who give me a $2 donation. I've got to laugh when a man whose wife never seems to be home, but who holds all the cash and even the cheques peers out of his window to see who's ringing the bell, then doesn't respond because he's been embarrassed once too often.

I have to discipline myself not to think badly of the young mother of two children who loves to show off her family's relative wealth, and who responds to my solicitation with the hushed self-reverential tones of one who gives much when she informs me she had already given $20 earlier in the month to a solicitation from the local police association. Just as I receive similar news from her neighbour, another young woman of blessed means who says she'd love to give, but they've already bought a $100 ticket for a luxury-house draw.

In the end, the generous ones who support these public causes will more than balance out the 50% who cannot find it in themselves to part with a few dollars in support of agencies whose agendas support us all.

I've got my own problems, still struggling with the philosophical issues of holding some people in low esteem as a result of their demonstrable selfishness.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

A What?




The postman had left the key for us to unlock the parcel cubicle located at the bottom of the community-style post-box station. Out came a flat, heavy oblong package, wrapped as only our younger son is capable of doing. It's come a long way, from New Zealand to Canada. Although we weren't expecting it, we realized as soon as my husband withdrew it from the cubicle what it represented. And when we unleashed it from its protective casing it virtually leaped at us. An inanimate object it may be, but a startlingly beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

Its finely molded and burnished steel gleamed above the brass that separated the steel from the wood haft, with three small brass divots holding the handle in place, over the full length of tempered steel, tip of the knife edge to the bottom of the handle. It's hefty in the hand, smooth and comfortable, its shape well designed to comfortably fit into curved fingers and elongated pad of thumb. As knives go, this exemplifies perfection of workmanship and beauty of design.

When he had emailed us en route from the south end of New Zealand driving toward the north and all points in between, his message detailed his itinerary and experiences as much as possible, and even included a few photographs to give us a better idea of what he was looking at throughout his forays along the trails and trips he had undertaken. Electronic mail, what a fantastic innovation. And when, two weeks ago, he telephoned us from Australia, it was great to hear his voice.

He had budgeted, he said, three days for the sale of his car. Planning to display it at one of the many used-car lots for travellers through New Zealand - to dispose of the vehicles they'd purchased in the very same manner in which they bought the vehicle to begin with. He soon discovered that the daily fee of $30 garnered him a sale the very first morning the car was on the lot. There must have been at least a thousand cars at the lot, yet his sold the very first morning.

We'd imagined he would encounter delays selling the car which would translate into his having to hang around longer than he'd anticipated, but that's not what happened. And the reason was that the car was a sporty model, attractive to the local youth. He sold it for $200 less than he'd bought it for a month earlier. In the interim, he'd had a slight accident where a someone had side-swiped him on a narrow road, and since the fellow hadn't any insurance he was out of pocket another few hundred to fix the car.

No regrets though, for the convenience of having the car at his disposal to take him over narrow, bumpy roads in his travels to access one fabulous trail after another. As his predecessors had done, previous owners of the car, resulting in a car whose shocks weren't in top condition. But it was in top mechanical condition, just what those on the prowl were looking for, and soon out of his hands.

On arrival in Australia, he spent three days bunking with a colleague, someone he knew from Vancouver, another biologist, originally himself from New Zealand but now settled in Australia. They went off on a number of day excursions, and one night-time event. His friend was doing some bat census work. Right at dusk a few fruit bats showed up, and as night began to fall in earnest, their numbers increased until thousands were flapping about the area. These are large bats with a wingspan like that of a jay.

Eucalyptus trees everywhere, he said. There are, evidently, some 300 distinct species, some with colourful bark somewhat like sycamores. And in those trees he saw quite a few koala bears. Some of which grow to a respectable size, about 10 kilograms, quite capable of looking after themselves. Neat; small furry balls up in the trees. Their diet is eucalyptus, so little wonder they're to be seen there. The experience of being there, seeing them, quite unlike the flora and fauna we're accustomed to in our northern hemisphere location.

He did some snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, saw far more varied and colourful species of marine life than he had snorkeling off Hawaii. The coral reef he described to us was incredible, and beyond healthy. It was an odd sensation to be swimming beside a coral reef and just below him an odd looking fish taking bites out of the reef, crunching audibly. He couldn't figure how a fish could have that kind of strength in its jaws to crunch through such a rigid structure; obviously geared by nature to do just that.

He had telephoned us at 5:30 p.m. Australia time, and was on his way to the fish market, preparatory to making his own dinner at the hostel he was then staying at. He misses the car he just sold; it was convenient for hauling his stuff around. He discovered a big difference in social culture between the people in New Zealand and Australia. The former relatively relaxed in attitude, the latter far more like their North American counterparts - more acquisitive also than New Zealanders. The pace of life far different; in Australia everyone is busy, in a hurry, no time to stand around and talk as New Zealanders are wont to do.

Just a lot different. At little New Zealand towns the hostels invariably posted local places of interest to poke around. There was one place where he discovered a purveyor of discarded treasures, and came across a metal wood-plane while rummaging around a box of old tools. Sans wood handle, it was in perfect condition, and he bought it. At home he'll have no trouble fashioning a replacement handle. At another hostel he saw an advertisement for a local knifemaking workshop.

He signed up, attended the one-day workshop and produced a knife that turned out to be a dead ringer for the one appearing on a colourful business card that he included with the knife he sent along to us; his own finished product. Although he's made his own wooden block and moulding planes in the past, hardening the steel himself, he learned some excellent techniques at the workshop, which he plans to expand on and add to his own itinerary of workmanship.

What he learned at the experienced hands of the owner of Barrytown Knifemaking in Barrytown, Westland, N.Z., (rob.steve@xtra.co.nz) will be an invaluable addition to his existing skills in all manner of other creatively functional interests like furniture-making, and pottery, and tool-making.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Exercise of Personal Responsibility

It's amazing, looking around, to see the number of people entering and exiting restaurants, fast-food outlets and supermarkets who are overweight. Fact is, we don't really register mere overweight. Overweight can be construed as having ten pounds too much on your frame, that you could, if you really tried, shed. To make yourself feel better, to feel you look better, to appreciate yourself more. So it's not the merely overweight that draws attention; it's the obese. Time was someone who was so mired in fat as to be labeled obese was a rarity. Now there are great numbers of people who qualify for the obese category, and a growing number who are morbidly obese.

Which is to say their great uptake of food has resulted in a condition where their body fat, their actual girth is so great as to render them susceptible to all manner of organ failures. So their futures are compromised by their greater susceptibility to diabetes and heart disease and stroke and high blood pressure and kidney disease, hip and knee problems. Carrying around all that weight is a burden to one's working organs. Not to mention the physical incapacitation of people so burdened by weight that their mobility is compromised, they've rendered themselves incapable of exercising even to the extent of taking prolonged walks to ensure they can at least work off some of the calories they consume.

The state of their health is a certain indication that they're not going to achieve a ripe old age. And the extent of their seniority will also be gauged by the quality of the lifestyle their failing health assures them. They've compromised the quality of their lives, they've ensured that ill health will complicate their futures, they've guaranteed themselves an early demise. All of which impacts on their families in one way or another. How about familial inheritance where children observe and behave as their parents do? Children are increasingly joining the overweight and obese categories, some even showing up with impaired internal organs as a result. All of which certainly makes an impression on our health care institutions. So the big question has got to be: why do people do this to themselves?

Yes, the easy availability of food, anywhere, at any time. And, of course, nutrient-deficient, calorie-rich fast foods loaded with chemicals and fats and sugars and salt. By eating this readily available junk we've distorted our appreciation of wholesome food and encouraged our predilection for salty-sweet-fat-laden foods. Our taste buds 'forget' how good wholesome, nutritional food tastes and we don't reach for the fresh fruits and vegetables, the whole grains and dairy and fish that can enhance our diets, not threaten our early demise.
If adults are so unconcerned about their own health, don't they ever consider how they're practises impact on their children?

It takes discipline to teach ourselves all over again to identify nutrient-rich foods over calorie-dense prepared foods, because it's just too much of an effort. We live in a quick and easy age when it comes to food and no one really enjoys reading labels to try to understand just what it is we're consuming. Food manufacturers are acquiescing to human tastes when they overload their food products with salt, sugar and fat since that's what tastes best to people, and masks the tastelessness of most pre-prepared foods.

Just because we live in an era where everyone feels themselves to be too busy, to overloaded with concerns about lifestyles and too burdened with demanding jobs doesn't equate with abusing our bodies. It makes sense, good sense, to devote some time to serving yourself well. To do that everyone has to become more conscious of what they're doing to themselves. A resolve to become better informed, to eat more purposefully and appreciatively, to become recreationally engaged just makes good sense.

People must learn to recognize the disproportionality of the foods they consume, to that which their bodies require. To control the appetite toward moderation will also control health and quality of life, let alone longevity. Not too much to expect from rational, intelligent beings. Or perhaps not, given peoples' demonstrated self-indulgence, visceral laziness and the resulting avalanche of modern society's succumbing en mass to an epidemic of ill-health situations exemplified by mass obesity.

Eat mountains of junk, make a junkyard of your body: you're complicit in your own life's dispensability; you've made your future disposable.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Education Discrimination

Private schools in Canada, particularly those based on religious values and observances pride themselves on their commitment to teaching ethics and good moral values to the children under their tutelage based on the religions they represent. Students at these private religious schools are taught the normal provincially-approved curriculum along with a solid values-based understanding of the world around them and their obligations within that world as expressed by their religion.

Since public schools in Canada are secular in nature and teach the approved curriculum sans religion there is a general agreement among parents of young children that something important is lacking in the public school system which religious schools can supplement successfully. It's debatable, perhaps, whether or not children grounded in a certain religion's precepts, traditions and values come out better on the scale of good behaviours. After all, it's the values and ethical behaviour that children observe in their own familial surroundings that most impact on their future development.

On the other hand, people who support separate schools for their children's education in the belief that they provide a superior education, a more well-rounded version that includes basic education as well as religion-based precepts and models are wedded to the practise. Every taxpayer in Canada pays education taxes provincially, but these taxes support only secular, public schools - along with separate schools dedicated to the Catholic faith. That nod to one religion only as a provincially-sponsored right has its genesis in the two-founding-partners character of the country.

This funding for provincial Catholic schools is enshrined in the Constitution, dating back to the British North America Act, as an act of appeasement toward the French, Catholic minority in the country. Yet to fund, through taxpayer dollars, one religion while other separate school attendance is paid for out of parents' discretionary ability to pay on top of their already having paid for someone else's children to attend public schools is patently unfair.

There is a time when history, tradition and reality come to loggerheads with one another. When to defend this unfair practise by simply saying it's always been this way is an insufficient response to a real problem of discrimination in funding. If one religion continues to have funding received through general tax funds, then an enlightened democratic ideal of even-handedness requires that all religious schools which utilize the provincial curriculum also be funded.

While all children are embraced by the public school system supported through education taxes imposed on all residents, separate schools are not obliged to accept children other than Catholics even though these schools are funded by all taxpayers in Ontario. The United Nations Human Rights Committee even got into the picture in 1999, ruling that Ontario was guilty of discriminating against other faith groups by funding only Catholic schools.

There are two possible scenarios; to fold the separate schools into the public school system and administer them equally, removing special status based on religion for the Catholic school board, or to retain the status quo and extend funding to all religion-based private schools. It's only fair.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Time's Out


We thought we would wait. We're squeamish, unhappy about the prospect that our tiny, beloved Riley will be operated upon. The tumour which only a year earlier, worried us when it was approaching golfball size, is now far larger. The veterinarian who has looked after him all his young life assured us it would not go away on its own. He agreed we could wait; if there was no discomfort evidenced and he could manage all right, there was no hurry. All in good time. We'd know when the time arrived. Well, it has.

Riley isn't one of those stoic dogs, which most dogs are. Their discomfort or pain is held into themselves, they don't communicate their state of physical unease or despair. Not so our little Riley. Despite his aggressive behaviour outside the house when faced with a dog he isn't familiar with, he does not tolerate discomfort or pain. He lets us know. We know because of the previous occasion when we had to contemplate surgery for him, when he was neutered. When we brought him home he was unhappy and uncomfortable and in pain and he let us know it. Constantly, unendingly; heart-wrenchingly.

We hesitate to place him in that situation again. Riley presented, well over a year ago, with a lump located under his back left leg, toward his groin area. It was aspirated and laboratory tested, indicating it was comprised of a fatty deposit. It's called a Lipoma. Not uncommon in animals, including dogs. Has nothing to do with diet. Mostly occurs in older dogs, and often larger dogs, although it can occur in any dog, any age. And it requires surgery for removal. After which there are no guarantees it will not return. Or another come up elsewhere, and you're faced with the same situation again.

We realized a year ago that he was reluctant to jump up as he was once wont to do. That doesn't stop him, though, from complete mobility otherwise, and we're not certain his unwillingness to jump has anything to do with the lipoma. Fact is, when we took him mountain climbing last September once he was out on the side of the mountain he did plenty of jumping, never hesitating, and he managed the climb as well as did Button, our older poodle. Riley is a toy poodle, very small, and now the lipoma is large, easily three times larger than it was last fall. While it doesn't appear to compromise him physically, we don't want to leave it any longer, to grow even larger.

So we're faced with the prospect of an imminent surgery. We looked into laser surgery; supposed to be better, faster recuperation, less bleeding, but our veterinarian has informed us they found scant difference between laser and conventional surgery. Our daughter, who had one of her rabbits neutered with laser surgery agreed. He's going in on Wednesday for an examination before we set up an appointment for surgery. And while he'll undergo surgery for the lipoma, we've decided on dental surgery, to remove those loose front teeth.

It'll be a double-whammy for the little guy, and we're anything but happy about it. The veterinarian assures us it will translate to better overall health for him. That's what we want for the little guy, after all.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007


We awoke to about an inch of snow on the ground. Big surprise at this time of year, and because we thought of heading out for an hour's trip to visit with our daughter and grandchild, thought if the snow continued falling and the north wind blowing, we'd think otherwise. Driving out there in the "back of beyond" as my husband calls it, with snow blowing off the open fields isn't very pleasant, nor is it safe, leading to white-outs that can be quite nasty on those narrow roads. But soon after breakfast the snow stopped and the trip was back on again.

We first had our usual daily walk in the ravine, delighted to see everything well covered with a nice clean layer of snow; branches and evergreen needles delineated beautifully with their fresh blanket. The monochromatic look of early spring so recently with us, temporarily delayed under this fresh onslaught of a reluctantly-departing winter. We'd seen a robin earlier on one of our Sargentii crabs, and in fact they've just about now eaten all of the tiny red berries. Beside it in the other crab was a song sparrow, first we'd seen thus far this spring.

And once we were in the ravine there were the crows again, pairing off, and the cardinal trilling high above, and surprise! a small flock, for such it was, comprised of no fewer than 8 robins, poor things, scrambling about in the underbrush of the forest, vainly looking for something live and edible. Although still well under freezing on the thermometer there was a gentle wind blowing and the day seemed, despite the heavy overcast and flurries to be a kinder day than that preceding it.

It was an enjoyable enough drive, not at all tedious, since we tend to use these situations for long discussions between us. Whatever we'd read or heard of interest to be finely diagnosed and interpreted, our respective opinions resulting, colliding for further discussion, or agreement leading us on to other matters of collaborative interest. Before long we pulled into the long, wide drive, parked, exited, hauled out the things we'd brought with us, and still the menagerie inside the house was oblivious to our presence.

Once they became aware, though, it was pandemonium, all of the dogs vying for best sighting position in the long glassed-in foyer, frantically barking. Inside the foyer it's worse, they're significantly more insistent, louder, all wanting to be acknowledged and petted at the same time, the tiny ones underfoot, the large ones bumping against us, throwing us off balance, until our daughter brings order to the chaos. There are so many dogs, our two included, that warm hairy bodies are everywhere - our Button at 13 by far the oldest, anxious to separate from the collective.

It's good to see everyone. Our daughter, our granddaughter, our daughter's partner. Everyone looks well, we hug and fall into conversation and up-dating, though we speak with one another almost daily. And we bring out the goodies; chewies for the dogs, chocolates and books and tee-shirts, also a duvet and cover for our granddaughter. Next week is our daughter's 46th birthday, we won't be there next week, so we've brought her birthday gifts with us. Also some other items, like cheese bars (on sale) a liquid laundry soap jug (on sale) and tinned tuna (her favourite type unavailable there).

My husband settles down to have conversations on everything from the Vimy Ridge memorial, to the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and medical leave and compensation, to some action films with his counterpart-of-the-home, while we three females congregate at the opposite end of the family room. Outside hung in front of the many windows are bird feeders of all types, and there is an endless stream of birds coming to them all: chickadees, nuthatches, finches, sparrows, woodpeckers, bluejays - it's quite amazing. Tibby the cat sits beside one of the windows, his tail switching back and forth, glued to the impossible spectacle of the unattainable.

We fit the duvet into its cover and discover the cover to be too large, but our granddaughter doesn't care; she keeps jumping onto her bed, into the soft enveloping folds of the duvet. She's already replaced the tee-shirt she was wearing on our arrival with one of the new ones we brought, and has done the same with a pair of the many socks we brought her. The minute we seat ourselves on sofas and chairs we're inundated with dogs, the little ones anticipating empty laps, the larger ones leaning against us to have their heads rubbed.

This is the first time in ages that we've arrived to find there are no other children around since our granddaughter usually has at least one, and more often two other children around, visiting for the day or sleeping over for the week-end. It's different, to have her all to ourselves as it were. She's usually a whirl of colour and energy, along with her girlfriends zipping through the house engaged on something suspiciously like trouble. Life has become a little different for her, living in the countryside from their formerly urban residence.

There have been many pluses, not the least of which, counter-intuitively, has been the proliferation of little girls living relatively close by with whom she plays, and who attend her school, all of them bused, but that in itself isn't different from urban living. The parents of the little girls, 9 and 10 and 11 years of age, seem to trust the safety of their children to some manner of belief that nothing untoward might threaten them. As when they cover miles of narrow country roads on their bicycles to visit with one another.

These are the same country roads, after all, that logging trucks are often seen driving on, although to be sure there isn't in total a great traffic on the roads until summer when the area becomes a tourist destination, located as it on the great and wonderful Canadian Shield, with the proximity of a large and beautiful lake, with a cottage-and-boat population swelling the year-round population base. Our daughter and her partner, an OPP constable, have to continually remind the little girls that dusk will soon fall and they need to be on the road to home before dark.

I wonder how it can be that their parents appear to be so unconcerned, trusting in some kind fate that nothing amiss will occur when their children are riding their bicycles to and from some fairly distant destinations. I wonder how long it will be until this formerly-urban child will begin to agitate about herself not having permission from her mother to ride her bicycle on the road, insisting it's safe, because after all, her friends do it...

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Friday, April 06, 2007

An Arctic Wind Blows

First thing this morning the sight of billowing sheets of snow flurries hurried slantwards by a polar wind greeted out eyes. And the thermometer read minus ten degrees celsius. Some April 6 this is. On the other hand, it's business as usual for April. We just forget from year to year that although we irrationally celebrate the arrival of April/Spring, nature rarely relents so readily in this Northern Hemisphere. Where the Easter week-end traditionally brings warm sunny weather and a true promise of irreversible re-birth to the land people can celebrate in a way we cannot yet.

Yet we can, and do in our own way. We know this is a temporary set-back. A cruel set-back to be sure, but one that nature uses simply to remind us who is in charge here. It certainly is not humankind in this particular instance. And besides, although it was very cold out and continued to be throughout the course of the day, the sun did come out from time to time to cheer our hearts, teasing us as it played peek-a-boo with a determined cloud system. Still, how can we complain, since areas south of us for heaven's sake, were expecting 5 to 10 centimetres of snow, not the mere flurries we were having.

As we entered the ravine in our daily walk we heard geese overhead and saw a meagre group of three, enthusiastically flying across the sky, obviously heading toward their day-time roost in nearby farmers' fields. We haven't yet seen those great, elongated vees of returning geese but will, eventually. A cardinal far off in the distance sweetened the air with its trills. The wet and muddy trail that greeted us all week has been transformed back into the solid mass so familiar to us while the ground remained frozen.

The creek is still fairly full, rushing muddily alongside the trail, burbling as it swishes over fallen tree trunks. It's been a hard year for the banks of the creek entirely created of clay and collapsing under the influence of all that early winter rain, taking along with it all the trees that had stood so uncertainly upon their edges, now wallowing across the ravine bed. They won't greet another spring season of new growth. Although their presence could eventually translate into reasonable habitat for young fish if the creek were sufficiently altered to also produce sustenance for them.

Soon we'll see symbols of the seasonal bird migration, the occasional great blue heron resting in the creek on its journey northward, and the occasional pair of nesting ducks before they continue their trip to the Ottawa River and points north. The crows are circling above, hoarsely cawing, but nothing like the murder of crows we'd seen only yesterday. They were a treat; their repertoire of peculiar calls unlike anything we've been familiar with. An interpreter might convey the information that all those crows were laughing at us laughing at them.

Where only yesterday we had splashed and slithered through the slippery mud on the trails, today those same trails are arrested, frozen as miniature hills and valleys, limned with thin sheets of ice. The fast-running tributaries of the creek have been transformed to a quiet and still frozen ribbon. We're glad we took the precaution of dressing for this change of weather. Everything looks sere, uncolourful, frozen in time. We're amazed to see a large bird flutter off the ground before us, identifying it as a woodcock, first time seen here.

The pileated woodpecker sends his long, loose and crazy laugh of a call over the tops of the trees. There is actually colour here and there; the whites and greys of delicate lichen growing in circular shelves around dead branches littering the forest floor. The bright hues of green reflecting luxuriant mosses now revealed in their fresh glory, immune to the cold. And here and there bright red bits of mossy vegetation at the foot of tree trunks. And small ferns recently liberated from the snow and ice.

Oh yes, spring is here; shy to show herself, but here nonetheless. Arctic wind aside, dire temperature more like approaching Christmas than the Easter season.

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Easter Friday


It's frigidly unacceptable for Easter Friday, but that's what we get living in this Northern Hemisphere. Spring it may be, but it remains unseasonably, unreasonably cold. Snow flurries swept by a polar wind decorated our landscape this morning. The emerging tulip bulbs have suspended animation, most wisely. Then the sun slips through the clouds scuttling the horizon and it's possible to think once again that the warmth that spring promises has merely been delayed.

I'm cleaning up from our prolonged breakfast, drying the dishes, when the doorbell rings and the dogs chorus their response. We've an etched-glass plate set into the front door and through it is seen the brightly anxious figure of a little girl who lives four houses down the street. Michaela is her name, one of four siblings. For some reason she has taken to us, despite all the company she has at home.

On the few occasions when we see her outside at this time of year she mentions she has dropped by, rung our bell, but we obviously weren't home. "Hi" she chirps at my husband as he opens the door, "I haven't seen you for a while, and wondered how you are." She is invited in, leaves her shoes and coat in the foyer and follows my husband into the living room where he shows her the luminous glory of our new stained glass windows.

He takes her around the living room, demonstrates for her how the many clocks he has collected are wound, and encourages her to gently wind them one after another. This child is interested in everything around her, willing to listen as things are explained to her. She questions and respects the responses her enquiries elicit. Into the kitchen she comes and watches as I scoop the scum from the chicken soup I'm starting, asks if I need help cutting the vegetables.

I place a bowl under her nose and ask if she can identify what is in it. Eggs? she asks, but no, I tell her, it's yeast softening and rising in a little bit of water. She likes the smell, she says, and no she doesn't know what yeast is. So I explain to her, and she watches as I add salt, a few scoops of oat bran, then flour. Her face brightens watching me knead the dough; she's done something like that with her mother.

No thank you she says sweetly, when my husband offers her a cookie, a muffin. Because it's Easter Friday, she tells us, she and her mother have decided in deference to the solemnity of the day not to eat very much of anything. She'd make up for it, she tells us, tomorrow. She speaks of her pet, the family dog, a 7-year-old boxer mix, whose favourite place to sleep is on her bed, with her, then asks where ours sleep.

Shouldn't she telephone her mother, I ask her, to make sure she knows where she is. No need, she responds, her mother knows. She returns to my husband and they discuss the power outage two nights ago. I sit down too in the family room and we discuss her family's recent move to this city, and does she miss Nova Scotia? What's her opinion about her new school, school friends? She likes this city, misses Halifax a bit, likes her school, although the rules are different, and likes her classmates, although the boys aren't very well behaved.

When I go upstairs to make up our bed she asks to come with. She tells me how much she enjoys looking around our house, there's so much to see. She likes antiques and art, she says, she likes the bright colours of the stained glass windows. It must cost a lot, she says, tipping her head toward me, to get all these things. I tell her we've been collecting these things for over 40 years, and when we started no one else seemed interested and prices were low.

She listens attentively to everything. She follows me into the library where I return the camera which I used to snap a few photographs of her with my husband when they were in the living room, winding clocks. She remembers this room; she was here with her mother when they first moved in. Soon the dogs are barking their chorus again, and there at the door is her little sister; six years to Michaela's mature nine.

Although there's a middle sister, it's Michaela and her sister Tessa who are always together. Tessa hates missing anything. As we let her in, Michaela bends her head toward her sister and whispered "I got to wind clocks". The girls' father is mestizo, and their skin colour is a gorgeous hue, their hair thick and dark and lustrous, their features sweetly rounded. We explain we're getting ready to head out for our morning ravine walk.

The children are a little disappointed; Tessa, realizing her sister wasn't home was obviously informed where she was and had rushed out of the house sans coat. She confided in me that she almost forgot her boots, and stuck her feet into them in a hurry, not bothering with her jacket, despite the cold. On their earlier visit I had offered a porcelain Anne of Green Gables doll to Michaela.

She'd said she was happy enough with the small stuffed animals I'd given them. I asked Michaela if she'd like to change her mind about the doll this time. Yes, she said, she would. Downstairs we all went, to look at the porcelain dolls. Tessa had wanted a Chinese doll with luscious brocaded clothing and I had told her she was too young for a doll like that, not meant to be played with.

Again, Michaela expressed mild interest in the Anne doll, her eyes turning instead to the oriental dolls. "Choose one" I encouraged her, and she turned to me, "really?". Yes, I said, really. And she selected a braided-hair doll with gold brocade pajamas. "What about me?" half-wailed Tessa. What about you Tessa, would you like one too? Beaming, she chose a short-haired doll with bright green brocaded dress.

I disassembled the stands and placed them into plastic bags. Exacted a promise from the girls that they would respect the dolls and value them for their great beauty. They would have to understand the dolls were meant for show, to appreciate them aesthetically, not for play, and they assented readily. They made their way home after effusive thanks.

And we made our way to the ravine for a really invigorating walk.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Complacency Interrupted

Aren't we creatures of habit? Don't we relish the familiar, the tried and true, the comforts we manoeuvre our lives into, the threads of habitude and pleasure, our expectation that our creature comforts will always be there for us. And then, poof! Something happens, our sense of the rightness of things is challenged, we are kept from our normal routine by an intervention outside our control. The result: a sense of disquietude.

That is for those whose routine is interrupted on a fairly small scale, by an otherwise innocuous event in the certain knowledge that this is but a hiatus in a daily routine. Whatever went wrong will be corrected and leave not so much as a memory of irritation. Not to be compared to people who, through no fault of their own, experience trauma visited upon them by happenstance, initiated by an outside source.

That outside source can be as unanticipated as a phenomenon of nature such as people living in the Solomon Islands experienced earlier this week when giant waves caused by an undersea eruption, too close to them for forewarning. For them the experience is truly life-altering. Apart from those unfortunates who died, the survivors face ruination and deprivation; are now dependent on the compassion of others to come to their aid.

For people like me, living in the security of a first-world country and certainly not in a geographically-vulnerable coastal area, the sense of well-being and security can be shattered by something as unexpected as an energy shut-down. Which is exactly what happened last night. One goes about one's ordinary, everyday business and suddenly, whatever it is you're doing, you are faced with - nothing.

It is night, winter conditions still prevailing here, and abruptly, all power-generating electricity has been disrupted. Sitting in your living room reading or watching television, or sitting in front of a computer suddenly darkness envelopes you completely, as does an eerie silence. You sit there, stunned, half anticipating that the light will be immediately restored and you resume whatever you were doing.

But nothing happens. The darkness still presses softly around you, not a glimmer of light to be had, and the silence looms large. You think: what to do? You rise from where you're seated, begin to grope about you, knowing full well the lay-out of your home, how to avoid the obvious, like falling down stairs, hitting a wall, bumping into sharp projections. A flashlight is the first object you search for, and having secured one, you grope about to rescue those laid-away candles.

In our case, the first thing my husband did was put on the gas fireplace in the family room. After I had groped my way downstairs, in the process looking outside to note that there were no lights on anywhere down the street, including the street lights which have their own power source; nothing - although it was still somewhat lighter out than it was indoors at 8:30 p.m. The fire flared nicely and lit the room handsomely. Then we looked for candles and candleholders.

And put on that little battery-operated, handle-crank-operated radio. After a few minutes of listening to vapid radio-speak in between pop-music we heard what we already knew, that power appeared to have been cut off to a huge area in the east and south end of the city. The cause unknown, but the hydro utility was on the case. Small comfort; how could they not know whether a transformer had blown? It couldn't be weather-related; we weren't experiencing storm conditions, just light snow alternating with rain.

So we sat there, hardly speaking, watching the flames in the fireplace. We sat beside the fireplace, valuing its warmth, but feeling bereft of comfort, regardless. A half-hour without electricity and we're disconsolate. Can't watch television, can't complete my blog entry, can't read the newspaper with that insufficient candle-powered light. Our little dogs don't mind, they don't feel there is anything amiss.

So we again discuss the news between us, after hearing the 9:00 p.m. news. I begin flipping through a new cookbook I'd recently bought with print sufficiently large to permit reading, and we begin to discuss the possible virtues of one recipe after another, some so unappealing that it gives us cause to laugh in amusement, enabling another mood to set between us. Still, there is that unease that something isn't quite right, and it's bothersome.

We let the dogs out into the backyard before ten, decide to plod up to bed early this night. We try to recall which lights were on so we can shut them off in case the electricity is returned at some disturbing night hour. Off goes the television, the computer monitor, a few lamps. The candle we had set on the mantle has almost burned to the bottom, leaving a carbon trail on a picture frame, although we thought it had been set sufficiently back of it.

Each of us takes a candle set in its holder and we go upstairs. I take mine into the bathroom and wash up as usual, in the bathtub. He settles into bed, places his watch and candle on his nightstand. He's able to read, I'm not, and I lie there, thinking, composing things in my head. Do I want to listen to the news again? We do, the 11:00 p.m. news. Everything is still, and he asks do I hear that faint sound of an ambulance? I don't.

I've almost fallen asleep. He gets up to go to the bathroom, and returns, to snuff out his candle. We think, this is what is must have been like for people before the advent of electricity. People would become accustomed to it, if they had to. Before we'd gone up to bed he checked the thermostat, determined it was holding steady, so the insulation in the house must be pretty good, considering the temperature has dropped below freezing.

But we're comfortable in bed with the goose-down duvet which I had threatened to remove just two days earlier despite his protests we'd need it at least another week while the atmosphere warmed up to spring. Just as we're both finally falling to sleep, there's a ping and a light comes on. One of the lamps in our bedroom; we'd forgotten it. When we finally do fall asleep it's with a sense of relief.

Three hours without electricity and it wreaks such havoc with our sense of well-being. Everything is relative, after all.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Nowhere Too Far for Nature's Ruins

Our little Eden has turned of late into a muddy morass as the earth beneath our feet begins to thaw, this early April. The rain we had overnight two nights back, thudding down onto what was left of the snow did its work melting the snow to be sure, and in the process challenging the already-sodden and still somewhat frozen earth to absorb all that moisture. The creek in the ravine is running with the ferocious run-off, muddy and deep.

We choose our steps with care, not only to sidestep those still-frozen portions of the trail, but also to prevent ourselves from spreading crumbling piles of winter dog poo, now revealed in all its pungent nastiness. Something dire happens to dogs' normally civil loo behaviour in the woods come late winter when they simply cannot be bothered making their way deeper into the woods to relieve themselves. Must have something to do with the crumbling snow-and-ice pack, threatening to give way under them with every step.

If it isn't the messy deposits or the icy slides, then it's the ever-widening swaths of pure muck underfoot. Try as we might to avoid them, to tread alongside the trail in vain avoidance of the clay mud and the promise of slipping inherent in its invitation to tread, it's not quite possible. We return home daily with boots suddenly assuming proportions attributable to the scant-seen abominables. When we lower our little dogs into the porcelain sink in the laundry room off the garage, dirt and detritus simply flows off their hairy legs and footpads.

Which is why we don't too often these days see others ambling along in the ravine, during these stressful days of thaw. Two days ago we did see a young woman with thick blond hair, her pretty face lined with encroaching age, her bagged eyes betraying something. She stooped to leash her black Labrador when she heard our tiny Riley hysterically barking, and said she couldn't trust her mild-mannered dog not to react. We apologized to this stranger and made to move on but stopped and talked instead.

A single mother, her oldest boy now 19, she lives alone for the most part, with her dog. She works the night shift, has done for 8 years, although she never planned it that way. She's the night-shift receiving cashier for an area supermarket. Who even thought about all the trucks unloading produce, canned and frozen foods in our local supermarkets, where night-shift also means the stocking of shelves for the day's commerce?

She's lonely, she is depressed, she finds it difficult to sleep through most nights. Her doctor tells her at age 46, might be hormones kicking in. A long discussion ensues between us regarding menopause, a natural process of ageing beyond child-bearing, for which hormone-replacement therapy had routinely been urged upon women. She sometimes walks elsewhere in the ravine with a male friend who has three dogs to walk, she tells us and she smiles, half wryly.

She is a neat bundle of femininity, her figure trim yet full. My jacket is zipped right up against the cold, but hers hangs off her shoulders, the front zipper of her thick and fuzzy tee-shirt right open; her neck is red, and she's hot, she says. We talk about that too, the creepy power surges women experience at the most awkward times imaginable, let alone during the night, leaving us incapable of falling peacefully back to sleep.

My husband is involved in the conversation, alongside my own offerings, speaking as an understanding, experienced older male. She smiles at us both, addresses us equally, soft and trusting, a lovely woman who is companionless in life and chafing with unhappiness over the reality that leaves a deep crater of emotional longing in its wake. When we eventually part, wishing one another the peace of a deep and comfortable rest that night, we discuss between us the sad circumstances of loneliness, of people bereft of partnership.

During today's walk we saw no one else going through the ravine. Until we reached a particular place which gives out onto a street not too far distant, and there we saw in the distance a figure walking slowly, stopping from time to time to look up into the masts of the surrounding trees. A woman, I thought at first, still wearing a heavy winter coat, then realized as we drew closer it was a man with long blond hair and full beard. He continually stepped around the trail although at that point it was relatively innocuous, not mud-deep.

As we passed I noted his disheveled look, the dirt on his coat, his baggy trousers and inadequate footwear. I looked straight at him; he looked beyond me as though it was only him, no one else in the near vicinity. To my "hello", there was no response. I realized that this was not just anyone walking through a wooded ravine. This was a proverbial street person, a human being with no place to call home, and where on earth did he come from?

My husband, well behind us both, finally caught up to me as the young man continued his slow venture into the woods, passing back and forth from one side of the trail to the other. Poor soul, what could one do for someone so obviously not quite there, who likely needed to be looked after, his basic needs seen to by someone who would care about him? We talked about the lack of resources for people who refuse to be treated in an institutional setting, preferring to be ill and free to go where they would, rather than be over-medicated, in a constant fog of drug-induced nowhereness.

In any society, no matter how caring we assume ourselves to be collectively and singly, there are those whom society, fate and circumstances fail, left to flail at the world and their misfortune.

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