Ruminations

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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Social Maturity

In a way it's amazing how often capable individuals become proficient in a trade or a profession, elevating themselves through their professional capabilities beyond those of their peers, and in the process achieving the respect and admiration of society. Not to mention the financial rewards that fall their way in munificent remuneration for their services. They stand out as those whose academic aptitude, clinical skill and adaptation to a significant role in society has reached a zenith in achievement.

And yet, sad to say, all too often those very same people prove to be failures in other, equally significant areas of human direction. These are those whose development as emotionally mature individuals have never somehow reached completion. Perhaps because their genetic endowment left them with the rich potential for achieving practical heights, but left them bereft of attaining to emotional growth and stability. Whatever the reason, they stand out as failures as human beings.

One such is an Ottawa doctor, McGill-educated, and a surgeon of sterling repute, so much so that at The Ottawa Hospital's General campus he held the position of chief of surgery. A not inconsiderable achievement, given the size of the hospital, that of the community it serves, and the wealth of talent in the medical profession. Yet now, Dr. Joel Freedman has had his privileges at The Ottawa Hospital revoked and he faces a disciplinary hearing at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

He is, in short, a disgrace to his profession, but far more, a disgrace as a human being. He hasn't committed murder, nor has he held up a bank. But as a citizen of a country with boundless opportunities for personal advancement, he grasped those opportunities that came his way, commensurate with his personal aspirations, and managed to scale a height of his medical profession. As a supremely privileged member of society he took his sense of privilege a mite too far.

Driving his Porsche, he became enraged at the assumption that another driver had cut him off. Whereupon this 64-year-old surgeon tail-gated the offending driver, all the while swearing and gesticulating, ordering the other driver to pull over. Which the other, a 26-year-old, obligingly did. Before he could emerge from his car, after parking it at a bank's parking space, the good doctor had leaped out of his two-door vehicle and begun to repeatedly punch his victim in the face.

It would appear that Dr. Freeman held a closed pocket knife in his fist while delivering his message of discipline. His victim suffered a split lip and bruised jaw, after having taken multiple blows to his head, shoulders, face and upper torso. One might view this as an indication that the colorectal and gastric bypass specialist might be unfit to practise his profession. Technical expertise might be his, but emotional stability and decency of good judgement appear to elude him.

The charges levied against him by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario - and in appreciation of which the University of Ottawa's medical faculty has removed his teaching privileges - are characterized as conduct that "would reasonably be regarded by members as disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional".

He seems to have hit all the wrong notes on all those right descriptives.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Weather Report, Wind Warning

The weather forecast warns of a flash-freeze. We've already received a bounty of nature's winter-fierce offerings. Overnight freezing rain as the temperature rose from yesterday's high of -7-degrees C. Followed by rain, then ice pellets, and finally snow. Reports are coming in from all over the province, of hazardous driving conditions, fog and white-outs; treacherously icy highways. City buses late, or taken off their routes.

Local police forces and the Ontario Provincial Police plead with motorists to stay off the roads, if they can. School bus routes cancelled in rural areas. Municipal snow ploughs taken off the roads; too dangerous even for them. A series of fierce winter storms, wreaking havoc from the West coast to Canada's East. Giving Vancouver an unaccustomed snowbath, and Prince Edward Island a true winter headache with 95% residential power outage.

Wind whooshes through the tree tops, whirling them about, the trunks bowing in courtly response. Fir boughs turn themselves upward in response to the wind's obstreperous prompting, as though pleading for gentler treatment. The flat needles' undersides bright blue-green, against the darker green of their flip sides.

The huge old double-spired pine at the fork of the ravine trails, situated at the very bottom of the first long descent has a decided lean away from the creek behind it, toward the trail in front of it. Where we are wont to descend and ascend. The pine is a grand old tree, in fairly good shape, but its lower trunk at ground level, rising to roughly 6 feet on one side is bereft of bark, and appears hollow.

There have been countless emergency road closures on provincial highways, adversely affecting access for hydro crews attempting to restore lost power to various rural areas. Power outages in these temperatures and weather conditions hamper life in the most miserable way for tens of thousands of people whose energy source has been impaired. No heat, no light, no water. The hydro authority warns that some residents may have to wait several days for resumption of power.

Ferociously gusting winds shriek above us as stubborn fall leaves still clinging to a stand of immature ironwood are loosed and whip across the trail. Earlier, standing beside our sliding doors looking onto the deck, I watched as an almost-transparent leaf appeared suddenly, thrust through the lattice. And, as though it was a desperate, sentient thing, found a place of refuge for itself, nestling between the deck floor boards and a bank of icy snow.

Wind chugs energetically about us in fierce gasps of frenzied gusts. I'm unable to stop my eyes from weeping, and dab at them continuously as we proceed along the snow-mounded, frozen and well-trodden trail, just lightly covered with the remnants of the last flurries. Earlier, the rain had already loosed and melted the snow accumulated on boughs and branches.

We peruse our close landscape, identifying the corpses of trees ready to keel over at the wind's insistence. The presence of these decade-old snags of various heights and volume - mostly birch which had suffered most egregiously from the '98 Ice Storm - makes for a wary ramble. They've been well punctured by woodpeckers, colonized by various types of lichen and fungi; sad remnants of once-beautiful tree specimens.

Tree trunks, like those of some ironwood, pin cherry, hawthorn and spruce are host to rich colonies of dark green moss. Alongside circular, brighter-green disks of lichen. A huge old poplar looks quite odd, its trunk glazed a grey-blue colour. A trick of the ambient light darkened by heavy overhead clouds - or, perhaps, remnants of the freezing rain that had slathered it overnight....?

The sky bustles, busy with dark grey-to-pewter clouds. Yet, on occasion the wind-harried clouds part company sufficiently to allow a glimpse of brightness above and beyond. Escaping sun rays even manage, fleetingly, to cast their brightness on the snowy terrain, bringing all the bumps and hollows into eerie relief.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dear Leader

How exactly to interpret news that Canada's prime minister has allowed photographs of himself, exclusively, to be arrayed everywhere on the walls of the government lobby of the House of Commons...? To which entry is restricted to those who can display a Commons security pass. Is this a display of insecurity or one of unbridled ego?

Whatever the essence of its display, it represents an unseemly display of self-adoration.

One thinks of North Korea's "dear leaders "Kim il Sung, the father, and Kim Jong il, the son and inheritor of the throne, both vicious tyrants whose portraits appear everywhere on giant billboards, to remind the populace of their undying love and gratitude to the kindly auspices of these ego-driven dictators who permit their citizens death by starvation, while the meagre state treasury is driven toward nuclear ambitions.

And one remembers the ubiquitous likenesses and statuary of Joseph Stalin, before his death. Taking second place to none, throughout the-then U.S.S.R. And the giant representation of Iraq's dictatorial monster which was unceremoniously but triumphantly hauled down, disintegrating the unwholesome metallic version of Saddam Hussein, while he himself was outrunning those who sought his capture.

This is, of course, quite unfair. Stephen Harper is a good and decent man, a stalwart upholder of the rule of law, passionate about leading Canada's course into history, a trustworthy leader of our country, slightly blemished by his unrepentant conservatism. The 'hidden agenda' ascribed to his Conservative government never did materialize, although there have been hints here and there in questionable choices.

More than amply offset by the very good, decent and at times, outstanding choices he has chosen to make on behalf of this country on the world stage, and internally. Everyone makes mistakes, and he does too. Apart from those that affect the country in a deleterious way like closing down funding to needed environmental and human-relations agencies, however, he has performed very well as the leader of a fragile, minority government.

Domestically he needs to amend his relations with the press. And he most certainly should make an effort to restrain his obvious impulse to gratify his sense of self-worth through permitting the posting of adoring photographs. His puzzling choice for a Christmas card portraying him at 24 Sussex admiring photographs of himself in various settings presented the onlooker with a personality conundrum.

The current situation, where it has been reliably reported that photographs of him and himself alone, dominate the House of commons government lobby, is peculiar beyond comprehension. Someone with a sense of caution should have recommended that his portrait, displayed among those of other, previous prime ministers, would have aroused less attention.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

They're Here, Too?

The trails have been well tamped down everywhere in the ravine. Plenty of snow, a fair-to-middling snowpack once again. Not quite what it had been by the end of December, but getting back up there, after the mild start of January brought warmer temperatures and rain and fog and rain and more rain. There are animal tracks everywhere, testament to the bustling wildlife in the ravine.

From time to time we venture feeble attempts at trying to discern which animals or birds have left particular tracks. Some, that we see often, are no-brainers. Like the squirrels, hares, neighbourhood cats, dogs, grouse, even muskrats and beaver. And mice too, of course, possibly voles. We look often to see if we can make out deer tracks for from time to time we know that deer have come through the Ottawa River corridor, and the greenbelt, where they abound.

On Sunday, yesterday, just about finished our daily ravine walk we came across flame-haired, diminutive Gale. We haven't seen her in ages. With her was a flamboyant companion, his colouration echoing her own. Winston is nine years old now, a huge loping beast of a golden retriever, easily the largest of his breed we've ever seen. Gale no longer takes Chrissy into the ravine. She's thirteen, a smaller retriever. She just can't make it up the hills any longer.

Gale recounted an incident a few days earlier when she'd been out with Winston for an evening walk and had come across another dog walker, a man she hadn't seen previously. He was with another large dog, and he told her that a few days earlier he'd been in that very spot in another evening walk with his dog, when his dog froze and refused to walk on. He looked up to see three coyotes standing close by, quietly watching.

We've been warned. We've always been careful with our two little dogs, now we'll simply be more careful.

On our walk today, early afternoon, we were just about through the circuit when we came abreast of two other walkers and their dog. This was a Russian woman who lives at the foot of our street with her son and daughter-in-law. She looks after her two granddaughters while their parents are at work. And she always walks a large and beautiful Doberman Pinscher.

Tell your grandmother, I tell the little girl, that coyotes have been seen in the ravine. The little girl turned her sweetly grave face toward her grandmother and delivered the message. She knows, the child said, turning back to me. She was here early morning last week and saw four of them. Lucky her. But then, perhaps we'll have our opportunity, too.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hospital Bacterial Risks

Don't we love to trust our health professionals. After all, we place so much faith in their knowledge, their education and experience, their common sense above all. Having experienced much, applying the knowledge and mechanics they've been imprinted with through exposure to all manner of medical emergencies, augmented by practical and approved procedures, we entrust our well-being to their professionalism.

They are, after all, no different than you and me. Human beings, prone to error. Humanly self-deferential. And seeing themselves mirrored in the eyes of patients happy to surrender the state of their future health to the healing hands of those who know the protocols and interventions that promise to heal our fleshly wounds. When they present as healthy physical specimens themselves it serves to enhance our trust in their abilities.

Remember that old joke about the error inherent in selecting a hairdresser whose own tresses are carefully coiffed? Thanks to the professional ministrations of the hairdresser who stands beside her. Whose own head of hair stands as a testament to the lack of professional skills of her partner. It is the wise observer who selects accordingly.

On the other hand, it is not the health consumer who selects which nursing professional will attend upon them in an operating room. The operating surgeon yes, even the doctor who administers the anaesthetic. But the nurse? Hardly. So here's a bit of a quandary. The public trusts hospital administrators to hire competent, trustworthy, and skilled nurses to aid and assist the primary health providers and the patients.

A hospital in Hull, Quebec, reached a difficult decision; to remove one of its nurses from the operating theatre. The nurse weighed 300 pounds, and as an operating room nurse she presented a singular challenge to the successful outcome of surgical proceedings. The woman, because of her obesity, perspired excessively which increased the risk of bacterial infection among surgical patients.

Wise move, that, to assign the nurse to other duties less inimical to the health outcome of patients. "An operating room is supposed to be a sterile environment without bacteria. There was an excessive amount of bacteria in the operating room air because of her sweating, creating a risk of infection", argued the hospital lawyer, presenting evidence at a labour tribunal hearing.

The Federation interprofessionnelle de la sante du Quebec, the nurse's union, had filed a grievance against the hospital on the nurse's behalf. One can only give a profound sigh of relief that the Quebec Ministry of Labour arbitration tribunal upheld the Hull hospital's decision.

That the nurse, a health professional, felt offended that her personal qualities were held to be deleterious to the surgical outcomes relating to vulnerable patients. That she felt her rights to be uppermost, rather than the health and safety of those whose well-being her profession is trained to secure, is sad enough.

That the union representing her agreed, is beyond comprehension.

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Ah, That Wind!

Yesterday's ramble through the ravine was a challenge at minus-7 C, but there was little wind to speak of, and although by the end of our circuit, my husband, looking at me, laughed that I looked like a little wooden soldier with bright red cheeks, we managed all right.

Button, with her long legs, small though she is, did fairly well, trudging through the newly-fallen snow on the trail awkwardly booted, but Riley, pumping his short little legs, faced far more difficulty and required assistance from time to time. Assistance in the form of being scooped up and carried along for a bit of relief, poor little tyke.

We looked for the owl, but nowhere was that elusive bird to be seen. Likely holed up somewhere comfortable; makes sense for a mostly nocturnal beast. The snow fell steadily while we charged our way forward, and by the time we reached the end of the walk and approached our house down the street from the ravine entrance, we felt well exercised.

And took turns slapping the snow off one another's hoods, shoulders and boots.

Today was even colder, not edging up above minus-9, but the big difference was the prevailing wind. Prevail it most certainly did, blowing all of yesterday's day-long snowfall in bursts and eddies, from rooftops down upon newly-shovelled driveways. We even experienced a few light flurries, although the sun did come through for most of the morning. As it was when we entered the ravine once again for our daily ramble.

We'd been told the day before to expect a total snowfall of 5 cm but we'd received far more than that by early morning, so a total twice that expected was likely to have occurred. And it most certainly appeared that way as we headed through to the ravine, clomping our way through untamped snow on the trails, due partly to the recently fallen snow, but more likely to the effect of the wind howling over the landscape, lifting the snow, depositing it everywhere.

The trees are beautiful beyond inadequate description, fluffed and laden with soft snow. Button and Riley once again padded courageously through the snow drifts, doing their best to maintain a steady enough pace, we urging them on. They need the exercise, the fresh air, the anticipation of snuffling entertainment awaiting their enterprising noses. Overhead, gusts of wind raged through the treetops, and we could hear trunks clacking against one another.

The wind, knocking clumps of snow off branches, the snow hurtling below, to dump on the trail, to embroider the smooth snow surface, to anoint our heads. It's cold enough to bring tears to my eyes, and I temporarily experience a strange double vision; blink and it's gone. Sheets of snow drift like ectoplasm off branches, but the snow plastering the trunks of the trees stays there, glued and gilded to its host.

Sheltered stands of far-off fir and spruce, seen across the valley retain their snow covering, elaborating upon their every outline and detail, reminding us of their presence, undistinguished other than a blur of green at any other time of year. Elsewhere, alongside the trail, heavily burdened pine boughs hang low across the trail, as though daring us to disturb the beauty they have inherited with this latest snowfall.

Push them aside, and receive a shower of sun-glanced, shimmering snow crystals. Snow is mounded in lovely curves and elongated, smooth ridges, layered and teased by the wind. The creek has started to freeze over again, and snow lays smoothly, curvaceously across the creek now, lending it a grace and stillness unseen at any other time of year. A woodpecker goes about its business, knocking on wood.

There are no signs, this clear and wind-hectored day of woodland creatures scuttling about. The new snow lies untramped by small animal feet.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Squatters Vengeance

A news item caught my eye. Coming hard on news that coyotes have been spotted in Barrhaven, outside Ottawa. People are being counselled to have a mind to the safety of their small pets. For the past several months people living south of here, in Greely, have reported the disappearance of small dogs. Then coyotes were seen in the area, and a group of homeowners decided to seek the services of a trapper.

Living in rural areas, is it too much to expect that people would exercise some discretion? To discipline themselves to take responsibility for their responsibilities? At night, if a small pet needs to be outside to relieve itself, and there's no property-encircling fence, accompany it briefly to ensure its safety. It's what we do regularly, living within a more urbanized setting, knowing how much area raccoons appreciate our compost.

Added to the stupidity of our smaller male dog who acts without appreciating consequences. So we remove the potential for grief by accompanying him outside in the dark hours, to ensure he doesn't challenge a raccoon to a contest that he'll most certainly lose. No big deal. It's the least we can do for the raccoon.

I'm digressing; it's today's newspaper article that infuriated me. A woman living in Whitney Ontario, not far from Algonquin Park, that natural sanctuary, Ontario's jewel, experienced a loss of her own. Her beagle, whom she named Chance, was devoured, she insists, by a wolf. A lone wolf, obviously a pack reject, fending for itself. And in so doing, coming across an irresistible opportunity.

Food placed outside on a daily basis for the little beagle, chained to its doghouse. The dog, well fed, would often stay in its doghouse, venturing out when he felt sufficiently hungry to eat. The wolf, observing the ritual, took it upon itself to take advantage of easily accessible food. Until one day when the beagle decided to venture out of the doghouse in the wolf's presence, challenging it no doubt, for the food.

The outraged owner, who had come back from a trip to a nearby town to find her dog missing, named her dog aptly, and the wolf accepted the chance. Living in a natural environment like that, where the presence of wolf packs is well known within Algonquin Park and close environs, along with other carnivores, this woman must surely have known that she was taking chances, leaving a little dog out to fend for itself.

Living in a natural setting would presuppose one to respect nature. Respecting the environment means respecting its natural and legitimate denizens. People are nothing less than squatters in nature's prime preserves. This woman did some sleuthing in her head and reached the conclusion that "The wolf would sneak in beside the doghouse and eat the food while the dog was sleeping."

A day after her dog vanished, the woman went out to the now-empty doghouse around the same time she usually fed her dog to "investigate the scene". And there was the wolf, looking right back at her. She had her satisfaction: "We got rid of it. He just happened to run into some lead."

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He's Still There

We were a little later than usual going out for our ravine walk today. Monday is house-cleaning day, and there's a lot of cleaning to be done routinely around this house.

While I was doing the cleaning my husband was well occupied himself, working up another design for yet another stained glass window, and he's coming along very nicely with it. Studying the Lansdown artwork for inspiration. The windows will have two large roundels each, highlighting birds.

The temperature dipped well below minus-20 C. last night, and warmed up only to minus-10 with a nippy wind by the time we were ready to leave the house. Which meant a sweater under a coat for each of our little dogs, along with booties. It's one thing for them to dip out into the backyard for a few minutes of relief, quite another to bounce along a wooded ravine trail for an hour at these temperatures.

They did very well indeed, despite the boots, since the snow is now well aged but not slippery. Just squeaky-crunchy enough to give them the traction needed to travel downhill and uphill without slipping. We heard a convocation of crows in the near distance, obviously bothered about something, and the thought of the barred owl came to mind. Three weeks since we first saw him, and then again a week later.

But he wouldn't still be around. There were chickadees and nuthatches, and a long, sad and eerie whistle of a train somewhere far off, a sound that evokes childhood memories for both of us. Not a sign of any of the unshelled peanuts we'd left in places where dogs couldn't reach, two days earlier. Too cold for squirrels to be out today; they made good use of yesterday's balmier weather.

Button, as she usually does, chose a path lesser taken, that we occasionally acquiesce to. It's a side-path, changing our loop without shortening the distance taken, but she prefers it. It takes us over a smaller bridge straddling a bit of a gully that runs below and alongside the ridge we were now headed for. Me in the lead as usual; the thought briefly entered my mind that the owl could be in here.

Years ago we'd seen a snowy owl here, come down from the boreal forest, in search of food. I was ascending the first part of the ridge, when my husband urged me to retrace my steps. There was the barred owl again, perched this time much closer than we'd seen him previously, on a slender, bowed trunk of an immature poplar, placidly viewing the terrain inside the gully, a mere 60 feet from where we stood.

We watched him as he observed us. His pearl-grey breast, his amazing size, large eyes fixed in our direction. There was a muted presence in the atmosphere. His unperturbed response to our being there seemed somehow surreal; his size as impressive as his calm. When we finally turned to resume our ramble, he turned, his back toward us, barred and humped, but his head swivelled, watching our progress.

Looking through Lansdown's picturesque tome, my husband had read the barred owl text to me: habitat, food source, behaviour. We've often seen mice tracks in the snow here and moles. Grouse as well, occasionally. The book had noted this bird's good disposition. Good hunting tonight, old chap.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

A New Generation

Our ravine walks are never without pleasure taken from our exposure to the natural world, whatever the weather. Restoring needed equilibrium, making us feel more at one with ourselves. Never know who you'll meet, what you'll come across, the beauty and the drama you'll be exposed to in an ever-changing landscape, where, despite our familiarity with it, we never fail to discover something new and delightful to challenge and awaken our sensibilities.

Take yesterday; just as we were descending into the ravine to begin our roundabout, the piercing triumphant peal of a Pileated woodpecker nearby. And sure enough, there he was, on the cusp of taking flight, so we could watch as he launched then torpedoed his way through the tree tops soon vanishing from our perspective.

We most certainly are aware of his presence even without seeing him in red-headed person, from the constant pile-up of new chips we see under tree trunks throughout the ravine.

And we had another delightful encounter, this time with a pair of old ravine buddies whom we haven't seen for ages.

It was our custom to see and walk with them regularly when they accompanied their beloved old beagle Jack, now several years gone. With them was a very small clone of Jack, pulling strenuously on his leash, just as Jack used to do. A much smaller version, similar markings, much more nicely contoured; the difference between young and old.

And look here - Riley's met his match. For this little fellow, small for his breed and his age, is a barker, just like Riley. The difference being that Riley as an over-hormoned toy poodle snarls and barks at dogs as a territorial challenge. Making up for his minute size by his large belligerency.

Whereas the little beagle's bark is a challenge to play. Neither Button nor Riley will accommodate this puppy. The usual response of mature dogs to the overtures of puppies. Button walks haughtily on as befits a doyenne, and Riley hangs back uncertainly, a true first for him.

When Riley was a tiny sprite of a puppy his first sight of this dog's predecessor brought pure rapture to him as he sniffed and snuffled at him, then performed agile somersaults over the older dog before snuggling up alongside him in a performance of utter love-at-first-sight. The emotion-laden snuggles and acrobatics became a ritual each time they encountered one another.

Which appeared to have ingrained an appreciation of beagles as a trusted breed to our otherwise-suspicious little poodle, for they still are the sole breed he will approach with trust. Millicent and Harry are happy with their new Jack, but, Harry complains, he's just not Jack. There will never be another Jack, and they will continue to mourn him.

Harry will always regale the patient listener with stories about Jack's peculiarities, orneriness, partialities and performances, and we don't mind listening, even if we've heard them time and again. I've taken along a bag of unshelled roasted peanuts which I've been littering here and there for the squirrels and birds and raccoons. One falls astray and the little beagle pounces on it, chewing it whole with great gusto.

His proud parents beam, watching him avidly searching the ground for other manifestations of manna from above.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Entering the 21st Century

All right, so I've failed to accomplish the most basic skills that most people take for granted, in finding within myself no interest whatever in learning to drive a car.

Not that I haven't had ample opportunity, and even the encouragement that my husband has given me. I simply cannot muster any enthusiasm for it. Never have. Away back when we were both young, not all that long married, he tried himself to teach me to drive our modest family car. One lesson sufficed.

Then, a mere six years ago, when I was, now let's see, about 65, I decided it was time. I took the requisite provincial tests, received a temporary license, and set out to learn. Enrolling myself in a driving school. And there was I, attending class after class full of confident young secondary-age boys and girls.

Oh yes, there was one other individual in the class, a woman of 40, who said she had gone through this once before, but let it lapse. This time...

The classroom teaching done with, there were the actual driving lessons, and I felt relaxed and comfortable enough, driving instructor beside me, learning to drive in all kinds of road conditions, rain and snow; parallel parking, turning, you name it. He gave me a pass, congratulated me, insisted that I continue to practise and I'd be just fine; he had great confidence in my ability.

As did my husband who professed surprise at my progress, the way I handled the car with confidence, the manner in which I'd taken to the process.

Today I came across one of our neighbours who lives next door, shopping at the supermarket. We see one another often, but hers is a sunny, bright personality and she greeted me as though I were her long-lost and treasured friend - as she always does.

Had I driven over myself, she asked brightly? Not a chance, I responded. Not driving? Nope. No interest. Gave it up. Pity, said she, she wouldn't know what to do without being able to drive. She values the independence it allows her. Although, she had confided on an earlier occasion, her husband would not permit her to drive outside the community.

Which was no bother to her; she professed to having no interest in doing so. And then she informed me proudly, that she had finally "joined the 21st Century". She was now allowed to go on the Internet. Her words. And was learning how to download and attach and send along photographs in emails.

Mostly to another of our neighbours who in fact got me interested years ago poking about at eBay offerings; instructed me in setting up an account and in the niceties involved in bidding and winning, and leaving little plaudits of appreciation. Oh, said I, now you'll be able to do your own bidding on eBay. For this same neighbour collaborated with her to enable her to make eBay purchases.

No, she said, her privileges would be revoked. She was warned by her husband that while she could navigate around the Internet to satisfy her curiosity, she was not permitted to open an account anywhere. For if she did, that would be the end of her Internet experiences. However, she doesn't at all mind, she declared. Using our mutual neighbour as an ongoing intermediary would save her from the dread disease of bidding compulsion.

Perhaps under other circumstances I would ask her gently how it is that a woman approaching fifty years of age finds it acceptable that her husband is adamant about controlling what she does. But I did not, and likely never will. Why upset her applecart?

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm Looking After It, Button!

Ah, the tyranny of little quotidian obligations. Looking after the needs and wishes of our two little dependents. One of which reigns as the supreme last word in this house; the other a mere hanger-on. Both well loved, both informing us of our place in their world, and expecting us to fulfill our duties toward them. And we do our utmost not to disappoint. Their needs become our needs. The state of their well-being fringes upon ours and often enough surmounts ours.

Button, the older by twice the age, and female at that, is the doyenne of our little household ensemble, and her wish remains our command. Generally speaking, that is. We do attempt, on occasion, to protect her from some of her more wayward demands. But for the most part our lives run on a little treadmill of obligations toward our charges. To ensure that they are well fed, healthy, fit and reasonably content.

And then there are all those other niggling little daily routines which cannot, on pain of censure, be overlooked. When we retire at night, the last thing we do is fetch her prized ball, to place it front and centre so that when she awakes it will be the first thing she sees, to her great satisfaction. Having learned through experience that she will not herself place it handy to the morning light, but will experience great distress if it is not to be found.

For, the fact is, the older she becomes, the more forgetful. She simply cannot recall where she last left her well-loved ball, so we try to keep tabs on its whereabouts. On those occasions when we've been unsuccessful, the trauma our little black dog suffers is painful to behold, as she rushes about the house, sometimes successfully, occasionally not, to discover its whereabouts.

So that her need to have it tossed in just such a way, in just the right direction, as soon as we rise out of bed, so she can experience the pleasure of chasing, retrieving and offering it up for another run, can be accomplished, to start the day. Used to be, when she was much, much younger, that she would cherish her ball by chewing rather injudiciously on it, until the ball (always a pale green tennis variety) would begin to disintegrate.

As clever as she is, Button could never figure out why a half-ball wouldn't behave the same as an intact ball, and my husband would have to resort to dog psychology by pasting half of the outer shell of the poor old ball onto a replacement ball, until it had acquired just the right fragrance so she would accept it as her own. Those days are long past, and the current ball is an oldie; with her own advancing age, she has begun to treat her ball with the respect due it.

As for Riley, our pint-sized toy poodle, he never developed a ball neurosis. Ask him where his "toy" is, and he'll head straight for the toy box beside the fireplace and rummage about in there until he finds his plastic hamburger or hotdog, and bring it over to be tossed, retrieved and growled playfully over for another toss. For him it's a casual, not a life-long passionate affair of the heart.

Button believes in schedules. Despite that she may have just been out in the back to relieve herself she will insist, punctually at half-past four every day to be let out. This is putting me on notice that five o-clock is neigh and it's high time I began preparing their evening meal. Back in the house, she restively paces about, seeks out a chewy and carries it around, until such time as I rise from the sofa, put away the newspaper, and put together their dinner.

Post-dinner comes another routine, not to be deviated from, the preparation of their salad. This is of utmost gustatory seriousness, not to be taken lightly. Whereas both little tyrants muster sufficient patience to quietly await the presentation of their dinner, they both become extremely agitated if their vegetable salads don't follow instanter. Button will accompany the preparation of salad with impatient nudges at my ankles and imperious sounds.

When evening falls and it comes time to haul ourselves upstairs to bed, first taking them out to the backyard for last-chance evacuation, they're amenable enough. For this is yet another routine; one which requires an evening pre-slumber reward; a fresh chewy, which is offered in turn to each. Riley doesn't hesitate to grasp the offering, but Button will sniff and reject, sniff at a fresh offering, and sometimes reject that one too, ditto the third, finally deciding on the first.

She no longer deigns to sleep with us. She objects, as she always has, to the presence of Riley on our bed. Actually, within, since he struggles mightily to inveigle himself down deep under the duvet until he reaches the foot of the bed. Which is where Button was accustomed to sleeping, but over the covers - on the opposite side. His presence remains repugnant to her, despite their 7-year co-location. It's a boy-girl thing, we assume.

She sleeps now in the old double bed that was once ours, forsaken for the queen-size one we now opulently revel within. But in the wee hours of the morning, she will leave the back bedroom where the double bed now resides, to return to our bedroom, and to take up her place on the loveseat sitting directly across from the bed, beside the windows. From whence position she will jump down anytime between six and eight to let us know it's wakey-time.

Oops, forgot to mention her penchant for sharing. Sharing, that is, food destined for our meals. Any time I take a bread out of the oven, she's there, front and centre, eager to pass judgement on its edibility. Refused portions, she will be aggrieved and utter condemnation of our selfishness. Place a salad on the table for our dinner and she stands beside the table, insisting she be given her share, despite having consumed her own mere moments before.

She alone has us very well trained. Riley comes along for the free ride.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Children's Issues

She's only eleven, a robust, well-built yet slender child standing four inches taller than her grandmother and relishing that simple fact. She enjoys standing as close to me as possible, then ostentatiously looking down fondly at me, proudly aware of our disparate physiognomies. Although she still could, she no longer grasps me at first sight, swinging me off my feet in an excess of exuberant physical maturity, flushing any dignity I may attempt to assume in the process down the toilet.

And so what? I love it. The marvel of her existence is beyond belief. And her growing intelligence and inquisitiveness is a constant source of wonder to me, and inspiration as well. Now I think of it, I felt something similar when our own children were growing into themselves as teen-agers questioning just about everything, and trying out their theories and perceptions on me and their father at the dining room table every evening.

During our telephone conversation this evening she just went on from one topic of conversation to yet another. And then we kind of lingered on the topic of energy sources. Her thought was that fossil fuels were there to be used and the world should just use them until they were no longer there to be used. At which time we could switch over to alternative energy.

She wanted to discuss the efficacy and efficiency of wind power as opposed to hydro-electric power. And was interested in the niceties of reliability and functionality leading to preferential outcomes. We discussed solar-derived energy, and the reliance on natural sources like a clear sky or a windy atmosphere to make either solar or wind practicable.

We talked about the cleanliness of nuclear-derived energy, but its high infrastructure cost and operating expense opposed to reliability, contrasted with the potential for human error or engineering dependability lapses resulting in disaster of huge proportions. And, of course, the still-intractable problem of disposing of nuclear waste.

Which reminded her of the issue of disposability of plastic bags and what a bane they are on the environment. So I spoke to her of days of yore when only paper bags were used and we were overjoyed when plastic bags took their place, feeling that we no longer had to sacrifice trees for paper bags, and what an empty victory that turned out to be.

Which took her to the topic of how it was in the good old days when trade or barter was the norm, not paper money that we now use, living in times when everything is so expensive; homes, vehicles and other items that make up our needs in the present day. I reminded her that back then she would have an outhouse (eeuu!) for her use, an elemental house, a horse and buggy if she lived relatively well. And she became quietly thoughtful.

We spoke of people temporarily excusing themselves from this country, vacating their homes for warmer climes, like Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, Florida. And discussed living in one's temporal environment, temperately and appreciatively. She would miss the seasons, she said. They would still be there, I told her, but different; rainy seasons instead of ice and snow.

Who knew?

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Traipsing Byward Market

Another beautiful winter day. Nice; in the wake of an unfortunate December, to have January so kind to us. The sky clear and impressively blue, hardly a wisp of a cloud to mar its clarity. And the temperature nicely above the freezing mark, with no wind to speak of. The accumulated snow has become hard and crisp, icy in spots, but that's fine for us, wearing our boots and cleats in the ravine.

Coming across some old ravine-rambling acquaintances who regale us about their exploits, their two King Charles Spaniels snuffling about. They're off to Cuba week after next for a bit of sightseeing and recreation. The other side of the island, opposite Havana, going to join friends of theirs who often travel there.

And on the advice of their friends they've packed small over-the-counter pharmaceuticals to hand out, because they're in scarce supply in Cuba. Along with toiletries and other small gifts that will be appreciated. Cluing neatly into a gesture of civility widely practised by visitors from privileged economies visiting those not quite so.

After all, Cuba, for all the advantages it has slowly and laboriously gained for itself, struggling to maintain itself under the severity of a rather onerous and unfair trade embargo, is not yet capable of offering to its people the small comforts and necessities we take for granted. We come from a society whose population has become entitled to living with grace and the security of plenty.

Off we went, in the early afternoon on a jaunt of our own, driving along the beautiful and peaceful eastern Parkway. Passing the Aeronautical Museum, seeing the Ottawa River running free and clear at a time when it should be completely frozen, with ice-fishing huts installed at various places, especially across the river, on the Quebec side.

We pass the estate of the Governor-General, that of the Prime Minister, the French Embassy the British High Commission, the Embassy of Japan. The Agha Khan Foundation headquarters taking shape, the (Royal Kingdom of) Saudi Embassy, Embassy of Kuwait, the (Royal Canadian) Mint, the National Gallery, with its giant spider sculpture and marble eggs: "Maman".

Turn the loop around the Peacekeepers' Memorial, and on to search for a parking space at Byward Market, jammed today with people out enjoying this beautiful day in a congenial setting. We do find a handy parking spot, and as we begin our amble up toward the Market my eye is drawn to the spectacle of a young woman hurrying across the street, dodging cars and no doubt causing a few pop-eyes in the process.

She is lithe and lissom, tall with long flowing dark hair. She wears skin-hugging low-rise jeans, and her tight little black leather jacket is sufficiently skimpy that her bare midriff remains vulnerable to the winter cold, albeit clemently. She's alone, but there, walking just up ahead of us, a young couple; he sensibly dressed but for the lack of gloves, and she wearing very similar skin-tight jeans carefully caressing her shapely buttocks, her thighs.

Nicely booted, with yet another midriff-baring, almost-there black jacket. She's as tall as her companion, walking with proud confidence, her youthful beauty generously bared. My husband whispers to me: "what kind of skirt is she wearing?" until he realizes there is none, the tight "jeans" having given the impression she was clad only in tights. Ah well, there was a time...

As we approach the market area, the crowd of people becomes denser, people gawking at one another, at the merchandise on display on large, flat tables. A more colourful outdoor market scene is hard to find in this winter environment. But we make our way first to the side street that holds a number of small shops and enter a deep and narrow shop of shelving boasting magazines of every variety.

Also showcased are miniatures of military figures, everything from the European wars of the 18th and 19th centuries to Japanese warriors of extreme refinement, exquisite detail and minuscule dimensions. They're quite wonderful in their tiny perfection, alongside the equally tiny reproductions of the accoutrements of war. They're so perfect as to challenge the imagination.

It's quick work for my husband to find the magazine he's looking for, on the far shelves: American Art Review. And he picks up another, similarly art-endowed magazine as well before heading to the front of the shop and the cashier's desk. As we commence walking forward in comes an elderly henna-coiffed woman with an almost-there grey Poodle on a leash and harness.

Unleashing an immediate hostile response from our own toy Poodle who, although a toy breed must weigh three times this wee one mincing daintily along on the floor, curious but unperturbed at the rude manners of our dog. This incredibly small dog is dressed in an obviously made-to-order garment that completely covers its body and legs, leaving only its head and tail vulnerable to the cruel air.

Its body-garment is multi-coloured and patterned, complete with hood overhanging the tiny head, ending where the foot portion reaches the tiny rubber boots. Our two galumphing dogs look like hulking pedestrian beasts beside this morsel of a canine and I cannot pry my ears away from it. Its human evidently speaks only French and is, in any event, like her dog, disinterested in comparing notes or even acknowledging our presence, and we move on.

Crossing the street again to gain the main portion of the market where all the shops we're primarily interested in are located. We shop for cheeses of notable derivation and taste, unlike the supermarket variety, and we're immensely rewarded to find exactly what we're looking for, and more. They're very good about ignoring the presence of Button and Riley, riding high slung over our shoulders - and the other shoppers are amused, unoffended.

We've been frequenting these same shops for decades; they're accustomed to accepting the sometimes eccentric behaviour of many of their clients. Outside, we walk slowly about, drinking in the atmosphere, relishing the day and the urban landscape. An unkempt beggar is hunched on the sidewalk, plastic cup outstretched. Is he not fortunate to live in such a privileged country with one of the highest GDPs in the developed world?

He's not unique in this area of town, one which attracts the upper- and middle-crust of the city, renowned for its tourist appeal, bringing an atmosphere of authenticity to this capital of Canada. There are usually as well - although not today - numerous young people looking for handouts, runaways living on the street, often drug-addicted. To enhance the pride that Canadians have every right to feel about their country, their civil society.

A toonie handed out here and there, matter-of-factly, sometimes hesitantly does much to assuage one's conscience. Echoing the street services made available by the municipality, and the law authorities augmented by the very real humanitarian concerns of local churches and privately-operated charities like the Salvation Army. In lieu of a real effort to solve the dishonouring dilemma of accepting the fiction that people enjoy the liberty of homelessness.

People idle, walk about singly, in pairs and family groups, enjoying the January thaw and the offerings from individual stalls; street vendors making available all kinds of fascinating consumer goods from jewellery to haberdashery, to hand-made garments, faux floral arrangements, honey and maple syrup. We stop before one such stall surfeit with hand-made wool hats, colourful and betasseled.

The owner's heritage can readily be seen in his broad face and high Andean cheekbones. The hats, he tells us, are $15 each, all different, all unique in pattern, if not design, a design easily traced to the hemisphere and mountains from which they come. Made, he tells us proudly, by "his people" in Ecuador. My husband, always looking to shelter his tender pate from inclement weather, tries on a few; I encourage a black-patterned number, but he succumbs to the lure of one more colourful.

Always such a pleasure to visit the market, walk among the sightseers and casual shoppers as well as those who come specifically for the food offered by the many small cafes, trattorias, and restaurants crowding the streets there. Aren't we fortunate?

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Whooo?

Overnight we received a gentle five cm of fresh new snow. Sufficient to cover the rude mess left in the ravine as a result of those aggressive wind gusts that scattered forest detritus over all the pathetically melting snow.

Neatly covering up as well all the dog droppings we've been gingerly avoiding, unhelpfully deposited on the trail, for the past week and more. So where is it all? Still there but camouflaged; tread carefully.

Another mild, albeit heavily overcast day, with not much of a breeze. Still, everything is fresh and bright and clean-looking. The evergreens once again cloaked in a mantle of snow, and appearing as enchanting as ever, the renewal of our winter wonderland.

The creek is still in melt-mode, running off from the melting snowpack, aided by the rain that began falling gently. The water gusts in eddies and burbles along, coloured by all that particulate matter its rush has picked up and carries with it downstream.

On the bridge rails there is no vestige left of any of the offerings we've left over the past few days. But on the slight layer of fresh new snow left on the rails there is the imprint of tiny squirrel feet, forever foraging.

Since we've brought along a bagful of seeds and nuts and dried fruits, we begin distributing the largess carefully, onto the middle-spaced rails, one bridge after another, until we've done all four - none left for the fifth. There are more than aplenty squirrels rushing about, and from a distance, we espie one on the rails of the bridge we've just left, availing itself of our offerings.

And, as I happen to look up, I see also a whirl of large, blunt wings, then the sight of the barred owl, roosting itself precisely where we'd first seen it five or more days earlier. Decided to stay around awhile, evidently. Obviously hunting has been good for him here, no opposition, no other claimants to the hunting territory.

I'm left to wonder whether I've been helpfully baiting the area for his future delectation....

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

After The Wind

Yesterday the house creaked and groaned under the relentless onslaught of high winds gusting on occasion well beyond the 60 km per hour we were warned to expect.

The protective blankets I'd placed on some of the ornamental trees in our backyard to help them overwinter successfully were ripped off, the containing twine still intact on the trees. Who knows where the blankets themselves ended up. It will be interesting to see, come spring, whether the removal of that protection made any difference; comparing those with, to those without.

Other than that, no damage to be seen, our larger trees appear to have withstood the high winds very well. We've had our share, in the past, of wind and storm damage to prized trees; once when a winter-hare-nibbled trunk of an apple tree succumbed, heavy with pendant fruit in late summer, completely collapsing into the flower beds in front of it.

And a much-valued prune-plum tree suffered a like fate, when that trunk too keeled over, in the process shearing off one of its main, fruit-laden branches. That tree, unlike the apple tree, was salvaged, its trunk pushed upright and for a while staked in that position, as heavy and broad as the trunk was. It appears now to have re-established its root system and looks healthy enough, even with the absence of one of its two main-bearing branches.

When we ventured, soon after breakfast today, back into the ravine for our daily walk, the ambient temperature was cooler than that of yesterday and the winds gentle, under a clear blue sky. The snow, which only a short four days earlier was overwhelming in its huge deposition throughout an extremely snowy early winter, has declined unbelievably, the result of a spate of record-breaking warm days and consequent rainfall.

The creek, although still full and energetic is rippling, not roaring, as it makes its way downstream to the Ottawa River. The snow, which a mere three days earlier was still virginal white now shrunken and utterly littered with long-dead leaves finally coaxed from stubborn their hold; branches and twigs, needles of pine, hemlock, spruce and fir, and rotten, desiccated apples. Not to speak of the fact that the well-tamped trail has become an agility track.

The need to remain right on track lest one plunge through the rotten snow on either side of the tramped-and-true trail is evident by the many hollow craters of unwary feet crashing through the fragile barrier contiguous to the trail. The brightness of the sun illuminates everything; the tangle of new-fallen boughs and branches on the forest floor, the rushing hither and yon of squirrels; black, grey and red.

Some of their hastily-assembled, poorly constructed, truly sloppy nests had tumbled off their perches during the wind storm. But then too have a few beautifully woven small-bird nests been wrenched from their perches. Alas.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fog Dispersed

We had overnight rain again last night, but by the time we were ready to go up to bed, the sky was beginning to clear, the cloud cover breaking up. And when we got downstairs this morning the fog had dissipated and the sun was out, although there were still plenty of clouds up there. And the ambient temperatures still mild; starting out the day at plus-8, in fact.

It seemed really peculiar to be able to see clearly, without the veil of fog we’d somehow become accustomed to. Because the weather forecast warned of more rain, we decided to go out to the ravine for our walk right after breakfast, to beat the rain. It’s amazing how much of the snow pack has gone, now. Although we still have a substantial amount of snow left, sufficient to make a good cushion for what we’re likely to receive throughout the balance of the winter - which is, in fact, most of the winter.

Treading along the trails was pretty tricky, even more so than it has been the last few days, given the snow melt and the necessity to walk a fairly narrow track of well-pounded snow. And even the firmness there has begun to relent. Although because the temperatures will now begin to drop steadily as the day progressed, we knew that wouldn’t last, and we’d soon be facing icier conditions. The pools of dirty water appearing beside the trail would soon glaze over.

The creek was something else again. Wide, fairly high and darkly roiling, rushing over all the impediments on the creek bed with an accompanying sound of wild water making its inexorable way through to its connections downstream. While the creek looked similar yesterday, in fairly full flood, it was even more so today. And, glad to say, while it smelled rather awful from marsh-gassy-type odours then, today it did not at all.

And the wind! Normal gusts to 60 km, kicking up a lot more than that from time to time. It chugged like a steam locomotive through the tops of the trees and sounded as though it might swallow us whole. The tops of trees swayed wickedly, whipped by the frantic motion the wind caused, and I felt very aware that it verged on foolishness to be out there surrounded by trees, in these unusual weather conditions.

We did come across a few other walkers with their dogs, and they weren’t too thrilled with the prospect of being bonked over the head by falling branches, so they swiftly made their way out again, after an initial, brief foray and assessment. At the start of our circuit, just before reaching the first bridge going to the left, there was the first casualty, a fairly tall tree that was once a live poplar, but long dead, and long standing - until now.

Remarkably, because it must surely have been rotten, having been dead for years, it didn’t crack under the pressure of the high winds; instead the whole thing just toppled over, taking a sizeable rootball of earth with it, the top portion crossing the trail just before the bridge. Being hit anywhere on one's body, let alone the head, would spell certain disaster, and given the number of unhealthy specimens among all the forest trees there, the potential for several being lopped by the wind as we struggled along was fairly high.

After that we saw a few limbs littering the wet snow on the ground - of green and healthy pine trees, oddly enough, along with branches falling from long-dead trees - casualties likely of the 1998 ice storm. Which itself arrived just about this same time of year a decade ago. We heard loud cracks from time to time, making me even more nervous; obviously the result of trees succumbing to the force of the wind.

And we saw quite a few tree trunks toppled; immature, unhealthy birch trees for the most part. I was more than a little glad when we finally completed our walk and out we came. Really the sound of the wind hurtling through the trees was amazingly loud and overwhelming. Another adventure in our wonderful accessible, life-enhancing ravine. Nothing untoward occurring, and the phenomenon of weather witnessed more than a little fascinating.

We saw crows flying high above the waving, clacking treetops, and I don’t ever recall seeing this before, but they appeared to bring their wings up close beside their bodies and just seemed to surrender themselves to the force of the wind. As a kind of enjoyable free ride, a recreational treat, wings neatly folded and bodies bullet-like, whipping along with the wind offering speed and direction.

And then rain began pelting down, it too driven by the wind.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Today's Fog Conditions

Mist mischievously traced its presence over the snow, lifted, dissipated, then retrenched, a few inches above the banks of snow as we made our way up the street, toward the ravine. The street itself was clear of the presence of fog. Rain had seen to that. And at 8-degrees, milder even than yesterday when the fog was all-encompassing and visibility elusive, it looked like a different landscape altogether.

We'd had overnight rain, heavy at times, melting away both layers of snow, and overall fog conditions. Morning rain, fitful and light kept the fog from re-forming its sight barrier. Clever Nature, keeping us guessing, never a dull moment. And that would be entertainingly fine, were it not for the fact that we still have an expectation to clear up from yesterday; our son's departure to Vancouver.

But this was morning, and departure still hours away. We found as long as we were careful to remain on the hard-packed snow of the trails, the going was easy enough. Forget for a moment, step incautiously to either side of the trail, and your boot and leg sunk deep into the weather-denatured snowpack.

The creek was in full flood mode, roiling and boiling in dark brown eddies over storm-tossed accumulations of branches and twigs, clay bank collapses and rocks. Particulate matter had been peeled off the bed of the creek by the madly rushing run-off, aided and abetted by the effects of overnight rain. The darkly swollen creek rushing downstream exuded the sharply sour odours of gases newly unleashed.

A quick glance affirmed the resident squirrels' appreciation of yesterday's nut offerings. The wide board rails of the four bridges we would pass in our roundabout were now devoid of nuts and dried fruit. In the equally bare branches above, a nuthatch polished its beak and chickadees flitted hither and yon. While in the near distance the uncanny call of a woodpecker was heard.

Surprisingly little of the snowpack appeared to have melted, despite the mild atmosphere, the rain still gently blessing the tops of our rain hoods. Untracked stretches of snow presented as a different and attractive backdrop, having acquired a softly dimpled aspect. In other places we guess at the maker of snow tracks, identifying variously muskrat, beaver, mice, rabbit, squirrels.

And, of course, dogs, plenty of those have left their tracks, small and large, happily rambunctious and weary plodders alike, all out for their daily constitutionals with their people. The dogs, unlike the ravine's genuine denizens, have taken leave of their toilet manners, and their reeking droppings appear everywhere we tread - cautiously.

As we approach a mixed copse of maple and pine there's a convocation of crows, loudly mobbing. Our biologist son, whose departure back to Vancouver has been delayed by yesterday's impossibly dense fog, alerts us that something is up. And he peers skyward, then around the encircling trees.

Bringing our attention to the presence, halfway up a pine, perched on a jutting branch close to the trunk, a barred owl. Clearly its presence, whose discovery delights us, is perceived as an insult, if not an outright threat, by the crows, hysterically circling the majestic bird. The crows call their defiance of the owl's presence in their domain. The owl magisterially ignores the pests.

As we proceed, we drop into another hollow, replete with drifting fog, eerie, wispy, transcendentally beautiful. Presenting to us its benign face. Its presence in the ravine, absent up above, on the street, is appreciated where it does not present a threat to our plans, and we hope that its intransigent face of potential threat absents itself from our experience later this day.

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Devilishly Disarming

That's the appearance of nebulous, entrancing webworks of mist rising from nature's prankish weather intersections. Our mountains of snow are succumbing to the blandishments of a January thaw, following hard on the phenomenon of a records-breaking cold- and snow-packed December. Fog conditions? a warm air mass coming up against a frigid month's deposit of snow and frozen ground will do the trick.

I grabbed the camera as we set off for our ravine walk, giddy with the prospect of a 6-degree high, loping along the hard-packed trails, enclosed by dense, white fog. Different, certainly different! The mild weather would bring out the semi-hibernators, so we took along a bagful of nuts and dried fruit to be carefully dispensed along the width of the lower bridge-rails.

And took ethereal photographs of floating protoplasm - over the creek, in the dips and hollows of the ravine, among tree boughs and, in fact, everywhere we looked. Did we imagine the sound of church bells faintly pealing on a Monday morning?

This all-enveloping fog, weather forecasters assured us, would lift by mid- to late-afternoon, and we might even see some sun. By the time we set out for the airport, after repeatedly checking online airport departures, the fog appeared to have descended even more decisively; deeply prevalent over field, forest and housing tracts.

As we drove along the highways to our airport destination, the fog appeared to our hopeful perceptions, to have lifted slightly when we approached urbanized areas, then to have descended ever more deeply when we drove past long stretches of open fields. At which time we were barely able to make out faintly perceived outlines of trees and bushes.

At the airport, our son hurried into the airport to scan the departure board. There was his flight to Vancouver, still on time and scheduled to depart. Back to the car for his gear where we parked alongside the terminal. Kissed and hugged and off he went. But we remained, and waited, while other cars, buses and taxis kept arriving. Take-off in this dense fog?

My husband went back into the waiting lounge and there came across an airport employee who informed him that the airport was as good as locked down, despite the frantic arrivals and long line-ups at the check-in desks. And as he waited another few minutes, the flight we were awaiting was finally cancelled. Our son re-scheduled for the following evening.

And we returned home with him. We were delighted with another day of his company and he was in a bit of a dudgeon about his own expectations to return to Vancouver, his home, and his work responsibilities. But it wasn't just Ottawa that was locked in by fog. This was a widespread weather phenomenon that affected a good swath of the country and beyond.

Nature has her own plans and we do the best we can to work around them. Man proposes, nature disposes.

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