Saturday, December 31, 2005

He's not my cat.

Kids, if you insist on keeping him(1), then I insist on these conditions:
1. There will be no ingestible toys, ornaments, or other knicknacks left lying around our living areas. Ever. Period.(2)
2. When we are away, you will arrange and pay for a cat sitter to come in and dole his food out in small portions(3), not less than twice a day. Can't arrange that? We stay home.
3. Paper towels come out of your allowance. Unless you'd prefer to launder rags, and not in a small extra load, either. Save water, do them in with your clothes. Got that? YOUR clothes.

Am I being mean? Well, I suppose I could just walk in, look at the floor, and walk out again. Go stay with Mom and Dad until the kids get home and do the cleanup themselves. Yes, I know, Ruth, you did the cleanup once. I prefer not to remember such tasks, let alone count the number of times I do them, but I'm sure I'm way up on you.

Ah, well. I don't think the kids read my blog, and by the time they get home, well, I might not say anything. Like I said, I prefer not to remember such tasks.

Happy New Year everyone!

(1) The link is intended to refer to the creature in the illustration, not to the guy discussed in the text of the post. Him I'll keep, even if I do have to clean up after him sometimes.

(2) For you animal rights folks: we'll be going to the vet next week to rule out any unsuspected causes, or any lasting damage from the attempt to digest a Lego wheel.

(3) Umm, Dad, if he hasn't eaten in a while, give him just a little to tide him over. How do I know it was you? Mom wouldn't leave her muddy tracks across the kitchen. Unless that was me before I left? Like father, like daughter. . .

Monday, December 26, 2005


Well, we had to rush back to town for the finals at the Fun Spiel again this year. Mind you, this year we had Dad as skip, so it didn't seem quite so crazy for us to win some games. (Sorry, Garth, I really enjoy playing on your team, but Dad has been a keen curler for a lot of years.) Last year was bizarre; Garth and I had been curling for a month or so, and before that, we hadn't done anything but the odd Fun Spiel since high school. The kids were in their first year of curling. And we kept winning, including a game against one of the top curling families from the area. "Welcome to Earth, third rock from the sun" (Joe Diffie). We made it into the finals, and then got put firmly in our place. But it was still great fun.

Boxing Day curling is always a good time. There are people visiting home from all over, and people gather up in-laws, children, girlfriends and boyfriends or whoever they can find to make up teams. In the two draws we played in the round robin, there were kids on every sheet, and everybody was helping and encouraging and laughing with everyone else. We had good close games all the way through, and it was great fun to just try whatever and not worry about doing the safest shots. Brian tried using a slider, even though he'd never been comfortable with one before, and he did really well with it.

So we squeaked into the finals, and won our event. It would have been a great day anyway, but I have to admit, it's fun to win, too.

I'm OK now

The Christmas Eve service was much more poignant, powerful, and difficult than I expected. It's a good thing I had my hair down around my face, so I could partly hide my wincing and wiping as I sat up by the organ in front of everyone. Did anyone notice? Hope I didn't spoil it for you.

After that I was fine. I hurried through my final packing for the overnight with Garth's family, stopped in at Mom and Dad's for a quick visit and a couple of hugs, and drove. I was on the road over midnight, but I didn't see Santa Claus, although there was that funny flicker in the sky that once...

Crept into the quiet farmhouse, ferried in stuff, tucked gifts under the tree, tucked a restless child back into his sleeping bag, rolled out my own sleeping bag, and caught a few hours sleep before the eager morning scurrying began. Actually it was rather subdued, I thought, with all the children now two years older than the last time we got together there. We had a pleasant day, with the usual overabundance of food, some carol singing with rich harmonies from Garth's musical siblings, some games and a bit of play with a toboggan in the yard. I got some knitting done on the present that wasn't. Now that I don't have to hide away in my room to keep it a surprise, the poncho should develop much faster.

I was planning to pitch in with dishes after lunch, but exhaustion caught up with me like an ocean wave, and I went off for a nap which took up much of the afternoon. I helped with dishes after supper instead, and I was glad of that nap during the drive home. It'll be an early morning tomorrow, for the 9 a.m. draw at the Boxing Day Fun Spiel. Wish us luck - we're hoping we don't fluke out and keep winning, and end up playing into the evening like last year!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

For Lonely Folks Only...

...the rest of you please go back to your hugs and egg nog. Laugh and sing for me.

I thought I was okay. In fact, I don't think I even really thought about whether I would be okay. I wondered how it would affect the kids, and I made arrangements for them to be with Garth's family, because they would need that connection. I planned it out so that I would be there Christmas morning (and I will), for their sake; they need a parent there. As usual, I just accepted that I am the organist, so I am here for Christmas Eve. As we moved into the Christmas season, I went to the Co-op Christmas party and laughed and smiled on Garth's behalf. I sang for the seniors at Moose Mountain Lodge. I went to the school Christmas Concert, both afternoon and evening. I made sure the kids got ready for their time with the relatives, and I drove them to the city. And I looked forward to my quiet time, to unwind from all that.

By this morning, I still had quite a bit to do, but at a slower pace, and I did some blogging. Garth phoned from Nepal, and I laughed with him, enjoying his stories and his voice and the humour of his sudden realization that he hadn't bought presents for anyone. Christmas over there is an opportunity for a couple of stores to sell things to a few tourists, and maybe a theme for that week's party at the nightclub, but not a big deal.

After lunch, back at the blogging, I sensed other blogs going quiet around me, as others turned to their families and their feasts. Feeling a teensy bit pathetic, I tore myself away and walked to the church to practise the hymns and prelude music for this evening. I tried to steer myself to happy Christmas songs, but the haunting songs of Advent drew me. When I finished, I walked downtown for one more check on the mailbox.

I turned the corner, at around 5 p.m., and saw Main Street stretched out before me. There was one truck in front of a house near me, but not a single vehicle south of the cenotaph; nothing to block the view of a tranquil corner of the sunset stretching across the southern sky.

The mailbox was empty, too.

I was already sobbing before I reached the post office, and I gasped and sniffled all the way home, half of me longing that someone would rush out of a quiet house to comfort me, and half of me ashamed of my weakness and folly, desperate to reach the privacy that waited behind my door.

I pulled myself together, had a shower, and heard Mom's voice on the answering machine as I came out: "I guess you're out somewhere; we've decided not to come to the service this evening, so we won't see you . . . so, Merry Christmas, and we'll see you . . . Monday!"

Mom's place is where I should be tonight and tomorrow. But the kids need me.

I have done everything I could for everyone else. Now I am doing something just for me. I won't even try to make a happy little greeting for you here. Instead I will give you the song that is running in my heart, the song I wanted to record for you about a week ago, for Blue Christmas, but didn't have time, so all you get are the words, a little late.

The words of the first verse belong to Joseph; of the second, to one of the wise men; and of the third, to me.

One Bright Star
© 2004 Laura Herman

There he lies, asleep in a manger.
Mary rests at last in my arms.
In this dark, lonely place,
how can I keep them safe?
How can I, all alone?

One bright star
shining softly,
and the silence is tender with love.
Through the shimmer
of my teardrops,
one bright star
still softly shines.

As we search, his star goes before us,
but my own hopes dwindle behind.
All the wisdom I gained--
soon the whole world will change.
Do I dare
journey on?

One bright star
shining softly,
and the silence is tender with love.
Through the shimmer
of my teardrops,
one bright star
still softly shines.

Once again the Christ-child is coming.
All the world seems merry, and bright,
but I wander apart,
lift my eyes to the stars,
and there's one . . .
there is one . . .

one bright star
shining softly,
and the silence is tender with love.
Through the shimmer
of my teardrops,
one bright star
still softly shines.

Humour, humiliation, humility, and humanity

I don't know the evolutionary history of those words. I suppose I could tack humus onto the list.

Anyway, I was thinking about humour, after Kate published one of her notorious cat posts, and someone angrily(?) demanded to know if it was a joke. (Or was he joking?)

Kate's links did make me laugh. Actually it was the image of the coyote hat, with the head and legs still attached so that it looks like the coyote has fastened its jaws on the wearer's head, that made me laugh out loud. Yet I love to watch a coyote hunting mice, or see its astute watchfulness as I drive past: if I slow down, it will run, but otherwise, it just watches calmly, biding its time until it is safe to resume the task of feeding itself and its offspring, while unconsciously(?) providing us with rodent population control.

And we have a cat, and he is well cared for, if somewhat developmentally twisted from his natural wild self by being kept indoors except when walked on a leash. Wild cats are not natural here, and wild birds are not adapted to deal with them, so he stays in. He welcomes his leash, because it's the only way he gets to go outside. I would rather not have him, since we have to restrict his freedom, and he is a costly contradiction to my minimalist tendencies, and he chews electrical cords whenever he can get his teeth on them, and his wild mother taught him to be fiercely aloof in the mere month she raised him. She has raised several litters in the neighborhood, and we saw her swat her own young far more often than grooming them, sometimes when they first walked towards her, as soon as they got within paw's reach. Weaning? Maybe partly, but that wouldn't explain all of it. We didn't "rescue" him from her; it was some well-intentioned children who brought him, thinking he had got lost or been abandoned, when most likely he was just parked somewhere partway through a move to a new nest. Then after our kids saw him, and since I had told them they could have another cat to replace the wonderfully loving cat that we originally got to control mice in the house trailer at the farm, the one that would sleep curled against my ankles every night when Garth was away, the one I had to have put down due to cancer, well, what could I say? I had them put the kitten back out in the original nest first, to see if the mother would come for him, with a little blanket to help him survive the night. Next day yet another neighborhood kid brought him back to us, so that was it.

All that was just to explain that I have nothing against cats, or coyotes, and yet I laughed at Kate's post. Actually I suspect that someone who actively disliked them might only chuckle grimly. And someone who bore a painful memory of watching an abused cat suffer, or seeing a coyote chased with a snowmobile until its lungs froze, or watching a beloved dog die in agony from eating a poisoned bait set for coyotes, might not laugh at all.

My mom watched that dog die. Her response was to research the practise of coyote baiting, as well as the reality of coyotes' relationship with farm production, and write an article for the Blue Jay. She was told that that article was instrumental in getting the provincial government out of the baiting business.

Sometimes I laugh at things and later wish I hadn't. I still remember vividly the day that a fellow student fell during a gymnastics lesson at school, and my nervous laugh rang through the silence. That student was more dear to me than I cared to admit. Another student said loudly, "That's not funny, Laura." I wished I could disappear.

More recently I stood silent, listening sadly, while a friend laughed at his own stories and jokes involving "Indians" and "squaws." Humour is complex and ambiguous, and I don't know what exactly he was laughing at; perhaps not directly at the people or even at the humiliating names, but more because of the tension in the situations where those names had been used. He may even have been laughing due to his own tension as to how I would respond. I just wonder if he remembered that I have an adopted brother whose ancestry is Cree and Saulteaux. This friend is a few years older than I, enough so that I don't remember him from school. It tears my heart to wonder if he was one of the big boys who used to pick on my brother just for fun.

All this is a rather dark post for the day before Christmas, no?

It's just a little late, I guess. I said a couple of weeks ago, just before my Advent Calendar project fizzled, that I would have something more to say about peace beginning close to home. I believe there is a growing threat to peace in Saskatchewan. I hear about rising tensions between First Nations students and other students in our local school. So, neighbours, here is my challenge for you. I have heard lots of stories about how the people on the reserves near here are given all kinds of opportunities to better themselves, and not much comes of it. But I ask you, what are you doing to make sure these people know that they are welcome in our society? What evidence are you giving them, that if they work hard and build a life with a job somewhere in the local economy, that their days on the job, surrounded by people like you, will be so much as tolerable? What are you teaching your children (or your nieces and nephews and your neighbours' children) by your own example, by the stories you tell, by the things you laugh at?

I'm not asking you to be perfect. I know I'm not perfect. I'm just suggesting that we give some thought, day by day, to the balance of what we are adding to the humus.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A song for another blogger

Eleutheros, at How Many Miles from Babylon, writes excellent meaty original articles about the empty illusions of modern, affluent society. He has escaped from the Babylonian hall of mirrors (I'm thinking right now of the glass-and-steel canyons of downtown Regina) to a real place where he grows real food, builds real things, and writes real wisdom.

I started to comment on the third post of his Ptocheiopsis series, but I got carried away and decided to bring my lengthy response back here.

From his post:
We moderns fill our days shuffling piles of papers from one side of a desk to the other, transfering electronic documents, inspecting this, coordinating that, certifying and validating this other thing, and in general do nothing more than toss about bags of air to each other.
He goes on to explain that
We do not live by our own work. Our livelihood, the beans on our tables, the shingles over our heads, the clothes on our backs, and the logs (as it were) on our fires all come from three sources:

1) Raping the environment
2) Oppressing the world's poor
3) Accepting poor quality in everything for the false appearance of abundance.

At any rate, it isn't by the sweat of our faces.
I couldn't help thinking of my main source of income, "inspecting things."

Here's a song I wrote a few years back, as I tried to convey to baffled onlookers why I hated my job in environmental consulting:

For the Environment
© 1999 by Laura Herman

Sung to a jolly tune, with a twinkle in the eye, at a frenetic pace.

Oh, I want to work for the environment.
I go to university,
biology and chemistry;
I'm dumping chemicals down the drain
in order to prepare my brain
for solving all the planet's problems,
soon as I can get a job and
do the work I want for the environment.

For the environment;
for the environment.
Oh, can't you see it's all for the environment?
It'll never be a chore,
and I'm always doing more,
more, more, more, more for the environment.

Oh, I drive a truck for the environment.
I spew out greenhouse gases
on my way to key out grasses
that will soon be getting killed
beneath the road they have to build
to reach the well to pump the crude
from which the gasoline is brewed
to fill my tank so I can drive my truck for the environment.


Oh, I write reports for the environment.
We need reports to help decide
if paper use is justified
and what the paper source should be,
a fibre crop, or forest tree,
and whether we should plow more land
or cut another forest stand
for paper for reports I write for the environment.

(Chorus, faster and faster, to a dramatic drawn out MO-O-ORE...for the environment!)

I was raised by back-to-the-landers: an engineering prof and a stay-at-home mom (not unusual at that time) who happened to have a graduate degree in biology. What was unusual about Mom was that she was raised in Toronto, but she became the farmer, feeding the cattle through the winter and calving them out in early spring while Dad continued to teach at the university two hours' drive away, coming home only on weekends and through the summers, when he worked on building the solar-heated house, and took over the lead farmer role in putting up the hay.

I grew up knowing where my food came from. I went off to save the planet more actively, and eventually realized that it wasn't the planet that needed saving, it was us, needing saving from ourselves. I couldn't fix the system by being part of it. But Mom and Dad's approach didn't seem to work either; their quiet retreat to the land doesn't appear to have made much difference in the way anyone else lives (even their own children; my brother is an urban laborer, my sister an industrial production coordinator with a townhouse and an SUV). And I am stumbling along, trying to be a part of society enough that somebody will care what I think, or enough that my husband doesn't have a breakdown or leave me. He hated living in a little house trailer with a carry-out-the-bucket toilet; I loved it because I never had to worry about unclogging a sewer! (And yes, I carried it out. That was my chore.) Now we live in town, in an ordinary little older house with one flush toilet, and I am still doing some environmental consulting (because I'm good at it, so they keep calling me, and money keeps the peace around here - "money answereth all things," Ecclesiastes 10:19, for you folks who think there are no contradictions in the Bible). I've mentioned before about a dream I had, which got me thinking that feeding people spiritually might help move society away from its insatiable hunger for more, more, more stuff that doesn't feed anyone. Now, after a couple of years of occasional lay preaching, I'm working with a committee of the local church and presbytery to "discern" whether I should be a minister of some sort.

But Eleutheros makes me nervous. I don't want to be a "professional hand-wringer." Can I work even harder, make my tiny token garden into something meaningful and at the same time study through a distance-education program that trains ministers for ordination while they work in part-time ministry in their home community? Can I aspire to be like Paul the tentmaker, within a church where some of the clergy recently wanted to unionize?


Update - to be fair to my sister, it's a very nice townhouse. I enjoy its peaceful comforts every time I need a place to sleep in the city. And it's a very fuel-efficient SUV, one of the best, and I understand it's quite necessary for hauling her Paraguayan harp to functions all up and down our crumbling Saskatchewan roads. Which reminds me, I promised her some web design work to let the world know about her lovely harp music. Anyway, I hope I haven't offended. I'm hoping she and the harp will be here for the Christmas Eve service!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

December Double Rainbow in Regina

It was the talk of Rose Street, as we picked our way from the Cornwall Centre back to the car, through the slush and the sand. A worker with a wheelbarrow was making his way from doorway to doorway, tossing handfuls of sand for the safety of us shoppers, and he said that rainbow must be a sign of blessing. "Somebody up there is watching over us."

I could take it as an omen, too, but I didn't mention that. We exchanged Christmas greetings and went on our ways.

It was a strange and difficult day, spent bracing my eyes open after several days of insufficient sleep, gripping the wheel through nearly as many hours driving as not, and several of those on wet ice. It rained through most of the drive into the city (in spite of a forecast that had said only "becoming cloudy"), and then just as we neared Regina the clouds lifted in the west. The sun came out and gave us the big bright rainbow, showing double as we sat waiting at a light at Winnipeg Street, and still visible between the towering walls of glass and steel when we parked on Rose.

We were only a few minutes in the mall, walking as if summoned to one store where each of us (Ruth and I) picked out one small item. I dropped off the kids for a few days of visiting with their cousins, ran one more little errand for Ruth, and got some fast food for the road back home. My big day of shopping in the city. I debated staying the night at some relative's place, but my home was beckoning with the promise of a couple of days of peace, all to myself. Foolish, perhaps, to press on; but the trip home was actually easier, perhaps because I wasn't worried about the safety of the kids. The other drivers seemed to leave me alone a little better, too: I think I averaged 70 km/h most of the way, and most seemed content to just follow.

I stopped to refill at the Co-op, my Geo Metro dwarfed by the big silver 4x4 that pulled up on the other side of the pumps. There was a moment when I stepped inside, that I just stood on the doormat, looking around at the familiar aisles and marvelling that I was safely home. Mike B. asked if I slid all the way down that hill. I rolled my eyes and told him I'd been into Regina and back. He watched my total come up on the till, and asked when I filled up. "Before I left," I replied.

"Before you left Regina?"

"No, before I left here."

"Twenty-four bucks to go to Regina and back?! I can't go to Weyburn for twenty-four bucks!"

Of course, the 70 km/h average speed made some difference.

As I stepped back outside, I heard him say to the gas jockey, "I hope mine is only twenty-four bucks..."

Ideals and reality

A few years ago, the Arcola School Division was amalgamated with an area to the south, forming the Souris Moose Mountain School Division. This was supposed to save money. I hear that it did the opposite.

Now we are on the eve of another amalgamation, throwing us in with schools over a huge area (including the cities of Estevan and Weyburn, which will undoubtedly drive the decision making in an urban orientation) to form the Southeast Cornerstone School Division.

For an excellent portrait of the kind of abstracted, impractical thinking that feeds this centralization, I highly recommend Kate McMillan's latest post at the CBC Election Roundtable, regarding health care.

Monday, December 19, 2005

If we're so conservative around here, where are the Air Cadets?

I've been told that this southeast corner of Saskatchewan is conservative.

The history of federal elections here seems to confirm that, at least since the Diefenbaker sweep of 1958.

1905-1918 - Liberal - John Gillanders Turriff; called to the Senate in 1918
1919-1921 - United Farmers - Oliver Robert Gould
1921-1925 - Progressive - Oliver Robert Gould
1925-1935 - Liberal - Robert McKenzie; accepted "an office of emolument under the Crown" in 1935
1936-1940 - Liberal - Hon. James Garfield Gardiner
1940-1945 - Liberal - Jesse Pickard Tripp
1945-1949 - Co-operative Commonwealth Federation - Edward George McCullough
1949-1953 - Liberal - John James Smith
1953-1958 - Co-operative Commonwealth Federation - Edward George McCullough
1958-1972 - Progressive Conservative - Richard Russell Southam
1972-1979 - Progressive Conservative - Alvin Hamilton
1979-1993 - Progressive Conservative - Len Gustafson
1993-1997 - Liberal - Bernie Collins
1997-2000 - Reform - Roy H. Bailey
2000-2004 - Canadian Alliance - Roy H. Bailey
2004-present - Conservative - Ed Komarnicki
Source: Parliamentary website, History of Federal Ridings Since 1867

I am pretty sure that the incumbent, Ed Komarnicki, was elected on the basis of either his party affiliation or his personal stand on a traditional definition of marriage, or probably some of both. He was not elected just because he was well known, or seen as a strong advocate for the particular interests of the riding. If voters had been looking for an advocate for farmers, Liberal candidate Lonny McKague would have had a much stronger showing. No, the 2004 election results seem to confirm that this is a conservative area.

In the extreme southeast corner of this area, I have seen billboard signs proclaiming bible verses. That seems to fit the stereotype of conservatism.

Kate McMillan comes from this area. Her conservative blog, small dead animals (SDA), just won "Best Canadian Blog" in the Weblog Awards 2005.

I often disagree with Kate, but her blog remains one of my favourites. She writes clearly and strongly, and I enjoy her occasional references to Arcola and area. I have to admit, I also read SDA partly as a way of educating myself about conservative viewpoints. I realize that I can't assume that Kate's viewpoint is always a typical conservative view of an issue, but from the comments she gets, and her popularity, I figure she must be fairly representative.

One of the characteristics I've noticed in Kate and her readers is a strong support for the military. I have been assuming that this is a conservative trait, but something doesn't fit.

Tonight was the Christmas Parade for Moose Mountain Air Cadets Squadron #723 in Carlyle. The 2005-2006 Roll stands at 17 Cadets. The nearest other Cadet Units are in Moosomin, Montmartre, Weyburn, Estevan, and Oxbow. Only 17 Cadets from the entire Moose Mountain area?

Only 2 Cadets from Arcola? And my daughter one of them?

I keep thinking that people must see me as hopelessly left-wing. I have heard that someone declared the United Church in Arcola won't be around much longer, because it's too left-wing. Yet it is two United Church familes that have contributed the two Air Cadets from this town. I know, it's only her first year, and not even half over, but at least she is there giving it a try. I hear that many of her peers snicker at the mention of Cadets. I hear that being seen in a Cadet uniform draws taunts from other young people. What is going on? If this area is so conservative, where is the support for Air Cadets?

Are people supportive of the military, and at the same time, for some reason, hostile to the cadet program? Do they perhaps see it as a sugar-coated feel-good program for people who will never join the real military?

Am I wrong in my assumption that support for the military is a conservative trait?

Are people in this area voting Conservative, but not conservative in their views?

Is there a generation gap? Are the aging voters mostly conservative in their views, and Conservative in their loyalties, while the generation currently raising children has moved away from these views and loyalties? (And if so, are we moving towards a sea-change in the electoral history of this riding?)

I wonder. Are the people of my generation still talking and voting from a conservative standpoint, but actually living something else? I am glad to see my daughter taking an interest in Air Cadets. She is already very responsible and self-disciplined, but I hope she will learn more about the military that we rely on for the defense of our country, and about our responsibility as citizens to support it. I think if I were more conservative, I would be doing my best to inspire my kids to join Air Cadets, if not outright forcing them to go. As it is, I can only shake my head and wonder what I did right. Perhaps I'm more conservative than I realize?

Update - as I trickled off to sleep last night, I realized that I wrote this as if I am the sole influence on our kids. I'm starting to think like a single parent. I didn't even mention that Garth is a former Air Cadet. Of course he was a major influence.

I don't think of Garth as being very conservative either.

And regardless of our influence on our own daughter, my question stands: why isn't this conservative area sending more of its youth to Cadets?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I can count your grain bins, neighbour...

...but you can't see my house.

My daughter downloaded Google Earth, and I've been snooping around. I overheard her friends talking to her on MSN while Googling the Earth, and saying "This is scary!" Actually, I think it's perhaps an improvement over the former situation, when satellite images (and higher resolution air photos, available for many decades now) were accessible only to those few who knew how to get them, and could pay the price. With this new tool, high-resolution satellite imagery is becoming familiar territory for almost anyone who uses the Internet.

The resolution of the imagery varies. This fact became quickly apparent, as I looked at the vague blurs that represent our farmyard and the general vicinity of our house in town, and then went south to check out some different coloured landscape that I had noticed during the zoom in. The Moose Mountains had guided me in, with their characteristic oval of green southwest of the big lakes in Manitoba. I snooped around Arcola and the south edge of the hills for a while, but I was curious about that brown strip that started south of town, near the creek. I thought at first that it looked like land under different cultivation, but there was no reason for a large-scale pattern like that. I quickly realized that it must be simply a different set of imagery, taken during a different season.

Well, it turned out to be very different imagery: much higher resolution. Like I said, neighbour, I can count your grain bins, without driving into your tree-shrouded yard. I think I see your truck parked in your driveway.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Peace of mind

Well, I finally finished some work that has been hanging over me since September. Now I can tackle all the other stuff that got pushed back while I met that deadline. I'm afraid there won't be much blogging for a while (unless I get really lonely, but being busy helps that). Peace to you and yours.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Advent Thursday #2

From the comments: "Christmas is hardly a time of peace in many families, mine included. Our peace project is very close to home indeed."

Ahh. I can't say it's any better in my home. Sadly, all too many mornings, peace is that moment when I hear the door close behind the kids as they leave for school. Or in the evening, when the last sounds from the bedrooms settle into silence.

Then I end up staying up too late, enjoying the peace, and next day, I am tired and cranky - anything but peaceful.

Sometimes I catch myself trying to force peace. "Stop yelling!" I yell.

I have to feed peace instead, tend it, nurture it - and wait for it.

Then it surprises me with a willing hand, a sudden smile, or a contented quiet settling around us in the middle of a busy day.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Advent Wednesday #2

Christian Peacemakers Teams

Tonight people around the world are hoping, praying, and appealing for the safe release of four peace activists taken hostage in Iraq. There is new hope as the deadline for meeting the terms of their release has been extended.

Nearly two years ago, in January 2004, I read about Christian Peacemakers Teams (CPT) in the United Church Observer, and then explored the CPT website (which seems to be burdened down with traffic these days). The Observer article was a series of excerpts from e-mails home by CPTer Allan Slater, "a retired farmer from near London, Ont." I was struck by the following sidebar to the article:
Delayed destruction

I, the old farmer, am enjoying traveling through the irrigated lands between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers where every last square inch of land is utilized.

Then I see a tank that sits smashed and burned in the corner of a field. It is one of many that were destroyed in a rich farming area south of Baghdad. Oily goo spreads on the plowed ground and an oil slick darkens the irrigation ditch.

A much greater danger lurks invisibly around that tank. The American military now coats its armour-piercing bombs and artillery shells with depleted uranium to make them harder and more deadly. Depleted uranium is a toxic heavy metal and produces low-level radiation.

The poisons from that tank are now in the food chain, absorbed by edible plants and stored in people's livers. Depleted uranium is a weapon of mass destruction.
From the rest of the article, I gathered that Mr. Slater's team spent much of their time meeting with Iraqi people who were seeking information about missing relatives, or trying to get permission to visit relatives in prison; and then, meeting with military officials on their behalf. He mentioned a car-bombing scene he had witnessed, as well as some gunfire outside on the street in the middle of the night, which turned out to be celebrations of an Iraqi football victory.

Some excerpts from a bulletin insert provided by CPT (pdf), and available at the United Church of Canada website:
CPT initiated a long-term presence in Iraq in October 2002, six months before the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in March of 2003. The primary focus of the team for 18 months following the invasion was documenting and focusing attention on the issue of detainee abuses and basic legal and human rights being denied them. The current focus has expanded to include efforts to end occupation and militarization and to foster non-violent and just alternatives for a free and independent Iraq.

[. . .]

CPT does not advocate the use of violent force to save lives of its workers should they be kidnapped, held hostage, or caught in the middle of a conflict situation.

We ask that you:
  • Pray for the people of Iraq, for military personnel, for the insurgents and for peace workers; and
  • Remember that insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped at least 235 foreigners, killed nearly 40 and some are yet missing.
  • Be open to the nudging of your own conscience. What might be the next step in your life to contribute to peace?
[. . .]

Christian Peacemakers Teams (CPT) is an organization committed to reducing violence by "Getting in the Way"--challenging systems of domination and exploitation as Jesus Christ did in the first century.
I admire the courage and convictions of these people. I am not strictly anti-war; as I explained to Ruth, I believe that by the time a war is underway, those who would solve things by peaceful means must have missed a lot of opportunities. Still, we must continue to hope and work for peace in every situation, even when it seems to be too late.

CPT asks us: "What might be the next step in your life to contribute to peace?"

I ask, "Could it be something close to home?"

More about that in a later post. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome, as always.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Advent Tuesday #2

We've had a little delay with the updates from Nepal. I'm still receiving them from Garth, but the Carlyle Observer hasn't published them in the last two issues, and we don't want to get ahead of the paper with the postings at Garth's website. So instead, I'll give you my own observations about another tiny mountain country between India and China: Bhutan.

I first heard about Bhutan a few years ago in a magazine article. It sounded like an idyllic place, peaceful, traditional, and abounding in natural beauty. Tourism was tightly controlled to prevent excess demands on the ecology of the country, and to limit the influence of foreign materialism on Bhutanese children. The people adhered to a national dress code; I remember watching closely for the Bhutanese team at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, to see what Bhutanese clothing looked like. What struck me most about the article, however, was the fact that Bhutan was the only country in the world that measured "Gross National Happiness" instead of the usual GNP.

My idealistic fascination with Bhutan was jolted recently when I read about refugee camps in Nepal, where roughly 100,000 people have been living for over 15 years since they were driven out of Bhutan by its government. This took place after a 1989 uprising of ethnic Nepali people in Bhutan. They were being forced to adopt the official Bhutanese clothing and learn the Bhutanese language, as well as being pressured to convert from Hinduism to Buddhism. The uprising was an attempt to replace the hereditary monarchy of Bhutan with a more democratic form of government. It failed, and many Nepalese people were driven out, losing homes and land. From time to time they try to leave the refugee camps and return to Bhutan, but they are turned back when they have barely started. There is a piece of India separating Nepal from Bhutan, and Bhutan asks India to stop the refugees at its border with Nepal, refusing them permission to cross its territory. Meanwhile, within Bhutan, there is ongoing pressure on the remaining Nepalese "to adopt Bhutanese dress, customs, religion, and language."

It seems the peaceful mountain kingdom is not so peaceful after all.

Yet the news is not all bad; the system of government has been gradually moving away from an absolute monarchy to a more representative system.
By 1999 the king was no longer head of government; that position was held by head of the cabinet, which is responsible to the national assembly. Since then the country has moved slowly toward adopting a new constitution; in 2005 a draft of the proposed constitution was released.
What is peace? Does it include the tranquil existence that Bhutan has purchased at the cost of forcing its citizens to either be the same, or leave?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Advent Monday #2

I walked into the choir room Sunday morning and found a discussion in progress about gambling, and keeping gambling winnings out of the collection plate. Maybe I missed something, but if you're worried about putting the winnings in the plate, shouldn't you just keep your hands off them altogether?

I used to be dead set against gambling in any form. Well, I suppose I'd make an exception for the poor fellow in the cartoon my Dad used to have posted just inside the door at the farm. The fellow is sitting talking to a counsellor at "Gamblers Anonymous," and saying, "I just can't seem to give up farming." Next-year country. Anyway, we used to resist all the minor forms of gambling that intruded in our lives. Whenever the kids brought home raffle tickets that we were supposed to sell, we'd just write a cheque for the full amount of the tickets, and send a note saying we didn't want our names in the draw. Sometimes we'd fill in the tickets with the name of the organization doing the fundraising. I never heard that any organization won its own prize back, but you never know.

My aversion to gambling had intensified when Ruth was three years old. She had joined the Poltava Ukrainian Dance program in Regina. For years her Uncle Brian had been playing in the Poltava Orchestra, and each year we had been going to watch the senior dancers perform (with the orchestra) at Mosaic. Ruth had a good year, and it was great fun to watch the little ones dance. The only problem was the mandatory participation of parents in bingo-hall fundraisers. Every so often we would be assigned as workers at a bingo, either circulating through the tables, or sitting behind a counter selling "Nevadas." I recall a woman coming up, buying all the Nevadas she could with the money she had, cashing in the winnings for more Nevadas, cashing in those winnings, and so on, until she had nothing left at all. As she went out the door onto Broad Street, the other parent working with me said she was a regular. I don't like to promote stereotypes, but to me that bingo hall looked like a big funnel siphoning welfare money off into sports and culture funding. The next year we told Ruth she couldn't return to the Ukrainian dancing because of the mandatory bingo work. She was a bit young to understand the reasoning, except that we didn't want to "get filled up with smoke."

When I served on the board of the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, there was a discussion about going after lottery funding. I opposed the idea on moral grounds, but a member who attended our visioning workshop challenged me, saying something to the effect that it was not up to a native plant society to try to protect problem gamblers by opposing lotteries. He had a point. I noticed my vehemence in the discussions, and decided that such strong feelings were not a good thing. Just to teach myself moderation, I went and bought a token lottery ticket. (I didn't win anything.) Since that time, I have looked more openly at the various fundraisers going on in our community, and I came up with a new opinion.

I explained it to Ruth when we were selling slices of turkey shoot "pies" for the #723 Moose Mountain Squadron of the Air Cadets a couple of weeks ago. She hated the task, saying the whole thing was just gambling. I told her that most people are happy to support the Air Cadets, and they think of their purchase as a donation, with a little extra fun because they might win a little something.

I am okay with local fundraisers like these now, because of two qualities. One, people know where the money is going, so they can decide whether it's a cause they want to support. Two, the prizes are small enough that nobody is going to dream that their life could be changed if they win.

I'm still opposed to the big lotteries and casinos, where the above qualities are lacking. I think government should get out of the lottery business, and stay away from gambling altogether except to regulate some limits on the size of prizes and some clarity about where the money goes.

That clarity is important. We vote with our dollars. I think we should be more concerned about what happens to the money going into lotteries, than about whether a few dollars coming out happen to wind up on a church collection plate.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Advent Saturday #1

I know, Saturday is over, and this morning I posted something that was supposed to cover it, sort of. But then I realized that I had let the "hope theme" week come to an end without an entry about farming and ranching. How can I talk about hope without talking about farming?

Actually, it was the first topic I thought of when I started this Advent Calendar, but I kept putting it off until I had time to give it more attention. And the week went by. (You can see why I'm not a farmer.) But, like the tardy farmer who decides to just get something in the ground, even if the soil isn't prepared quite the way it should be, here goes.

My thoughts go back to February of 2003, when the cheques bounced. Arcola Livestock Sales had been selling cattle by the truckload into the States, and neglecting their receivables. The trucks kept rolling, though; the cattle kept bawling there on the edge of town, the smell kept wafting whichever way the wind took it (thankfully usually southeast across the sewage lagoon and the open fields), and the auctioneers kept rattling through the weekly sales. The situation all blew up that one week in February, when the local calf producers went to put their auction cheques in the bank and found out there was no money to be had. Some had sold their entire year's crop of calves into that hole.

There were efforts to collect the U.S. receivables after that; I heard that some people spent months away from their families, trying to get the money so that those producers could be paid. I didn't hear whether there was any success. I saw people connected with the auction barn disappear from most community events, driven away by the dark looks, the accusations of theft, the outright attacks in public places. I saw people carry on with their lives as best they could.

That collapse at the auction barn was just the beginning of a "nightmarish year" for the livestock industry, as Kevin Hursh reported at the start of Agribition in November of 2003:
We're just past the six month anniversary of that single case of BSE in an Alberta cow and the border still remains closed to the export of live animals. While the beef industry has received most of the attention, bison and sheep have been hit even harder. For the bison industry, it's yet another setback. Just a few years ago, bison producers were on top of the world. Now there's a struggle to find markets. The elk industry has also gone from riches to rags. Another year has passed, but elk producers have been unable to shake the problems caused by Chronic Wasting Disease. This has also been a difficult year for people who raise horses. A major cutback in the demand for Pregnant Mare's Urine for pharmaceutical use has had ramifications throughout equine industry. But Agribition goes on. Like usual, it's a beehive of activity. Beef entries are up. Trade show booths are full and people are looking forward to doing business. That's amazing considering all that's happened.
That's hope for you.

Cattle and horses are a big part of agriculture around here, with the hills being mostly too rough for cultivation, and the "Kisbey flats" being too wet, and some fields getting saline from the seepage below the hills, and some areas being sandy, and doubtless more reasons that I've missed. The livestock troubles clobbered the local economy in 2003, and then 2004 hit the grain farmers with the August frost.

This year looked promising (as so many years do), but early August was dry, and the crops didn't fill like they should. Harvest weather wasn't great, but nowhere near as bad as it was farther north. I heard that farmers there were driving combines through standing water, hoping they wouldn't stall. That reminds me of the scenes across the border in southwest Manitoba in early summer, after heavy rains. I saw fields where the water was over top of the standing crops. Near Melita I saw a farm lane disappearing into an impromptu lake, and reappearing perhaps 200 yards away on the other side. In front of the water, a yellow diamond warning sign had been planted, with a silhouette of the wildlife that could be expected crossing this road: ducks.

The final crop report from Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food for 2005 is here. I made a couple of posts earlier this fall about what I saw in the fields as I drove to my work sites.

Lately I hear that grain prices are terrible, and just this morning I heard that calves in the area are dying of pneumonia in spite of numerous efforts to save them.

I suppose you could just get totally depressed thinking about all this, but on the other hand, you have to admire the tenacity of the people who carry on working the land they love. These people know hope.

Advent Friday-Saturday #1 . . . keeping you waiting . . .

Sorry, I have lots of blog stuff in mind, but no time to tune any of it up. Here's a tidbit, though: something that came along in my email this week. Duane Shank of Sojourners offered this view of Advent:

During Advent, we remember Jesus coming as an infant in a manger and we anticipate his coming as the culmination of the kingdom of God. We reflect on God's past, present, and future redemptive acts in history. We celebrate the coming of Jesus the Christ - whose life, ministry, death, and resurrection inaugurated the reign of God - and we await its fulfillment. That is what sustains us in a world that makes no sense. We know that Jesus has come as the fulfillment of God's promise, and we know that his ultimate reign will surely come.

As we await that ultimate reign, we are called to live as if it were already here. We are called, as Walter Brueggeman said, to be "a community rooted in energizing memories and summoned by radical hopes." We have the memories of the child born in the stable, and the hope of a new earth. We believe that in this in-between time, we are to live like Jesus, work for justice, work for peace, and create a new community that lives in the kingdom. And that by living in the kingdom, fulfilling its promise in our lives, we help hasten its culmination. Preparing for the coming kingdom of God means beginning to live and work as if it were already here.

The full article is here. Duane urges readers to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.'s final Sunday sermon, Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, and meditate upon its challenges during Advent 2005. Wait, and keep awake.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Advent Thursday #1


The hunters seem to be waiting, waiting for tracking snow. Brian says the only orange hats he has seen are on fellow oilfield workers that don't want to get shot. The flurries we have had over the last few days have finally started to whiten the ground, but I don't know how much is needed for good tracking. When I hunted deer with my sister, we didn't do any tracking; we just walked through the hills until we saw one.

When I pulled into the farmyard yesterday, the ground was crisscrossed with rabbit tracks. They're snowshoe hare, actually, the "bush rabbits" that we see; I believe there may be some cottontails around but they're not common here. The hares have been waiting for snow. A couple of weeks ago, when we first had white everywhere, I noticed one calmly crossing under the six-foot-high catwalk where I was noisily tramping along. He(?) was hardly visible except for the gray rims and black tips on his ears. A few days later, that white fur was shouting for attention, against the brown and grey of the bush and fallen leaves.

In the open country there are jack rabbits (also a type of hare, rather than a true rabbit). I am wondering if the hares around town are jack rabbits, or snowshoe hares. I found the little field guide, "Animal Tracks of Western Canada" by Joanne E. Barwise, that we gave to Ruth about six years ago, and it looks like I should be able to tell by the width of the hind footprints. The dog and I spotted one in Brian's hedge the other day, or actually, hopping out of his hedge when we passed within a few feet of it. Otherwise I don't know if even the dog would have noticed it was there.

This morning as we walked on the trail between the brick ponds and the old railway grade, the dog and I spotted a vole skimming across the trail ahead of us. If it hadn't been for the leash, I think she might have caught it. This is a tough time for the wildlife, not only for the small things that need deeper snow for cover, but also larger animals, since the sloughs and dugouts have frozen over and there isn't yet much snow to eat for water. Plants are getting past the toughest time now, since it is staying cold and not stressing them with freeze-thaw cycles, but a blanket of insulating snow would be welcome for many. All things are waiting.

Back at the farm yesterday, among all the snowshoe hare tracks, there were squirrel tracks too, and a tiny paired row of tracks that probably indicated a shrew. In a remnant of an older drift of snow behind the seed plant, I noticed just a few pairs of weasel prints dimmed by the newer snow, but they are unmistakeable once you know them. On the lane past the barn, right up the middle, was the neat row of cross-shaped prints that testifies to the regal strut of a ruffed grouse.

I saw no deer tracks. In the earlier snowfall, I noticed plenty of deer tracks, and I don't recall that there was much else.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Advent Wednesday #1

Christmas cheer is brightening Arcola streets these dark chilly evenings. Since there's so much beauty and joy around, I figure it needs a foil of doom and gloom in order to be fully appreciated. That means I get to be the Grinch.

Advent? Waiting? Not at this house. Santa has landed and is hard at work (that's him on the roof there), even though it's still November. I guess he has to start earlier these days to get all that stuff delivered. But that's another post.

So far it's just individual properties that are decorated, but soon the town workers will be hanging an array of tinsel-and-light figures above the streets, fastening the stars and candy canes to the permanent brackets on the power poles, and plugging each one into a handy outlet right there on each pole. I had never noticed how the power got to those lights, but last year one of those town workers showed me, when he happened along as I was struggling with extension cords for my own string of Christmas merriment. I had draped a string of clear lights along the front hedge as a concession to the custom, letting it do double duty as a light source for the sidewalk where it passes my yard. He joked that I could just run my extension cord right from the power pole, and it wouldn't matter, because SaskPower doesn't charge the town for the extra electricity for Christmas lights.


I guess I shouldn't be surprised, considering that SaskPower is the title sponsor of the Festival of Lights in Regina. That has irritated me for years. Winter evenings are the peak demand time for electricity, and here is our power utility promoting even higher demand by sponsoring light festivals and giving away free lighting power to municipalities. I seem to recall inquiring about this conflict, and being told that Christmas lighting is not a significant issue for power conservation.

I find it amusing that my latest power bill had a flyer enclosed, promoting power conservation through LED Christmas lights.

It's also interesting that I can't find any website promoting this year's Festival of Lights, except for a brief mention on a single calendar of major Saskatchewan events. As of today, both SaskPower and the Regina Chamber of Commerce are silent about it. What's happening? Did someone finally begin to feel a twinge of conscience?

There's a note of hope for you. On a related (hopeful) note, just last week, the federal and provincial governments announced "a new five-year Memorandum of Understanding on climate change" that includes funding for a feasibility study on a proposed SaskPower "clean coal project . . . capable of near-zero emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants normally associated with coal fired thermal power plants." I just hope they can find the coal under some marginal cropland, instead of tearing up more native prairie pasture.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Advent Tuesday #1

Trouble and hope. Today I dwell upon the trouble.

I found a good overview of recent news about climate change and related politics, by Lord Robert May, president of the UK's national academy of science, the Royal Society (posted yesterday at the Environment News Service).

My thinking on climate change has shifted recently. I used to be fervent about warning people and convincing them to change before it is too late. Now there is too much evidence that it is already too late; the changes are well underway. Maybe we can still limit the impacts with swift action, but as Lord May points out:
. . . we have here a classic example of the problem or paradox of co-operation - also known as the Prisoner's Dilemma or occasionally the Tragedy of the Commons - referred to at the outset - the science tells us clearly that we need to act now to reduce inputs of greenhouse gases; but unless all countries act in equitable proportions, the virtuous will be economically disadvantaged whilst all suffer the consequences of the sinners' inaction.
I was intrigued to see that, when listing four major areas of action on climate change, Lord May said, "First, we can adapt to change . . ." I believe there is growing agreement that we will not be able to prevent significant, rapid, human-induced climate change. Instead we must find ways to adapt.

Here on the prairies, modelling suggests that forests will retreat northward, and island forests such as that of our Moose Mountains will shrink and change, if not disappear. It seems ironic that in the recent Throne Speech, Premier Calvert announced:
Agroforestry, including the growing of trees as crops, is underway. My government has a bold vision for the future of this industry. Over the next twenty years, the goal will be to transform ten per cent of the arable land of Saskatchewan to agroforestry, creating another sustainable industry in our province.
Umm, the arable land is in the south, and the forests are moving north. How is this "bold vision" going to work?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Advent Monday #1

When I turned off the highway toward the hills this morning, the land was warm with the long light of morning, and at the same time icy with last night's dusting of snow and frost. Every subtlety of the prairie scene stood out. I gazed at those hills and remembered again what a great gift it was to grow up among them, sheltered in their hollows, toughened on their slopes, and lifted high on their ridges to see for thirty miles or more across the plains below.

I wish everyone could grow up so immersed in the patterns of nature. I have never thought of myself as an outstanding student of nature, and yet in recent years, being paid to observe natural things, I have realized that I see things that others don't. I notice the golden-pink patches of little bluestem grassing the lower slopes. I see where a shallow draw has only snowberry and rose for brush cover, while a deeper one has saskatoon and chokecherry, and another for some reason is bristling with hawthorn. Here and there a clone of aspen throws its fan of slightly spreading trunks toward the sky.

This morning, all the gentle shadings of faded autumn seemed sharper and clearer. The patterns leapt from the scene, and I imagined that anyone could see them, if only they could be here to see.

Friday, November 25, 2005

New evidence that current CO2 levels are extreme

Just in: there is new ice core data from Antarctica going back 210,000 years farther than the previous Vostok ice core (which I discussed here), and the findings are consistent.
The analysis shows that today’s rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, at 380 parts per million by volume, is now 27 percent higher than its highest recorded level during the last 650,000 years, said "Science" author Thomas Stocker of the Physics Institute of the University of Bern, in Bern, Switzerland...
The new data adds two full glacial cycles to the record, and suggests that natural changes in atmospheric composition through these cycles were much slower than the changes seen since the Industrial Revolution. The researchers are now discussing the possibility of even deeper cores that could extend the record to 1.2 million years or more.

An interesting tidbit: Nepal has ratified the Kyoto protocol.
Nepal with about 0.025 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emission in the world is the only South Asian country yet to ratify the Protocol. The global effort of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is in favor of Nepal for several reasons. First, it is a matter of honor and responsibility to be a part of the international pact where most of the countries have participated for a long-term interest of the mankind. Second, Nepal can meet most of the energy needs from non-carbon sources because the use of alternative energy sources (hydropower, biogas, solar and wind power, impoverished appropriate technology) has been increasing. This indicates that Nepal can directly benefit from the mechanisms of the Protocol by developing clean infrastructure projects in collaboration with other countries and also by trading its quotas with Annex I countries.


Finally, reducing a large number of possible natural disasters like melting of Himalaya, receding glaciers, and bursting of numerous glacier lakes, losing of biodiversity, which affect long-term interest and future of Nepal will be a major benefit in the long-run.
From another Nepali online newspaper I just discovered: The Rising Nepal.

"It is a matter of honour and responsibility..." Now if all of us could just deliver on our promises.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Of mice, . . .

. . . missing mousetraps, and . . . sniff-sniff-sniff - do I smell smoke?

I dread the missing mousetrap. I have been on trapline duty at the farm this fall, and for the most part I'm okay with that, but I quail at the sight of an empty spot where a trap should be. There is one trap site that is very effective, under the angle where a beam meets the floor, next to a side wall. It gives a perfect sheltered spot for a mouse to pause and check its surroundings for danger before giving its full attention to a feast of peanut butter.

There is almost always a mouse in that trap. Once in a while, though, the trap isn't there.

The first time it happened, there were little shavings of grey plastic littering the floor. I followed the trail of shavings and found the grey plastic mousetrap empty nearby, its perfectly molded plastic jaws now jagged with tiny toothmarks.

The second time was similar.

The third time, I stood by the trap site, scanning for the trap, and soon saw it resting at an odd angle, way across in the far corner of the room.

That corner was another trap site.

Before I got close, even though my mind was saying it couldn't be, I knew the truth: there was a mouse this time, and it was caught in two traps.

Its foreleg was caught in the grey plastic trap, which it must have dragged across the room. The other trap was fastened as a trap should be, firmly and lethally.

I wonder. Was this tableau a sign of great stupidity (or just typical stupidity, for a mouse)?

Or was it the record of a remarkably intelligent escape from suffering?

* * *

A couple of days later I decided to use the old truck to haul some things to town. I'd been warned about its quirky starting, so I pumped the gas as instructed, and the engine coughed, roared, sputtered, and died. This was typical, as I recalled, so I fired it up again, and then once more, and finally got it rolling. The farm dog galloped excitedly alongside as I gathered my load, jumping into the box the moment I stopped, and out again just as quickly when she remembered she hadn't had the "okay."

The south wind was bitter cold, and I was glad I had taken the time to find Dad's warm red hunting cap, quilted, with ear flaps, instead of the blaze-orange mass-market cap I'd been putting up with for deer season. I wondered if the dog was getting cold, but she seemed happy to trot back and forth nearby, checking out scent trails. Suddenly she dashed forward, intent on something under the truck. She raced around to the other side and then trotted triumphantly off with a mouse in her jaws. She played with it for a while, just like a cat, letting it go, batting it with her paws, dancing over it, pouncing, and finally clamping it in her mouth again and gazing off somewhere as if nothing special was happening.

I finished loading, drove back to the buildings, put my tools away, and paused to notice the dog once more. She was standing where the truck had originally been parked, eating something off the ground.

Dog food. Oh, those rodents. Her food bucket was in the shed nearby, and I guessed that something must have been stashing pellets under the truck. I didn't stop to wonder why such an exposed spot. My mind was on other food, for the kids, who would soon be arriving home (in town) for lunch.

I said farewell to the dog, got the truck started again, and during the trip down the lane, between episodes of purely sliding downhill on the icy patches, I tried to figure out the best route into town. Should I take the shortest way, and get there quicker to feed the kids, or should I take a slightly longer route around by the auction barn and the oilfield service yard, where nobody would care about the noisy old truck?

As I watched the exhaust spreading away from the road behind me, I was glad I had settled on the latter. That exhaust was awfully thick and white. Had the engine sputtering and dying been out of the ordinary, after all? I kept glancing at the gauges, not at all reassured by the fact that the oil light wasn't on. I couldn't hear the engine well over the rattling of the load. What to do? Well, it's a very old truck. If I kill it by finishing the trip into town, it's no great loss.

I settled into a slower speed, and the exhaust seemed to ease a little. By the time I passed the auction barn, it was looking almost normal - well, normal for a rusty old farm truck. I pulled into the yard as Ruth was leaving, on her way back to school. She had found herself a juice box and two cookies. That was her lunch.

James was still inside, standing by the kitchen table, still wearing his coat, with its hood up, and finishing a more substantial meal.

I sent him off, found some leftovers for myself, and spent the early afternoon unloading and puttering in the yard, until that raw south wind drove me inside to warm up. Towards supper time I walked downtown, and still the wind cut through my clothes. There was a hint of smoke in it, sometimes strong, and I thought about my friend who worried that his house would burn down while he was out working. The wind direction was right, but he would be at home today. Not to worry. Or should I worry more?

After supper, Ruth and I walked to the church for a choir rehearsal, of sorts. The main rehearsal is Sunday mornings now, to save people driving in on wintry roads at night (although right now, the snow is gone again). Thursday evenings I just go to the church and practise at the organ, and if somebody shows up I will help them with their singing, or play their favourite old hymns, or let them look through our music library and tell me what they like. Julianna came over to rehearse her solo for Sunday, and I polished up some hymns, and then we braved the wind once more.

As we stepped round the corner onto the driveway, I wondered out loud whose farm had the fire that had been stinking all day. Ruth had noticed it too. We passed the old truck, and the smell disappeared.

Had I imagined it? We circled the truck, and sure enough, downwind the smell was strong. Ruth got nervous and started worrying about her room being the closest if it exploded. I shooed her inside, changed to my work coat, and went over the truck in detail.

No smell at all in the cab.

Nothing around the engine.

It was definitely worst around the back, but there was nothing much in the box. I ducked down and saw an actual curl of smoke from somewhere underneath.

I hurried back to the house for a flashlight. All the while my mind was running through what it could be, and who I could phone to ask what it could be, and whether it could get worse in a hurry. There was dry grass right next to the driveway, and always that knifing wind. No lights at Brian's house across the street. I could phone Mom and Dad, but I knew I'd only get Mom tonight, and I didn't want to worry her.

The flashlight made a shaft across the smoke, and I quickly zeroed in on the source. There was no tailpipe on the muffler, and its rear opening was milky white. Something was smouldering in there.

What to do? Who to phone? I finally thought of my sister. She assured me that water wouldn't hurt the muffler itself, and insisted that it couldn't be a hot fire after all these hours. We traded ideas about something to just cover the hole and smother it, until I hit on the idea of aluminum foil. A couple of wads did the trick.

Now I know why that dog food was scattered on the ground where the truck had been. I also know what burnt dog food smells like.

The only thing I don't know, is how I'm going to get it out of the muffler before I drive that truck back out to the farm.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Garth is drawn to musicians. (That could explain something...) He has found jazz in Nepal, of all places. Check it out in his latest article. I hope he will be telling us something of homegrown Nepali music in future weeks.

Eco Golf (?!)

What's all this stuff creeping into my blog about golf? Arcola doesn't have a golf course (anymore, although I hear rumours that there used to be one out in our central vernal slough), and I haven't been on a golf course in years (*sniff!*). Must be a suppressed desire breaking out through all the layers of "Golf courses are bad for the environment" and "Garth hates golf." Hey, he's been golfing more recently than I have. What's going on?

Anyway, this morning via Grist, I discovered Eco Golf. The answer to all my hang-ups?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Trouble and Hope: My Advent Calendar

Sunday is the beginning of Advent (in Western Christianity). If that seems early, you're right - it never falls earlier than the 27th. Edwin Searcy suggests holding a New Year's Eve party on the 26th, to celebrate the turning of the church year. If you're thinking "Oh, no, not another party date to be commercialized," - wait. Searcy writes:
Advent begins with trouble. This is the odd counter-cultural movement of the Christian year. Just when the stores are in full swing, with jingling bells providing encouragement to shoppers and their credit cards, along comes Advent. Advent is a blue season. It is the season that tells the truth about the blues. It is the season that refuses to ignore the troubles that plague the world, the nations, the church, the family, the soul. Advent is the deep blue of the morning, just as the dark night is coming to an end.

. . . . The first text of the first Sunday of Advent this year begins: "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down." (Isaiah 64:1) . . . .

. . . . Advent is an invitation to linger with odd texts that take the church deep into the ache and grief that cries out for a saviour. Instead, we reduce it to four safe platitudes: hope, peace, joy, love. Christmas is a journey into the vulnerability of God's redemptive mission. The saviour cannot escape the troubles--born into obscurity, hunted down by the powers. How much of this fragility and danger remain in our festivities?
Gathering, A/C/E 2005-6: Reflections for the Season: Advent Begins with Trouble

I don't know if I'll get around to organizing the party for Saturday. But I am thinking about an "Advent Calendar" series, with photos, news links, and other tidbits of honesty about our troubled world, along with chinks of starlight and hints of the dawn - the hope, peace, joy and love that are always coming into the world anew.

And if I don't deliver any of that, there is still church. Any church. The First of Advent is a wonderful time to begin.

I'll be the doughnut, thanks.

Kate finds Kurt Vonnegut distasteful (on the basis of a few quotes in an Australian review, suspiciously lacking in context). I decided to learn a bit about Mr. Vonnegut (oh, I'm so naive), and came across this evidence that "the great divide" I've been lamenting is nothing new:

Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.

Actually, this same sort of thing happened to the people of England generations ago, and Sir William Gilbert, of the radical team of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote these words for a song about it back then:

I often think it’s comical
How nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.

Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other? If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut.

Cold Turkey by Kurt Vonnegut, at In These Times

Now, in case you're thinking I agree with Vonnegut about golf, let me clarify. I hope James and his Grandpa will take me along sometimes, and I will try not to be too distracted on the one hand by the spiritual experience of walking a nine-by-three-or-four-hundred-metre labyrinth, or on the other hand by the environmental impact of all that landscaping and of our getting there. I'd like them to invite me more than once.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Arcola Community Band is meeting again...

...and even though Mom wasn't there this week, we still had cookies! We have a little bit of everything: beginners and old hands; a huge library of music to satisfy all our ambitions and desires; some keeners to keep us on track, and lots of fun-loving people to make sure we don't take ourselves too seriously. We even have shelves full of extra instruments, if you'd like to borrow one to try something new, or to decide whether to replace that horn that you haven't had since high school. Even if you've never played a single note in your life, you're welcome to come out and see if band is for you. We meet Friday evenings, 7:30 p.m. in the school music room, and we play at various community events through the year. Our next scheduled appearance: we're sitting in with the Arcola School Band at the Grand Opening of the new curling rink, Friday, January 6th.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The great divide

Yesterday at Coffee and Scriptures (10:00 a.m. Wednesdays at the United Church, downstairs, everyone welcome...) the question was asked: "Do you think bigotry is getting worse?"

I responded with a lot of my personal frustration about discussion getting shut down by the divide between "right" and "left." I don't know if it's getting worse, or if I'm just new to the whole arena, but it seems to me that a lot of viewpoints (on all sorts of subjects) get either claimed by or rejected by each side, and then anyone speaking up with a viewpoint gets cheered or dismissed simply on the basis of which side "owns" that viewpoint. It's as if you choose once whether to be "right" or "left," and then your side tells you how to think.

Today at small dead animals I read Kate's opinion and a lot of commentary about how the right sees the left. I churned for a while but did not comment. I would have to write a book to reply, and first I would have to learn a lot more history, and by the end of that, I don't know what my opinion would be.

I suspect that many people would percieve me as "left of center," simply because I speak up about environmental issues. And yet, left-wing politics baffle me. I survived Political Science 100 at the University of Regina (a required class for pre-journalism students) by finding familiar-looking words in the exam questions and regurgitating similar-sounding paragraphs that I had memorized out of my notes. (The frightening thing is that I got 70% without having a clue what I was talking about.) I tried to support the New Green Alliance Party for a while, but the most active members seemed to be far more concerned about minimum wage than they were about conservation.

A while ago I commented on the Gristmill Blog: "...where I live, 'Eat less beef' should be changed to 'Eat more beef, as long as it's range-fed.'" Another reader said, "Wrong, LauraH. Bring back the bison and wildfires, get rid of the cattle." I asked how far that reader wanted to take that reasoning - get rid of the people, maybe? A third reader jumped in and suggested that I should be more open to compromise; bison would be a good idea. He went on to say: "Bring natural spiritual energy into the lives of those you meet, even if you only meet them on the world wide web."

I still think "bring back the bison" is simplistic, but I was mollified. I wanted to learn more about this seemingly gentle, wise reader, so I visited his blog. To my shock, I found it laden with mocking names for the U.S. President. How is that "natural spiritual energy"?

All I can say is this: I believe it is up to us as individuals to refuse to be boxed up in political ideologies. It is also up to us to insist on seeing one another as people, not as members of this or that group. Maybe in politics we need parties with clearly packaged positions, but in day-to-day life, as individuals, we need to counteract the magnetic force of those political positions, through our personal determination to think for ourselves. For myself I would add that if I am going to be absolutist about anything, I will be absolutist about allegiance to God. But that's just for myself.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

EnergyStar as a non-tariff barrier

As you've heard, I'm not impressed with "EnergyStar" labels on appliances. EnerGuide, on the other hand, tells me what I need to know.

It sounds like energy efficiency labelling is being challenged at the WTO. What isn't clear to me is the breadth of the challenge. If they're only going after EnergyStar and similar programs, I'd have to wonder: maybe this challenge is a good thing. If they're going after EnerGuide and other programs that simply disclose facts about energy use, that's another story. If your product is inferior, don't blame the label, and try to call it a "non-tariff barrier." The inferiority is the barrier, as it should be.

Bullying Awareness Week

I heard on Estevan FM radio this morning that it's "bullying awareness week." National Bullying Awareness Week, I discovered. I saw a lot of emphasis on what youth can do to stop bullying through "peer power," but I think we parents should give some thought to what madcap mum has to say about bullying, and the book she recommends that explains "why parents matter." I'm not saying we should all be homeschoolers, but I for one am learning that it doesn't hurt me at all to pay some positive attention to my kids. So what if I don't get much blogging done? Sledding with the kids for an afternoon will probably do far more to build a better world than any article I might have written.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Know the cost

We saw large flocks of geese feeding in a field some weeks ago, but I hadn't noticed any since then. Yesterday they were flying over in large "V"s, high up, heading south. That's rather late, isn't it? The fall has been very warm over all.

Phyllis and I had found ourselves walking the same way for a while, and we stopped to look up and listen to their calls. She said, "Can you imagine wanting to shoot one of those?" I replied that I had considered hunting geese, and she gave me a poke and said, "Oh, don't you even think about it." I mentioned that I have hunted deer, but we were coming to the parting of our ways, so the conversation ended there.

With hunting seasons a popular topic on various blogs, and discussions about tighter gun control in the news, I thought I'd post a poem that sums up my feelings on the subject. I sometimes hear this as a sort of bluesy song lyric, taking some liberties with the tune from one verse to the next, but it's not a comfortable genre for me so I haven't worked on it much.

I’ve Got a Rifle
©2003 Laura Herman

You call me a killer.
You call me a killer.

Before you criticize
my way of life,
you'd better check your hands.
You might be holding a knife.

They say the pen is mightier,
mightier than the sword.
Well, I've got a rifle.
You've got a credit card.

On foot in the bush,
knowing there's hard work ahead,
I may bring down a deer
to keep my family fed.

And you walk in to your
favorite restaurant,
look down that menu,
and pick out whatever you want.

They list all the items with
mouth-watering names,
but you don't know where that food
was grown, or how it came.

Tell me how many deer
die in front of semi trucks.
Tell me how many grainfields
no longer have marshes for ducks.

As you break that bread, and
sip that sweet wine,
tell me how far it travelled
from the field and the vine.

And for every calorie in your
vegetarian meal,
tell me how many calories
burned up in fossil fuel.

You don't know much about my life.
You know less about yours.
Thanks for listening, and sorry
if you're not that hungry anymore.

Take a look at that plastic in your hands.
Look at it hard.
Yes, I've got a rifle.
You've got a credit card.

I don't actually have a rifle, by the way, in case you're thinking of reporting me. I took firearm safety when I was a teenager. After we went to the shooting range, one of the parents told my mom, "If you're as good a shot as she is, she'll never have a chance at a boyfriend. You'll just sit up on that hill and pick them off!" But life was very hectic during that year when I could have got my possession license just by applying, and ever since then, I just haven't got around to taking the test. One of these years...

A reprieve

In the U.S., the proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling has been pulled from a House spending-reduction bill. This move came after a group of Republicans said they would vote against the bill unless the proposal was removed.

Of course, there could still be other moves to have the drilling go ahead, but we can hope that I was wrong.

The more I read about American politics, the more I admire their system. As far as I can see, Canadian elected representatives have far less power to act independently of their party leadership. Basically, Canadian citizens get one chance in four years to influence the overall policy direction. After that, you can try talking to your MP, but unless you've got the time and resources for direct lobbying of the leaders, you're not likely to make much difference. And of course, if you live west of the Great Lakes, it's painfully obvious as you watch election results come in, that your one chance in four years doesn't amount to much.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Tai Chi Labyrinth

I hesitate to post this design, because I might just leave it at that. Please encourage me to go ahead and build one.

During the week that we were learning about and building a labyrinth last summer at Calling Lakes Centre, we were also playing some Tai Chi on the same piece of ground. Somehow the two concepts got mixed up in my head.

I remember standing in the Centre's bookstore, leafing through a book about labyrinths, and stopping short at an old engraving of a labyrinth of stone walls, in which the tops of the walls were the walking surface. It was an imaginary scene, meant to represent the perilous journey of pilgrims through life.

The image seized me, because as I looked at it, I saw a way to build a labyrinth based on the Tai Chi symbol. It was a complex plan involving a two-level structure, above and below ground. The path would start on the upper level, following the outline of one swirl of the symbol and then working inward in concentric swirls to reach the central dot, where a ladder or steps would descend to the lower level. The path would then work outward from the central dot to the perimeter of that swirl, and as it traced the 'S' through the centre of the symbol, it would lead into the other swirl. The whole process would repeat in this other half of the symbol, except that it would be starting on the lower level and the central dot would take the walker back up to the upper level. Then the path would work its way out and exit the labyrinth.

I started sketching, and the design went through several simplifications.

First, instead of two levels, there were just some low walls, perhaps 20 cm high. Walkers would start out walking on top of the walls, then go down a step or two at the first dot and walk between the walls to travel back out of that half of the symbol and into the second half, where the dot would return them to the wall tops for the journey out.

I simplified it again, by replacing the low walls with some sort of pavement surface, and grass between, so that walkers travelled first on the pavement and then on the grass, and finally on pavement again.

I don't know why it never occurred to me that the design could be done with a single path, instead of two levels or walking surfaces. All that was needed was to outline all the boundaries between one walking surface and another, and then the spaces between the outlines would be the path. I guess I couldn't get my head around what would happen at the margins and the dots. The solution came to me after I saw the Baltic variation of the classical labyrinth, which has a little S-turn at the centre and a second path travelling out between the circuits of the first.

This made the idea much more practical to build. It bothered me a little that the black-and-white distinction between the two halves of the symbol would be lost, but I pressed on, intending to deal with that problem later.

Even after I sensed that the design would work, I fumbled around for some time trying to actually draw it. I finally got it when I started constructing a Tai Chi symbol in CorelDraw, using three circles as I had seen in a diagram somewhere. I began playing with sets of concentric circles, and gradually figured out that I could construct all the arcs I needed for the entire design from just three sets of circles: one working inward from the border of the design, and two working outward from the dots. As I worked, I made the border-circle set a different color to help keep things straight. Once I started connecting the arcs, though, new arcs took on the color of the border arcs, and this color started flowing inward through the design. There was a thrilling moment when I realized that the path borders were actually just two lines, and if each line was a different color, the underlying pattern of the symbol would be appear.

Here it is:

I think I will outline the paths with rocks, either painted black and white, or simply chosen for their dark and light colours. Here is the same design with some perspective added to give an idea of how it might look as you approach it from the south:

If you want to take the design and build one, please go ahead. You might want to read a bit about the influence of location and compass orientation and so on, or find someone with some Feng Shui or dowsing experience to help choose the spot. I'd love to hear how it turns out.

Golf courses as labyrinths

Back at the end of August, James went golfing with his Grandpa. He came home excited to show me his score card from the Lampman course, and how difficult (long) Hole 3 was. He pointed it out on the little map, but (sorry James) I was distracted by a flash of recollection. The sketch of the course powerfully reminded me of the layout of a labyrinth.

This summer we spent a week at the Calling Lakes Centre (or Prairie Christian Training Centre, PCTC for short). Garth and I were helping Anita Warriner of Alameda area to lead the "Summer at the Centre" program, which is sort of a cross between summer camp and a rest-and-renewal retreat. Among activities ranging from nature walks to home spa sessions to watersliding...

(the water is just pumped up from the lake;
the plastic is used again and again)

...we also offered participants a chance to help build a labyrinth for the Centre. The labyrinth is a tool for meditation, laid out with a single path leading through many curves and turns (but no forks) into the centre. You can't get lost; you simply walk until you reach the goal, perhaps pause there to reflect for some moments, and then retrace your path back out again. The labyrinth we built is a classical 7-circuit design, laid out on a grassy area with stones marking the boundaries of the paths.

I discovered today that there is a variation on the classical design, called the Baltic type, which has one path in and another path out, allowing a continuous procession without the necessity of meeting other walkers on the return trip.

How different is that from a golf course?

I wonder if the similarity has been noticed by any of the numerous authors writing about the spirituality of golf.