Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Here to Stay

This is more like it! Our first lasting snow of the season came last Thursday evening, and the big storm blew in yesterday. Here's the snow pile from a better angle to compare to last year's photo from the beginning of March.

This pile is bigger already. I was out before daylight topping it up with the new snowdrifts from overnight, to keep Garth from shovelling and re-injuring his elbow. It's been puffed up and glowing red a couple of times in the last few days, but it improves with rest and a castor oil pack. He thinks he hurt it in a curling game, sweeping.

Just as I was pushing the last ridges out of the way so he could back the car out, his colleague phoned to say he was stuck, in a back alley near Coteau and Mountain. I put the shovel in the car and jumped in.

We saw a vehicle churning its way slowly out of the south end of that alley, but when we got around to the north end we found two big drifts between the street and the snowed-in car. I started in with the shovel while the men discussed the situation. They decided the car could stay where it was; Garth would give him a ride for today.

With all the computer gear and two big men, the Geo was looking a bit crowded, so I put the shovel on my shoulder and walked home.

Looks like B had no trouble getting out to the cleared street and away to work.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Streetwalking Season

It was a surreal scene on Main Street at dusk, with the headlights of a riding snowblower illuminating the drifting snow where the sidewalk was partially cleared, and more headlights picking out the bank of a large snow ridge piled down the center of the street.

I kept out of the way of the snowblower and scurried through the deep snow by the corner, back onto the plowed surface of the side street that leads me home. Off Main Street, the sidewalks are all buried about six inches deep, except where the grader piled the windrow over them, or that place by the school where somebody pushed a great heap about four feet high. I can see giving up on the sidewalks in late January, but November?

The strangest sight of this evening, though, was the large V of noisy geese, racing south above it all.

Getting a Handle

There are too many of us out there.

Lauras, that is.

I know of second Lauras who comment on several of my favourite blogs, and now on one blog there is a third.

So I am thinking I will take a new handle. I tried "Laura the Arcologist," but that looks much too pompous. (I don't know; maybe it fits? Gently, please, gently.)

Here are some other ideas:

LArc - too French? I can manage a little conversation, but I have no French heritage.

larc - too acronym-ish? Google brings up an awful lot of research/resource centres. But larc puts me in mind of a singing bird, or a light-hearted rebellious wandering.

larcola - hmm. Sort of icky, but on the plus side, this handle is very rare on the 'Net. Still - I'm no Miss Arcola.

arcolaura - I wouldn't be the only one in the world, but pretty close. I think I like it. The full name of Arcola is there, but muted, and the arc theme is emphasized. And my name is definitely there. Yes, I think I'll take it. I was going to ask for your opinions, but that was before I thought of this one.

Oh don't worry, I'll still welcome your opinions. But I'll probably still be arcolaura.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Of Barbs and Targets

A visitor lingered the other day, chatting with the children, joining in singing "Jubilate Deo" in three-part round, and discussing things heard on the radio during his travels. There were disagreements, but all in good faith and fun.

Then, for a second time, there came a wildly tangential comment, threatening to harpoon a very large, dark, submerged topic. What was he doing? Subversive cheerleading for his own opinion, without bringing the matter to the surface for all to discuss?

I challenged him, and he denied any attempt to hurt or upset anyone.

Later, trying to see his comments in a less critical light, it occurred to me that I sometimes do a similar thing. In almost any topic of conversation, I can suddenly inject a comment about the environmental implications. It probably sounds like a challenge, whether I mean it that way or not. Sometimes I do, but sometimes, I am just offering another thread of conversation. Though it sounds off-topic to the others, for me it is the very next thing that comes to mind.

Perhaps those provocative tangents from our visitor were really just his natural, habitual thoughts. If you have one particular topic that occupies much of your contemplations, that topic will attach itself more and more readily to whatever other thoughts come by.

And most such absorbing topics have at their core some sort of conflict or problem that divides people. Venture a comment, and it will sound like either invitation or challenge, depending on who is listening.

Monday, November 20, 2006

What I Haven't Read

Here is the shocking truth. I have not read:
Those are some of the omissions I know about. Then there are entire areas of knowledge, such as macroeconomics, and world history, where I feel woefully under-informed.

But enough of this negativity. I am reading a beautiful book by Diarmuid O'Murchu called Evolutionary Faith: Rediscovering God in Our Great Story. I had started it some months ago, and although it was entrancing, I bogged down somewhere and set it aside while I read The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Shlain (another excellent book; on my shelf, if you want to borrow it). Now, at a low point in my sense of hope, I have returned to O'Murchu's book and I am finding it a healer for my soul. O'Murchu will be at the Calling Lakes Centre in June 2007. From the program bulletin:
If you have read any of Diarmuid's books, you will know that they are dense, crammed with information and new thinking. Diarmuid, in person, is engaging, easy to follow and always intensely interested in engaging in discussion.
One more thing: I just took a look at Diarmuid's website (see the link from his name above) and came across a list of books that he has found inspiring. More reading! I have a moment of shrinking dismay, like the feeling I used to get when I stood among the stacks in the university library, but oh, there are some tantalizing titles there.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Curling Season

Curling started on Tuesday night. My Dad is our skip, I'm third, Garth is second and James is playing lead. Ruth is babysitting for some other curlers. They live near the rink, so you might think that we would just drop her off on our way, but she accepted their offer of a ride. A shrewd move, that was, because she figured that going with us might mean walking. Actually she needn't have worried. Garth wants to curl for the exercise, but he wants to get there in his car. So he phoned and offered to drop Ruth off, and I loaded the brooms and sliders into the car. Then I walked, and they drove. I got to the rink first, but of course they had an extra stop.

I was amazed how curling lifted my spirits. Earlier that evening I had to ask Garth to finish making supper while I stormed out and up the street in the teeth of a bitter wind, trying to shake an inexplicable rage. The wind did blow most of it away, and I came back to the meal quietly. As soon as I neared the rink, though, I felt the happiness coming. By the middle of the game, I was remembering Jacob's excellent Remembrance Day address about peace coming from within, and noticing my Dad's easy enjoyment of the sport, and gently choosing not to worry so much about imparting all the rules of etiquette to Garth or keeping James playing up to the pace. The rules and the game itself are only there for the fun.

It was a great feeling just to step back into my little ritual: rock in front of the hack, broom down on the ice to my left; right foot in the hack, left toe up, pull the slider under it, toe down and pull the strap up around the heel; squat and tip the rock, clean the bottom, sweep the cleanings aside, tip the rock gently down and spin it once. Then and only then, lift my head to look down the ice for the skip's instructions. Vital step: point the hack foot's toe at the broom. Dad's advice coming back to mind: keep reaching for the broom.

I was a little shaky at first, but delighted to find myself gradually settling back in to the form I had found last year, with my sliding leg deeply bent so the foot is right under my centre, balancing my weight. A few ends in, I was ready to try to do better, not just do. Kick off a little harder, hold a little longer. Near the end of the game there was one delivery that felt really good.

Something - perhaps the push from the hack - reminded me of the lunges we've been doing at dance class, and made me grateful for that training over the last two months. While sweeping, too, I felt the tug of my abdominal muscles and enjoyed my newfound strength. Last year I built up to that first night of curling with stretches mimicking the delivery pose, but this year I hadn't done any. I trusted the hip stretches from dance class, and sure enough, the flex was there.

We lost the game, but it didn't matter a bit. James was throwing with steady form, using a slider, and getting rocks in the house. More importantly, he was cheery and chatty, open to suggestions, and resilient when his shots didn't go so well. Garth was trying a slider too, and even hinting that he'd take advice about my technique. And Dad was having fun. Coming home with last rock, he was going to try a draw to the button to keep their near-centre rock from counting. As I stood holding the broom and waiting while he went back down the ice to throw, I could hear the murmurs from the other team behind me: "I thought he would have tried that!" There was a narrow hole between the front guard rocks. Sure enough, Dad looked down the ice and called to me to move the broom: he would throw right down the centreline. I had to chuckle at that. He made the shot, too.

After the game, Garth invited Dad to come by our place for hot chocolate. We didn't have to pick Ruth up, because she wouldn't be finished babysitting yet - the other curlers were lingering over drinks. Again I walked, and the others drove. As I came around the corner of the house, they were closing the garage door and coming towards the house as well. "See," I said, "those car things are just a hassle."

The Joy of One Last Ride

At the Willmar Supper a couple of weeks back, Richard asked me if I've been biking lately. He hadn't seen me go by his place on the 604 like he used to. I told him no, I'd been pretty busy. Not that I haven't been biking at all, but it's been mostly here in town, running errands. Even then, I often walk, especially since the snow and ice arrived. It's gone again, though, except for some lingering frozen puddles. Yesterday I met my former Grade 3 teacher on the street, and she remarked on my carriage - the trailer I was towing behind my bike. It always surprises me when people ask me about it, as if it's something new. Some assume that I am looking after small children. Indeed it was originally designed for hauling tots, but I have used it for years as a general cargo hauler, mostly for groceries.

It's not true that everybody knows everything about everyone else in this little town. They may all know about the four vehicles we had simultaneously licensed, after we got my dear old Nissan 4x4 running again and before we sold the little Ranger to Garth's niece; but they don't all know about my bike trailer.

Four vehicles? Yes - well, three now. I think the third was a mistake. We bought a '77 Ford Custom 500 so that we could haul 5 kids at a time when carpooling to events in Carlyle, and license it cheaply (as of next year) as an antique. That way we can still keep the tiny Geo Metro as Garth's daily driver, and the Nissan in case of snowstorms or large hauling. It seemed like a good idea as the school year was beginning and we were anxious to do our part in the carpool, but the way things have worked out, we haven't been driving that many kids at a time, so the blue whale (as the Ford is nicknamed) has been staying parked. Beached, I guess you could say.

I thought my bike was pretty much parked for the season, too, but when I saw that ice melting away this week, and then saw the forecast of a sunny warm day for Thursday (today), I made up my mind to get one more ride.

The day dawned cloudy, and showers had crept into the forecast, but I was undeterred. While the kids got ready for school, I mended my headband so I wouldn't have to choose between my helmet and my toque. I layered long underwear and a couple of sweaters under loose pants and a breathable raincoat/windbreaker (a luxurious gift from my mom). As the kids went out the door, I reminded them that they might be on their own for lunch. I tidied the kitchen a little, filled my water bottle, and stepped out into the light chill of a south breeze.

I rode south into that breeze, feeling it sap the warmth from my fingers and wondering if I should have chosen a different pair of gloves. Mitts, maybe? I remembered the images of wind-driven snow in the movie James and I watched last night, "March of the Penguins." Amazing, to see those tiny chicks poking their heads out from the shelter atop their parents' claws. How do any of them survive?

On the downhill slope of the ridge south of the airport, I geared up and raced a couple of trucks, but they blew past at double my speed. By the time I slowed down, I could feel my own warmth laughing back at the chill of the breeze, and my fingers were fine.

Somewhere along the way, I found myself wondering about this cold land of ours, and what it means to my perspective. Surely looming energy shortages must look a little different when you live in a warm place. It must be a little easier to just retreat to a farm and prepare to ride out the crisis, when you and most of those around you can reasonably expect to pull through. Here, I imagined, there will be an accelerated exodus, as some try to go back to the land and realize that this land was never very friendly. Perhaps there will be a deepening divide between those involved in pumping the last of the oil, and those just trying to survive.

It seems to me that there is a north-south split in the blogging circle I frequent. The southern U.S. bloggers are living close to the land, making dire predictions about humanity's future, and expecting to carry on through those grim times relatively unscathed. The northern bloggers are a bit behind in terms of acquiring land or building warm homes, but they are also much less inclined to discuss the coming darkness, and much more invested in the task of choosing to hope, to rejoice in this present moment. To light one candle, and to try to pass that light along to another. Is this just wishful thinking and willful blindness to the truth? I don't think so. A good tree bears good fruit, and in my life, hope yields hard work and harvest.

There is the matter of my children, too. At times I have thought that it was a mistake to have children in these times, though I did not really understand the times back then. If it weren't for the children, I could retreat so much more easily, or be a wandering prophet, working for my supper and talking to anyone who would listen. I wouldn't have to compromise so much, to give the children some of what I had, and some of what their peers have, just in case my reading of the times is all wrong. But more importantly, I wouldn't have so much riding on my hope that things will turn out better than they seem.

So maybe it is a good thing I had the children. That sounds terrible - as if I barely appreciate them. I love my children, and I marvel at their wisdom and goodwill, but I ache when they talk darkly about the future. Should I have sheltered them from my own fears, letting them believe that the future is bright? Should I have fled to a farm when they were very young, making that lifestyle the norm for them, so they would have nothing of modern society to long for or to miss? But today I think, no, this is where I am, and the Spirit is still breathing me, still stirring me to something more, and perhaps there is a blessing in this connectedness, this longing for a brighter, gentler future for humanity.

It takes far longer to write this than it did for the thoughts to flit across my mind. All the worries came and went, falling behind me or floating off across the textured fields, and I breathed the bracing air and waved at passing neighbours and friends, carried along by two narrow wheels and a rolling wave of joy. I stopped by the creek to admire the patterned ice and wonder about the old house on Adrian's, whether it really is compressed earth block construction, and whether it could be renovated with an extension on the south with lots of windows, and a strawbale blanket around the north, to use all that earth block as thermal mass. It could be beautiful, I thought.

Of course, it's beautiful now.

I rode up Perry's Hill in third gear. I'm in better shape than I realized.

I rode to the South Arcola Corner, turned, and came back with the breeze helping me along. I flew down Perry's Hill, enjoyed the creek again, stopped to talk to some horses, and then Murray stopped to talk to me. He told me about Shirley's appaloosa, that was just as curious as the one coming along the fence behind me.

I was home well before lunch time, and happy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Which Way Forward?

Madcap Mum has put her finger on the knotted ache in my living and dreaming these days. As I see it (which is none too clearly at the moment), my writing here has grown cramped and clotted, with fits of angry self-pity and bursts of pure diversionary fluff punctuating long stretches of total shutdown. There are unfinished drafts lurking, but even the activity of writing is getting shut down before it starts, as I sense the bleak and harsh thoughts rising, and decide to keep them to myself. Or just go blank. Look for something to do, something to eat.

I wonder if I need to take a break from news and research and the reading of the blogs. That idea feels like selfishness, like refusing to face the evil of these times just because it is depressing. And yet the alternative seems to be, as Madcap puts it, to "cripple myself with despair."

There is a glimmer of light that beckoned me into writing this morning; a hint of direction for my next small step. I will ask myself, when I sit down to read: What are you looking for? Once you learn this, what will you do with it?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Psalm, November, 2006

Where are you?
The vaults of heaven have turned to space,
a frozen void shot through with deadly rays.
Are you beyond?

Where are you?
Life is crowded,
turning on itself with hungry tooth and claw.
Things of beauty are dwindled,
clinging on the fringes
and in the cracks
and cringing and shrinking still.
Are you within?

Where are you?
Will I find you in the towers of glass and steel,
in the humming wires,
in the pointed tubes of hardened metal charged with power and death,
in the cheered performances ringed with pavement and cars,
in our sacrifice of praise?
Are you really there?

If you are there,

why have you made me
such that I cannot love you?

I know, I know.
You are the potter,
and I the clay.

Dash me to pieces if you will.

I wait

with wild eyes

and pounding heart

and find you

in the breath

that breathes these words

Friday, November 10, 2006

God Save the Queen

If you're asked to play "God Save the Queen," and you can't find the music right away, fear not. Chances are you do have it, under another name. Try looking for "America" or "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

Your next problem might be to shift it into a singable key. Many books offer it in the key of G, which confronts the singers with a series of D's and that last phrase lunging to an E. No trouble for a trained singer, but as public singing has dwindled in recent decades, so has the comfortable vocal range of most assembled groups. CyberHymnal has a score in F, quite accessible to most singers.

Since the anthem is used by tradition rather than any legal proclamation, I see no problem of protocol with shifting the key. In fact, while the Royal webpage for this anthem has a recording in the key of G, at the Canadian Heritage page you will hear it in the key of B flat.

However, for people who enjoy (or suffer from) absolute pitch, or for those who have this anthem firmly in their muscle memory, even a one-tone drop might be a problem. What do you think? F or G?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Narrow Way

My song of prayer for these days of remembrance. I'll be singing it at the Remembrance Day service, not because I especially wanted to have it heard, but they were looking for "something different" and couldn't find a soloist, and then even the usual choir anthem was looking unlikely since so many choir members will be away - and so I stuck my neck out. Later another soloist came forward, and I tried to back out, but no, they wanted both.

I hope it works out alright. I am always drawn to the borderlines, the places where controversy brews, and I fear negative reactions to my explorations. All I've heard is positive, even when I thought certain people might be offended, but still I wonder. Are they just being polite? Maybe some are thinking, "That Laura, she's always pushing her way into every community function with one of her songs." And what about my ideas? What do they really think?

Narrow Way
© 2006 Laura Herman

O, God, help us
find that narrow way.

Where we honour those who died
and stand by the veteran's side
but never glorify the battle day:
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way.

Where we heed the call to serve
and convictions steel our nerve
but yet where evil will not be obeyed:
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way.

Where we cannot close our eyes
to the horrors and the lies
but still our hearts are soft enough to pray:
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way.

Where our world is once again at war
and we doubt the hope we knew before
help us stand our guard;
help us name the sin;
help us work for peace,
but not give in:

help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way;
help us find that narrow way.