Sunday, December 23, 2007

Was that Only Last Summer?

I've been promising pictures of the sunroom building project for several moons now. Tonight, on the full moon just after the winter solstice, many are gathered under old family roofs, but I stay on alone under my own roof. I am waiting until my church duties are completed before I too gather to the chosen family roof of this fast-passing year, and meanwhile, I am enjoying some quiet and tidying up some loose ends. Thanks to a nudge from Jim, I got browsing through pictures from the days when the newest part of our roof was only an idea awaiting a foundation.

It feels like these must have been taken more than just moons ago - feels more like several turns around the sun ago.

It was June 23rd. Garth and James were off in Calgary, having gathered with family by chartered coach to help celebrate his aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary. I woke to the siren of the town fire truck, cheerily summoning the folk to the pancake breakfast. It was Fair Day in Arcola.

I burrowed back into my pillow, but something nagged at me. I tried to deny it, to pretend it could be something other than what I knew it must be, but finally I sprang from the bed with the mental admission that I was hearing thunder. Fair Day, indeed.

There was a huge round tarp in the garage, left by my Dad in case of just this circumstance. I dragged a rickety wooden ladder from behind the garage and propped it against the eave of the house where the porch used to be, forming a ridge pole for a makeshift tent over the exposed basement stairs. Then I looked at the partly rotted ladder rails, considered trusting them for a climb, but decided a sturdier second ladder was in order.

As I placed it, the thunder was getting louder, and I could see that the black cloud to the southwest was right on track for a direct hit.

Hammer, spikes, and tarp edges in hand, I started the climb.

The higher I climbed, the more weight of the tarp came up off the ground and into reaction against my effort.

Raindrops started slicking the aluminum ladder rungs. Lightning flashed closer.

I pounded on the wall and yelled at my sleeping daughter to come help. With the hammer and nails out of my hands, and both of us tugging, the tarp finally relented and rose the last few feet I needed. I spiked the top in place under the eave, added some spikes lower on the wall to hold the tarp out to the sides, weighted down the bottom edges with concrete blocks borrowed from the nearby fire pit, and retreated inside.

Then I looked out to see how the tarp was doing, and saw all the water from the garage roof pouring, not into the rain barrel that used to sit behind the garage, but instead into the gravel-filled base we had excavated for a new concrete slab there.

It's amazing what functional structures a person can concoct under pressure. That's a sawhorse supporting a piece of plywood, with various bits of recently removed eavestrough and downspout and connectors balanced and wedged until they conducted the bulk of the water away from the slab base... and into the hole where the chokecherry bush (seen lying in the background) had been removed to make way for the coming concrete truck. I bailed that hole out later. More than once.

The garden sure needed the rain. My kitchen floor didn't. (Well, maybe it did.) The porch removal had inadvertently pulled the eavestrough slightly out of position, not enough so you would notice and remember to fix it on a sunny day, but enough so that the roof runoff from a thunderstorm came sheeting down over the kitchen doorway.

Looking out and down from my kitchen doorway, June 23rd.
The black tarp covers the basement stairs.

If there was any south wind with a storm, the water came sheeting into the doorway, and pushing in under the rubber sweep I had added to the bottom of the door, which was only an interior door after all, and was never intended for keeping out such elements. More than once a hapless family member shuffled into the kitchen during or after such a weather event and found the river with their feet. It crossed the whole kitchen and disappeared under the electric stove, but nothing electrifying happened. We tried to remember to keep some rags tucked up against the door when weather threatened, but that was about as successful as our remembering to fix the eavestrough. It did get done, several storms later.

The tarp did remarkably well at keeping the basement dry. Everyone wondered, though, why I had chosen to drag two tarp edges up the ladder, line up the grommets, and spike both edges in place, instead of unfolding the tarp and leaving more of it on the ground. Everyone wondered, including me. I guess I just had it in my head that a half-moon-shaped tarp would be perfect for the job, and didn't realize that a circle would do just as well, with the other half of the moon spread on the ground. Hey, I was about to climb an aluminum ladder in a thunderstorm. I was actively setting aside my intelligence for a while.

It worked, and I got back inside, safe and soggy. I dried myself off and got into my marching band uniform. By the time Ruth and I were on our way to the parade marshalling grounds, maybe six blocks away at the south end of Main Street, the storm was a distant bank of fluffy white in the east, and the sun was softening the pavement. We survived the march to the fairgrounds in our bright blue polyester jackets and felt-look western-style hats, as we always do. This time someone had arranged to have water waiting for us!

Ah, water. We do need it.

And the garage slab base was none the worse for waterlogging. As my Mom said, it's a good thing concrete likes water.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Of Form and Substance

Dad and I are building again, after a couple of weeks off for other things. Dad had to put in some ductwork in his house to get his ground-source heat pump working properly, and I had to catch up on neglected stuff like housecleaning and rest. I focussed on the second one.

Today as I surveyed the interior of the new walls, plump with yellow fiberglass insulation, and mentally reviewed the tasks yet undone, I realized how different this project is from much of my activities. This project involves substance. Often my creations are only form, only words or musical phrases, passing things that take shape only for a moment in the mind of a reader or listener and then pass away again. I can work away at the shaping and polishing of these forms, and if I never present them to anyone, they simply cease to be.

But when I stop working on this building project, it still sits there, substantial, unfinished, real.

I like this.


Speaking of the building, it's high time I posted some more pictures. Nudge me if I don't get some up soon.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Meet kmoo

Or is it k moo? Anyway, he left this poetic gem tucked away in the comments on "Mindful Milking," and I didn't want you to miss it. Check out his blog, too, there's lots more...

A wise old sage once told k moo
you can be a swami too
this is what you have to do

Books and workshops can clutter the mind
and shackle the conscious to space and time
empty the vessel and you will find

Boredom rears it's ugly head
loneliness leaves a sense of dread
ignore these feelings they'll soon be dead

The answers you seek are deeply hid
noise and activity must be rid
I guess that's why gurus don't have kids :)

There's a funny thing, though, kmoo -
I think most of my gurus do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mindful Milking

I have never been responsible for the milking of a cow. I think I may have had a little try at milking, once or twice in the dimly remembered past, but it was never one of my daily chores.

I find myself thinking about the task of milking (or should I call it an art?) as I begin to explore the idea of mindfulness. Oh, sure, I've had a little try at mindfulness now and then, too, but recently I have decided that it is a key to my growth and to the healing of some troublesome patterns in my life. I have finally faced the fact that my daydreams are damaging me. Around the same time, perhaps as a cause or perhaps as a result, several experiences have pointed towards the need and the path for change.

At a retreat I attended in October, I somehow got the idea to be wordless as I went for a walk on a winding trail up the steep side of a coulee. It was native vegetation, bush and prairie grass, rich with species that I could name, but I chose not to. Taking that idea further, I chose again and again not to analyse what I was seeing, or even to narrate it in my mind, but simply to receive. No imagining how I would describe the experience later, no toying with expressive phrases, no words at all.

Paradoxically, later I found myself able to bring the entire experience vividly back to mind, and thus to describe it in as much expressive detail as I might desire, precisely because I had not been distracted during the experience by the imagined retelling of it.

It occurred to me that I smear my past, present, and future together by constantly planning and rehashing instead of being present. Nothing gets my full attention. How much benefit do I get by all this absent thought? Could I just re-assort my mind-time so that most of it was focussed on the now? If I practise being present, will that be just as good preparation for future present moments as if I imagine them and try to plan for them?

Another thought occurred to me, that if I spend most of my time being present, I will need to take some time being totally present to activities like planning, and thinking of people far away, and so on. I worry that I won't have time for that sort of focus, if I stop doing it while in the midst of something else. But maybe I will.

When I returned from the retreat, I was determined to find some books I had stashed away, books about the Enneagram, to further my self discovery. I had assumed that they would be hard to find, but they were near the top of the first box I checked. Then I heard about an Enneagram workshop, and found some online resources, and noticed that some Enneagram teachers recommended the works of Eckhart Tolle.

That same day, visiting across the street, I noticed a book by Eckhart Tolle called "The Power of Now." I borrowed it.

Meanwhile the busyness of life continued, and living from deadline to deadline, I struggled with increasing domestic chaos. I know I need a routine, but I fear imposing a routine on myself, and missing out on some important direction that I would take if I just went with the flow. Finally I decided that I must make a plan. In fact, that is the plan: to make a plan. It still hasn't happened, but like a seed invisibly changing under the soil, there is movement and new energy in my life. Lying in bed one morning, noticing how often I lie idly planning and rehashing and daydreaming in the early morning, I decided on just two things as the beginning of a plan. I gave them alliterative names to keep them in mind: Mindful Mornings, and Being in the Bathroom.

No, no, I don't mean spending a lot of time in the bathroom! I mean really Being there when I am there. And leaving when I'm finished! Otherwise I can linger on the throne of thought until my legs go numb.

I am resisting these ideas, fearing the change, fearing the loss of something, but I haven't given up on them yet.

Last night I started reading "The Power of Now." I was delighted to find a bit about being present while washing hands, noticing the slipperiness of the soap. This morning I am a flurry of activity with facing what's really in front of me, and making lists of all the things I can't fix all at once, and worrying that I will do the easy things first and not have time for the rest but finding that I am really getting a lot done. Folding clothes, I caught myself thinking about something else and realized that, in the midst of some other train of thought, I could easily fold and shelve things without even noticing that they need mending. I am about to start the dishes, and waffling. Shall I focus on the soapy water and the surfaces coming clean, or shall I use this time for some reflection on other things?

I've heard that when you milk a cow, you may have to quiet your mind before she will let down the milk. And so I bring a question for my elders on the path of right living. (Eleutheros and Contrary Goddess and Madcap Mum and Jim at Earth Home Garden, I'm thinking of you.) Do you milk (or quilt or gather eggs) mindfully? Or to put it another way, when you ponder the questions of the universe, do you keep your hands busy?


Maybe Eckhart Tolle will have some answers for me. I'm sure life will. I'll let you know. Right now, though, I'm running out of time to get those dishes done.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Idea whose Time Has Come

Have you noticed that some of the powers seem to have warmed to the idea of a global warming threat?

Could it be that they're finally ready to take advantage of it?

INSIGHTS: Carbon Sequestration

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


A glacier and a group of polar bears - those are the two remaining images on my sheet of "Permanent" postage stamps.

The irony is not lost on me.

The glacier stamp will travel with my registration for an event at the Calling Lakes Centre, almost 125 miles away. When we travel by car (1996 Geo Metro) to that event and back, the car will release about 100 pounds of carbon dioxide. It will release water vapour, too, but the carbon dioxide is more important as a greenhouse gas. The reason? Water condenses out of the atmosphere as rain or snow, whereas carbon dioxide is a more permanent addition, building up and driving change.

The event is an Enneagram workshop at the Calling Lakes Centre. Perhaps I will learn how to transform my preoccupation with environmental information into real action (or non-action - staying home with even greater resolve than I do now). Perhaps Garth will gain some insight into his frustration with all that.

Will the 100 pounds of carbon dioxide from our travel to this event be offset by future changes in our lives?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Health Globally, Health Locally

There's talk of promoting the "co-benefits" from using one's own energy to get to school or work:
direct health benefits through the physical exercise, and indirect health benefits through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, smog, vehicular accidents, and so on.

I'm all for it.

Of course, it's a bit sad that such an obvious connection needs a public education campaign.

And when they get talking about co-benefits from reduced meat consumption, I have to raise my usual qualification about the local (and global) benefits of consuming range-fed beef where the land is marginal for crop production.

But this story also brings to mind a caution I raised last summer. When human bodies lose weight, where does the carbon go?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Something I Didn't Learn in School

I never watch hockey anywhere except the local rink. Maybe if I did, I would hear our national anthem sung in French. Instead, it was my sister's karaoke machine that drew my attention to the French lyrics.

Have you ever seen a literal translation of our national anthem from the French version? Sometime in school, you probably learned that it was originally written in French, but did you learn what the French lyrics mean?

From the Canadian Heritage webpage about the anthem:
  1. O Canada! Land of our forefathers
    Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.
    As in thy arm ready to wield the sword,
    So also is it ready to carry the cross.
    Thy history is an epic of the most brilliant exploits.

    Thy valour steeped in faith
    Will protect our homes and our rights
    Will protect our homes and our rights.

And a slightly different, perhaps even more literal, no, make that a more insightful translation, from Wikisource:
O Canada! Home of our ancestors,
Your forehead is wreathed with glorious garlands.
Because your arm knows the bearing of the sword,
It knows the bearing of the cross;
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant feats;
And your valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we sing such different visions of Canada, but I think we should know about it.

"Standing on guard for Canada" leaps to mind from the English version, but there is nothing of that here, at least not in an individual sense. Instead there is a vision of Canada itself wielding the sword; in singing the anthem, the individual is caught up within that vision. A subtle difference, perhaps, but I suspect that it's a powerful difference, too.

What about Canada "carrying the cross?" In the current official English version there is also a religious reference - the petition that "God keep our land glorious and free," but for me it does not convey the same sense of duty to that higher power. To me, carrying the cross means following the way of Jesus, willingly bearing the burden of the cross. Furthermore, to me the cross is a symbol of the place where spirit and matter intersect, and thus represents the lifelong struggle and blessing of being in the world. That's a powerful, humbling image when applied to a nation. Of course, others may hear "carrying the cross" to mean simply preaching conversion. Not many years ago, I too would have heard it that way. I wonder what it means to those who sing it in our national anthem?

When I saw the French lyrics on the karaoke screen, I didn't catch a lot of the meaning. It's twenty years or more since I studied French. The references to flowers and sword and cross all went by me. Still, one phrase leapt out at me from the chorus: "nos droits" - our rights.

I balked at this, as I do at most references to rights, because I think most of us have lost the sense of rights as something to be tended. If we think of rights only as something owed to us, we give up our own power and responsibility to protect, nurture, and even choose our rights. There are many "rights" being trumpeted in this world that I would gladly give up, in order to leave more room for the rights of other peoples, other generations, and other creatures.

I wonder. How differently would we English-speaking Canadians think, if instead of singing about standing on guard for our country, we sang about our country defending our rights?

I wonder. If I had not grown up with the English version of O Canada, what words and phrases in it would sound disturbing or challenging to me?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Falling Faster

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that climate change might happen too slowly for humanity to experience much conscious suffering because of it. The losses would be real, and enormous, but spread over several generations so that rosy stories of the old days would be dismissed as exaggeration or fairy tales.

Then Tim sent me an article about the arctic meltdown happening far faster than the climate models have predicted. That's an ironic twist. For years, the willfully ignorant would trot out old stories about early models overstating global warming predictions because they didn't account for clouds. Well, who knew? Errors can occur in more than one direction!

Sorry for my bitter sarcasm. I usually try to tone it down, but I'm past the point of patience.

My children have started bringing me news stories about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. James brought me this one, about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rising faster than expected. That could cause problems for the models, eh?

Wayne, at Niches, has been writing about drought in the southeast U.S., and when he looks at a period longer than just this year, he sees that they are in their worst drought in 100 years. In his October 26th post, he has a whole round-up of news about things worsening faster than expected.

And today, I hear that the the domino effect is underway in the Canadian boreal forest. It used to be counted as a carbon sink, with tree growth removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Climate change was supposed to make it an even better sink, by accelerating tree growth. Instead, with less snow and hotter summers, there are more forest fires, so the forest has become a carbon source.

I guess it's encouraging that my kids are bringing up the subject now.

I'll feel better when they start suggesting that we walk.

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's Back!

Blogger has restored one of my favourite features from its earlier days. Check your Blogger profile (or mine, or anyone's) and you will find that the listed interests, favourite books, etc. are all hyperlinks. Each link takes you to a list of all the other Blogger users who named that same interest or book or whatever. Each name on that list is a link to another profile with a blog or more of its own, plus all its own hyperlinks to more lists . . .

So long . . . I hope you make it back someday . . .

Friday, October 19, 2007


CG and Madcap Mum have taken up a meme, to list ten things that are non-negotiable for you. I have been mulling it over, but like MCM, I'm not coming up with much. I think that might have something to do with the couple of non-negotiables that I did come up with.

1. Never give up on anyone.

I think I might be able to shorten this one to "Never give up," which is good too, but it might miss the point. If somebody else has as one of their non-negotiables something like "the American way of life," well, I disagree, but I still can't give up on that person. And that makes it difficult for me to say that anything is non-negotiable, because I want to leave myself room to negotiate.

2. Reality.

You know, things like gravity and friction and weather. I won't plan my life on the assumption that there's some fabulous breakthrough energy source to be found, if only I will just be a good consumer and stimulate our energy-guzzling economy to race even faster to fill the R&D coffers to bring on that breakthrough before there's nothing left to consume. I won't daydream about climate change expanding agriculture northward onto thin forest soils, peatland, and bare rock. It doesn't matter what I declare to be non-negotiable in my life, if reality won't negotiate either. Reality wins.

The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan

How did I miss this?!

I took note of the early planning discussions, but after that, the first I heard of The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan was when I saw a copy on the end table in someone's home.

I was entranced.

But it's a very heavy book to hold on your lap.

Now (well, actually, ever since April), you can read it online! The whole thing! And it's not just dry little snippets; it has 21 major theme essays; the 2300 hundred entries include fascinating stories of individuals and their lives; there are photos by Courtney Milne; oh, don't take my word for it, just go read it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Falling Slowly

Does it matter? Sometimes I picture a future world where there are debates about whether the rich farmland, large cities, and rainforests seen in a few old pictures ever really existed, or whether they were imagined by prophets dreaming of heaven.

Via Contrary Goddess and Sharon (jewishfarmer):

ENVIRONMENT: Warming May Trigger Agricultural Collapse

The study referred to in the above article is reported in detail in William Cline's new book, Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country. A look at the Peterson Institute's "In Brief" overview of the book shows that the more optimistic estimates of future agricultural production rely heavily on carbon fertilisation offsetting the negative effects of high temperatures (not to mention a fortuitous escape from all sorts of other harmful effects such as water shortages and severe weather events). Carbon fertilisation? I must look for an update on the dark side of that issue: hidden hunger.

Yes, the fall may be too slow for many to notice. And if so, the emotional suffering may be much less that we would expect, because few will know what has been lost. Even as they starve, people may not know that there was ever much hope of anything else.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Two Fables

There is a story of a man passing by a building site, and asking one of the workers what he was doing. "I am laying bricks," the worker replied, without looking up from his monotonous task. The passerby walked on and asked a second worker what he was doing. "I am building a wall," he replied, with a wave of his trowel as if to say the answer was obvious. The passerby continued a few more steps, and asked a third worker what he was doing. This man straightened up, gazed into the air above the growing foundation, spread his arms wide and declared, "I am building a great cathedral!"

When I was young and ambitious, eager to mold the world to my beneficent dreams, I heard that story with delight.

Later, weary with searching, I heard another story less frequently told. I wish I could remember who told it, or tell it as richly as they did.

There was a long road through wild and desert land. One night a small band of travellers came trudging, their waterskins empty, their lips cracked and dry. As darkness came upon them with nothing but dust and dry rocks in sight, they sank down by the side of the road in despair. But one of their number walked apart, unwilling to simply watch and endure this suffering.

After a time, as the shadows deepened, one stone seemed to draw him. He crossed to it, touching its rough surface, stretching out his arms to encircle it, and finally tugging on it, harder and harder. "I am mad with thirst," he thought. "Even if I move it, what will I find but more dust? Perhaps when it yields, it will roll and crush me." And still he tugged, and at last it seemed to him that the rock had shifted. He braced himself better, and with a mighty effort, he rolled back the stone and revealed a spring of water.

As the years passed, many travellers stopped at that spring to cool their throats and fill their waterskins. Some stayed a while to clean it and build a stone basin where water could be gathered without muddying the source. Others gave thanks and passed quickly on.

Later, as fears darkened the minds of men, some thought that the spring was too precious a thing to be left so open to the sky, to the wild, and to all manner of people who passed by there. And so they built a shrine to shelter and protect it, and a dwelling nearby for those who would tend it. And they welcomed travellers, holding out a cup to them and filling their wineskins with a dipper.

Years passed, and the shrine was expanded and refined. Travellers gathered inside, bowing in gratitude and praise, listening to the sound of the water somewhere deep within, and finally taking a little sip before they journeyed on.

At last a great cathedral stood upon that spot, and those passing on the road would tell the story of how a spring of water once rose up from the stones in that place. Sometimes one of them would venture inside, and in the dying echoes at the end of a great hymn, he might catch his breath in wonder, imagining that he heard again the trickle of clear water.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

If a tree falls in the forest... can listen attentively to its sound, without standing in its path and letting it crush you.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Speaking of PVC . . .

. . . I was impressed by Mountain Equipment Coop's work on alternatives to PVC-foam in flotation vests. I particularly like their willingness to share.

The first MEC-brand PFD that uses PVC-free foam took a year and a half to reach production. As the first PFD manufacturer to use cross-linked PE (polyethylene) foam, we invested considerable time and money to get it approved for use. The foam meets all UL and ULC testing standards and exceeds many of them. It's lighter, more buoyant, better aging, and, best of all, doesn't require the same problematic chemicals in manufacture, produces no dioxins if burnt, and is easier to recycle than PVC foams. We think the benefits are such a good thing that we've made it available to any other manufacturer who wants to use it.

Taking a Side on Siding

This is one of those long wandering posts where I am writing mostly for my own benefit, for the discipline of stating things clearly, which requires me to think clearly.

Did I say that clearly?

I finally woke up to the folly of slapping vinyl siding on our house. My Dad told me about a catastrophic fire in Edmonton that is believed to have spread through the vinyl exteriors of the houses. (For a discussion of this and other similar fires, see this editorial.) Around the same time I stumbled across an old discussion with CG where she called some houses "plastic monstrosities." Now you might think I am overreacting to a couple of people's comments, but what was my basis for choosing vinyl in the first place? Somebody's comments about "low maintenance," and somebody else's comment that steel siding makes a house look like a shed.

Why would steel siding make a house look like a shed? Because everybody's always done sheds that way, and houses a different way? I have to wonder. Industrial and agricultural buildings around here are overwhelmingly steel clad. In these utilitarian buildings, I would assume that they use steel because it works. So why not on a house? Don't we want houses that work?

But as I started overlaying blocks of colour on digital photos of our house, my resolve began to waver. What if I create a metal monstrosity? The colours look too strong. Is it worth the hours of fiddling to try to come up with a realistic image that includes shadows and different light levels and so on, to see what it will really look like? On the other hand, how do I know that vinyl would look any better?

The present siding on the original part of the house is concrete shingles in need of repair. Repair is a neglected "R." I came across a very interesting article discussing the environmental, economic, and aesthetic merits of repair for traditional house materials such as wood siding and slate roofs, but I don't think that would apply to these shingles. They are quite unattractive to my eyes, sort of halfway pretending to look like wood. I think they'd look better if they didn't even try to look like anything other than thin flat slabs. Complicating the issue of repair is the possibility that these may contain asbestos. They have been painted, and the paint is peeling, but I don't want to start scraping them. So instead, we are planning to entomb the concrete shingles inside a thickened wall, thus turning them into a bit of thermal mass and giving us an opportunity to add more insulation outside them before adding the new siding.

And here I am back at the question of new siding. Shall I blaze a new trail, challenging the notion that steel siding is not for houses? At this point in the writing of this post, I turned aside to browse more sites about steel siding, since I had seen one for a U.S. company making steel siding that looks like clapboard - and I found a Canadian company making similar steel siding that is PVC coated. If you're choosing steel to avoid the toxic chemicals involved in vinyl production, you might want to know about that. Now I wonder. I don't even know what type of coating is on the steel we bought for the roof. So many questions! If I made sure to ask them all, I'd never get the house finished. Heck, I'd never even have got it started.

Deep breath. Why should steel siding be made to look like clapboard. It isn't clapboard, it's steel. Why shouldn't it look like itself?

And what about clapboard? Who says maintenance is evil? As that article I mentioned above points out, a zero-maintenance product is one that cannot be maintained, but must eventually be replaced. Which work and expense do you prefer, maintenance or replacement?

And then I get thinking about local materials. There's aspen. Does anyone make siding out of it? Perhaps they should. Perhaps we should. Somebody around here must have a sawmill. But would we also need to find a kiln?

I recall that the wood panelling in the Mother Theresa Centre at Kenosee is aspen. Where did they get it?

All these questions make me tired. Maybe I'll fall back on the idea that came to me in the midst of all this: this house would look great covered in cedar shakes.

I mentioned the idea to my Dad, and we were right back to the beginning of all this: the fire hazard. But as Dad says, the house is fairly well separated from its neighbours. And then there are those concrete shingles in the wall, which would tend to keep a fire from going deeper.

Well now. Did I decide anything?

I could get all worked up about the ill-informed decisions I've been making all the way through this project, but instead I'll put it back in perspective. It seems hugely significant, and certainly there is a lot of work and expense and energy and environmental impact involved, but it doesn't happen every day. Things that do happen every day, like eating, might seem insignificant, but they're not. So if I fail to find the best information about building because I'm too busy learning to garden by gardening, well, so be it.

And I'm learning to build by building. When I finish learning this way, I'll have a finished house.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

That Chill in the Air . . .

. . . and that smell of heated dust as the furnace starts up for the first time this season. I put it off as long as I could, and we're leaving the thermostat low, even though it makes for somewhat clumsy typing fingers. The original house is still closed in, but it's not quite as weather resistant as it used to be. And once we get the new part closed in, there will be a spell when I don't want it heating much, until we get the vapour barrier in to prevent condensation in the walls. Eek. 'Tis the season of desperately hard work before freeze-up.

Speaking of weather, I found a new source of online weather forecasts. I have used Environment Canada for years now, but in these days of eyes on the sky, I grew envious when I heard talk of a 14-day forecast. The Weather Network clearly uses the same observation stations, but they seem much more willing to go out on a limb with more detailed and extended forecasts. So far, I think the Environment Canada temperature predictions are closer to the mark, and the 14-day predictions are only a rough guide, but still useful.

If you're marveling at the temperature differences showing up between Moose Mountain Park in the hills and Carlyle on the flats nearby, look closer. The actual observations come from Broadview and Estevan respectively.

That brings up another issue. I have a CD of weather data for western Canada, and browsing through that, my impression is that the number of stations collecting weather information has declined steeply in recent decades. Does that seem odd to you? Here we are, all concerned about rapid climate change and perturbed regional weather patterns and more erratic weather events, and at the same time, we are relying on an increasingly sparse net of stations to tell us what is actually happening on the ground.

And in these days of increasing emphasis on "citizen science," I couldn't find anything on the Environment Canada website about opportunities for citizens to make weather observations, except the Skywatchers program for schools. I know Garth's uncle submits weather observations. I'll ask him.

But I won't be volunteering this fall!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Glow worms

Glow little glow-worm, fly of fire
Glow like an incandescent wire
Glow for the female of the species,
turn on the AC and the DC.
This night could use a little brightnin'
Light up you little ol' bug of lightnin'
When you gotta glow, you gotta glow--
glow little glow-worm, glow.

I was reminiscing recently about the glow worms on the shore at Saskairie. Someone looked doubtful: "I don't think we have glow worms here."

And I doubted. Was it something I imagined as a child? Did I only wish to see them?

I remember the song my mother enjoyed.

But I remember those crawling creatures among the leaves, lighting up the shadows along the edge of the sand.


Today, in the Missouri Calendar via Pablo:
"Watch for lightning bug larvae (glowworms) in low water."

Eureka! We have lightning bugs, at least I think that's just another name for what we call fire flies, and if we have the bugs, we must have the larvae!

And so I was off on another search, and I learned that fire flies are neither bugs nor flies but beetles, and their larvae do glow, and so do the wingless worm-like females, and both of these get called glow worms even though they are not worms . . . and I doubted no more. I did so see glow worms on the shore at Saskairie.

What kind exactly, I don't know. All the sites I found were very general in their discussions, rarely mentioning individual species. None told me what species we might see here in Saskatchewan.

But I've seen those twinkling lights over the brick ponds and right up into our yard, floating over the lawn. Maybe I'll wander down into the long grass and the cattails some night and see if I can see some little glows on the ground.


Do you remember the song? Check out the lyrics - did you know there's a word in there from the ancient Iranian language of Avestan?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Last night, via SimplyTim, I discovered this essay which nicely sums up many of the main currents of my thinking on ecology and our part in it: How To Save Civilization.

Then this morning I was startled by a new voice taking up the thread of an old conversation from my own blog, exploring the deeper currents of tragedy and hope.

And somehow it reminded me of all those moments over the last few weeks when things connected across time and space.

Many arose in Regina as I came and went to and from the hospital. There was the moment when I walked confidently along the now-familiar way from the doors toward the elevators, but suddenly the place turned strange as I noticed a small procession dominating the corridor ahead. There came a very tall lean young man, dressed entirely in bright yellow, shuffling but stiffly erect, his eyes straight ahead as though he did not even see this tiled hallway, those glass doors, these people drawing back against the walls. Close behind and beside him paced two very different men, much heavier, dressed entirely in dark stiff uniforms, their eyes sharply focussed on the here and now, on the yellow-draped man who shuffled before them. With a start I noticed the chain clinking between his ankles.

I had slowed my pace. The procession came on, and I realized that we would be meeting just at the point where the wide new corridor was constricted by a stone archway preserved from the old hospital entrance. I stood aside, just outside the arch, and waited while they passed through. As I stood there, I remembered how the arch used to be, with a glass door in its midst and a concrete step in front where my mother slipped and fell, trying to open that door for me as I tried to quell my nausea, tried to breathe through the contractions, tried to convince her and myself that I was still okay to make my way to the labour and delivery unit under my own power. I cried out when she fell, but she bounced back up again and hurried us on . . . and that's a whole other story, a beautiful story that continues right up to this day in the person of my daughter. But the tumultuous opening chapter was all right there, for a moment, as I stood by that old stone arch and watched a prisoner shuffle by.

Then there was that moment in the car somewhere in Regina, running some errand while waiting for something to happen, finding a small pleasure in listening to a favourite radio station that I can't tune in out here, when a Rodney Atkins song brought CG's difficult journey to the centre of my heart. And I wondered if it meant anything, changed anything, to have it there, but I hoped so.

And there was some moment somewhere, I don't remember what it was now, but something brought to mind all the beautiful men I have met since that morning when we woke early to "fire the grid." I don't think that was the purpose, to start me seeing beautiful men, but they have been everywhere since then. And come to think of it, the women and children are beautiful too.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

YouTube - Raymond Crowe - A Wonderful World

As I carry on with my own projects
and take on stuff that Garth can't do right now
and help Garth with the extra stuff he needs to do right now:

life is a bit hectic.

Too hectic to write much of a blog post.
But at the same time:

life is wonderful.

YouTube - Raymond Crowe - A Wonderful World

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Filmmaker confronts mortality with "Diving Bell" - Yahoo! Canada News

Timely. I think I will keep the garden at the top of my to do list, and I will move a little slowly through it, just to marvel at the shape and heft of a squash, at the silky texture of an onion scape, at life.

the Contrary Goddess: LOOK!

CG is seeing black helicopters. Well, one in particular. You can too.

Meanwhile, here in Arcola, life is much more ordinary. Chock full of ordinary, in fact. No news - well I guess there was word yesterday that the guy would be coming to measure Garth for his brace the next day, but we've heard that before. Oh, and this time they mentioned that it takes a week for the brace to come from Toronto. That's a different story from the "couple of days" that he initially expected to be in hospital.

So his sisters are trying to keep him stocked up with books and snacks, while I try to find some focus in the great sea of things to do back here. Laundry, garden harvest, furnace tune-up, phone calls, and oh, I really must mend that dangling 2x4 so I don't have to see it every time I open the kitchen door.

I realize now what happened there: it wasn't properly nailed, because it was never meant to carry load on its own - we were going to build another wall frame directly underneath it. But that was postponed because we were still using that space as a temporary passage to the kitchen door - and I still am, walking under that reminder every time. Must fix that.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I'd like to say I'm back, but I'm not.

First it was the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party. To my astonishment, it was even more fun than last year. And this time I don't have to feel guilty about having fun by getting away from my family: I had James along, taking fiddle classes as a beginner, and we had a great time together.

Then I did get home for a while, just over a week in fact, but it took me most of that week to get my clothes unpacked. As fall looms, Dad and I are pushing hard on our construction project, anxious to get past the part where we have holes in the roof.

But there has been another interruption since Sunday night. Let me say first of all: Garth is okay. He will need to wear a brace for a few months while his back heals from a fall off that roof. Actually it wasn't from the roof so much as a small platform eight feet above the concrete slab. The platform is intended to be a sleeping loft, and it is only four feet wide, so its deck is only 2x4 framing. I got joist hangers for it, but I hadn't put them in yet; it was just another thing to do, since the nails were holding fine. Dad and I had been walking around on that platform for days, but maybe not balancing on that last 2x4. Garth came along at the end of the day and decided to help out. As he reached up to help hold a board for Dad, the nails in the 2x4 let go. Dad looked over and saw "somersaulting happening," and for a fraction of a second Garth was falling head first, but he somehow managed to land flat, with the wind knocked out of him.

I had been working outside, so I didn't see any of it, just heard a very loud and long clatter that had to be more serious than a dropped tool or board. When I got to Garth, he was crawling, struggling to breathe, but of course he refused the idea of calling 9-1-1, so we got the car in close and let him crawl in. At the hospital, after some codeine, he started to relax and feel better, but during the course of the X-rays the tech became reluctant to let him move around. The doctor arrived and asked if he had any history of back injuries: they were seeing something on the X-ray but weren't sure if it was a new fracture or something old.

So then we were waiting for a call back from a neurologist, and there was talk of bed rest. But the next thing we heard was that an ambulance transfer had been ordered. Garth grumbled about the cost and the possibility that this was all a lot of bother about nothing; I rushed home and packed a change of clothes for each of us, reassured the kids, thanked Mom and Dad for taking care of things there, and got back to the hospital just after the ambulance had left. When I got to Regina, I found Garth waiting on the back board, wryly commenting that if there really had been something wrong with his back, it would have been better to ride in the car than to bounce along in the back of the ambulance. When the neurologist finally arrived, he had Garth unstrap from the board and roll onto his side - how odd! - and started checking his back for pain. "Does this hurt? Does this?" Soon he was pounding up and down Garth's back: "Does this hurt? No? Then why are you in the hospital?" I wanted to pound the doctor, and not on his back, but Garth found that comment funny.

That joking tone persisted through most of the next day. Garth was to have a nuclear scan, to find out if it really was just an old injury. It turned into two and three tests, each time with four nurses carefully sliding Garth from bed to stretcher and back, each time with Garth's wry commentary about how it would all prove unnecessary. And then we waited. And waited.

At supper time I asked Garth if it was time to throw a fit. If he was to be discharged, it would be really nice to know before it got any later and I was too exhausted to face the two-hour drive home.

But there was another worry, one that I kept to myself: why the extra tests, with no word of results? Had they found something?

I kept thinking the doctor would be coming any minute, but finally Garth sent me to his sister's place to get some rest. I arrived just in time for supper, and then crawled into a bed, expecting to be out like a light.

Between my restless thoughts and the phone call, I guess I probably did get a short nap. Then it was back to the hospital to comfort Garth's new worry, and update all the waiting relatives. Last night I got a better sleep, knowing, but now I should be leaving my sister's peaceful home and getting back to the hospital to ask all the new questions. How long will it take to get the brace? Can I go home and get my kids ready for school, or should I wait one more day here? Will he be able to move around, sit for a car ride, carry things? What should I tell his boss?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Porch Tales

I've been promising some pictures of the house addition in progress. Trouble is, if I'm not out there running one of my dad's power tools (which I use because he has them, and he buys because I can use them . . . sigh), I'm in here doing the bare minimum to keep folks fed and clean-ish, or maybe flitting through the garden pulling the biggest of the big weeds and making mental notes (soon to be forgotten) about what needs harvesting. Oh, I'll confess there are other times, too, times when I just sag into a chair, or rare times when I get out my bike and try to get as far away from work as possible. And yes, I must confess that I still spend a fair amount of time at this computer screen, but something seems to stop me from working on those pictures - ah, working - that must be it. Work aversion again. If I told myself I'd be "playing with" the pictures, perhaps I'd get at it.

Where to begin? Good thing I have Dad working with me, because he doesn't waste much time worrying about that. I could spend the whole summer trying to plan the exact sequence of every task, and never get started at all, but Dad asks a few questions, makes sure he won't be doing harm, and starts.

The porch had to come off. While I fussed and fiddled about, rerouting the electrical wiring that ran through it, Dad took out the door and windows, broke away the tiles and pavement around the base of the walls, and started in with his chain saw. He left the corners intact until last, and broke them with a sledge hammer. With some jacking and prying, the whole thing started to come away from the house, but not without some binding at the eaves.

Nothing some timbers, a chain, and a truck couldn't fix.

With some old round fence posts underneath the side walls as rollers, we got it moving. The walls were quite solidly built, with ship-lap inside and out, but it was never intended to serve as a rolling surface. Dad kept nailing and re-nailing heavier lumber on the sides, but it kept twisting off and then the rollers would cut into the shiplap and an edge would meet the ground and the whole thing would come to a swift and sometimes alarming halt. We wanted to move the porch to the side of the yard where it could serve as temporary shelter for salvaged bits of building materials, but after a full day of intermittent dragging, we decided we had moved it far enough to get on with other things.

So we started digging to make way for some new concrete slabs, and Dad, always looking for a faster way, brought his tractor into town. Somebody got the bright idea that there might be a faster way to move that porch.

Yes, this might work.

So far, so good . . .


Well, it's nothing a front-end loader can't fix.

There! Good as new, right?

Well, maybe she looks a little rough around the edges.

That bright strip in the shadows inside is the reflector on my bike trailer, originally purchased for hauling small children on joy rides, but still in service a decade later as a grocery hauler. The trees make a nice back wall for our new shed.

All this happened back in June. Yesterday I rescued a charming wild kitten from the roof of that porch. The little one was mewing up and down, back and forth, while mama yelled encouragement from the ground. When I approached, the kitten hid in the hole at the right, between the two layers of the roof. I put a ladder up against the wall, and mama kept up a low growl in the background. Once I backed off, though, that kitten didn't hesitate. I wish I could come off a roof onto a ladder so boldly - though the change of speed and direction at ground level looked a little sharper than I would like, if it were me. But the subsequent run across the yard to mama with tail straight skyward told me that the kitten was quite content.

Much has changed where the porch formerly sat, but that will have to wait for another day . . .

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Thought that Counts

Anthony was scornful of this article, but I found it fascinating. Of course my training in biology probably predisposes me to give credence to ideas coming out of evolutionary biology. But I find those ideas profoundly useful in noticing my own predispositions, the ones that run so deep I feel offended at having to justify them, the ones that run back through thousands and millions of years: the ones that I should be most careful to either justify or reject.

I hope you'll read the article, but the gist of it is that human males are genetically predisposed toward conspicuous consumption as a means of showing females that they are good mating prospects: they can provide the stream of material goods required to raise the offspring. Females, meanwhile, are predisposed towards volunteering as a means of showing males that they will do the self-sacrifice necessary, again, to raise the offspring.

Volunteering, huh? Can you hear my balloon deflating? Now I will have to re-examine everything.

As I was washing dishes yesterday, mulling this discussion of altruism and evolution, I remembered one of Garth's favourite sayings from the Dalai Lama: practise altruism, study wisdom. Doing altruism without wisdom is like seeking vengeance without knowing what will truly hurt your target. You might try to hurt them and find out later that your act didn't bother them at all! Likewise, if you want to help someone, first find out what will truly help.

Through my rather dismal experience of trying to help the world through environmental consulting, I can certainly see the wisdom in the Dalai Lama's words. Remember the truck song?

And so, as I continued with the unambiguously helpful task of dishwashing, I realized the deeper wisdom in the saying, "It's the thought that counts."

If you're doing a kindness to a close friend or relative, then surely (most times) the thought will be noticed and appreciated, even if the action is a little off the mark. But when you start do-gooding towards nameless, faceless members of needy groups you've identified (or had identified for you), there is more and more danger of missing the mark (and quite possibly doing more harm than good). At the same time, there is less and less chance that the thought will count for anything at all - if anything, the recipient of the do-gooding may well become bitter and cynical because of the do-gooder's obvious ignorance and indifference.

But here's the deeper wisdom. Consider a woman who is unconsciously carrying out her genetic orders, trying to appear selfless and thus attractive to prospective mates. Her genes compel her to think of others, and to be seen thinking of others. Whether there is any ultimate benefit to those others doesn't matter, as long as she is seen to be acting out of concern for them. It's the thought that counts.

And there is deeper wisdom still. A woman who becomes aware of this drive can reconsider her compulsion, and examine it from all angles, tracing out the consequences at different scales of time and place. She can think less defensively and more deeply. Hopefully, with time and patience, she can come up with a line of thought (and action) that truly counts.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rolling Stone on How to Keep Rolling

Read this first.
Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America's Biggest Political Boondoggles : Rolling Stone

Then browse the links here, and tell me - does it not sound a bit like a celebration of the many benefits of starvation as compared to poisoning and heatstroke?

Ah, but the money is in the answer to the question: who starves?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Future and Past

My days are full of newness: planning, figuring, shaping, and raising the walls of the greenhouse/sunroom/passive solar heat source that we are adding to our house.

Sometimes I still open the kitchen door and stop myself abruptly, before I step into the open air expecting the steps that aren't there anymore.

(To reassure the safety conscious, I'll mention that there is a scaffold right in front of the doorway at chest level, so I'd have to be almost comatose to actually walk out and hurt myself.)

These last few days there are more confused moments, as we have compressed all the living room and office furniture into half of the living/office room, and added a bedroom of sorts into the other half. We had to move out of our old bedroom before the plaster dust got too bad - that room is becoming the living room eventually, but right now it is a construction zone. Still, sometimes when I am on a mission to find a certain object, I open the old bedroom door and step halfway into the empty, plaster-strewn, open-air room before I realize that my bedroom is elsewhere now. Stranger still is the sensation of sitting at this computer (now facing east in the northeast corner of the living room instead of facing west in the southwest corner) with my perceptual world shrunk to the glowing screen and the keys, and then hearing a noise outside. Who is thumping in my back yard? No, wait, I'm facing east; that sound is coming from the street out front.

Confusing though it may be, I am thriving on the change, the puzzling out of how best to shape our lives in this space, and the sheer thrill of making something - something lasting and big.

So I find it very hard to shift gears and tackle the pile of dusty old cardboard boxes that couldn't sit in the back of my closet anymore. I now have no room for this stuff. None. Well, there are places where some of it can be tucked in - the bits that actually belong in my life today and tomorrow and next year. But that tucking will require more culling: a few inches of bookshelf cleared here, a bit of file cabinet emptied there.

And I don't want to do it.

I want to build the new, not deal with the old.

It is so tempting to just tip it all into the garbage.

But as I start poking through it, I find family photos, and letters from old friends I should contact before I lose touch with them completely, and oh, the piles of good stuff to read. But there is always more good stuff to read. Should I just let this stuff go?

And so I flounder, and set the boxes aside again.

I wonder. This house I am building - will I someday be struggling, waffling, wondering whether to let it go?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Canada Day Morning, 2007

Ruth took this photo of me in the early morning fog, near the mouth of a drowned coulee along the east shore of the Alameda Reservoir, south of the Moose Creek boat launch. Even after the fog lifted, it was a beautiful place, with native grassland cloaking the banks almost to the water's edge.

Who says you have to drive halfway across a province (or a country) before you can enjoy a spirit-lifting paddle?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Anatopism II

House on Highway 9, south of Carlyle, SK

What caught my eye here?

No, it's not the resemblance to a face.

It's that rectangle of plywood with the weathered paint, in the upper middle of the wall, looking like a nose.

What does that boarded-over doorway look like from the inside?

I'll admit, my own house has a door that opens into a bit too much air at the moment, but nothing like this one.

I have seen another doorway like this, though. It was on a house right here in Arcola, across the street from the schoolyard.

Why would anyone want a door opening off the second story into empty space?

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Looks like moose country, don't you think?


But I've seen them out there - not right along this highway south of Stoughton, but not far from it, near Lampman. And I've seen them in similar country south of Willmar.

I've heard that they have been seen on that vast bald expanse in southeast Alberta. Why are they venturing afield?

Here on the edge of the Moose Mountains, I hear talk about the timber they are cutting in the Park to try to get the forest to regenerate, and speculation that wildlife is on the move because of that. But moose would appreciate the regrowth in those cutblocks.

I also hear some talk about the old days, when anything leaving the sanctuary of the Park forest would be quickly diverted to somebody's freezer.

Is this sign another side effect of the gun registry?

Monday, July 23, 2007

If You're Asked to Play the Vice Regal Salute . . .

. . . you'll be glad to know that there is downloadable sheet music, including ensemble parts for C, Bb, Eb and F instruments, at the website of the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan.

The Arcola Community Band will play the salute at a dedication in Alameda on August 4th, as well as marching in the parade that morning. Wish us well, or dust off your horn and join us!

The Whistlepigs

Fred, Joel, Chris, and Ross: thank you!

These guys are the Whistlepigs, and they are four of the most generous spirits I've ever had the privilege to meet. They drove a full turn of the clock to return to the Forget Summer Arts Festival this past weekend, came out and led a fine jam into the wee hours at the campfire Friday night, and then hit the main stage at 10 a.m. the next morning for workshops and played in every one. Then when those workshops were over, they came over to the songwriter circle and did a great job offering a listening ear to budding songwriters, sharing encouragement, experience, and inspiration. I was hosting the circle, but I mostly sat back and let the 'Pigs and the Frontier Gals do all the work. Thanks again, everyone: you made the "Two Ears, One Mouth" workshop everything I had hoped it would be and more.

But wait, that's only the beginning. Saturday evening, when it was thirty-some degrees in the shade (that's ninety for you southerners), these guys got up in the floodlights for an hour and a half and gave their all. I had spent ten minutes on that stage earlier in the afternoon, and it was like a sauna already - I'm sure it had only got hotter since then. But there's no stopping the 'Pigs! I don't know how anybody sat still through that show - I found a spot (in the shade!) at the side of the crowd where I could stamp my feet and clap along, and oh, I wanted to sing. If my dancing partner hadn't been working at the festival gate, I bet we'd'a been up in front of the stage. Hey, Fred, when is the next CD coming out? I have lots of memories of building fences with my dad - I want to hear some more of that fenceline song. And more of all the rest, too!

After all that, Fred and Chris still made it down to the campfire after midnight for a few songs. They finally gave up when they were just about falling asleep sitting up with a tune in their hands. Thanks again, guys. I can only dream of ever playing like you, but I hope and pray that I can learn to welcome a neighbour like you do.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Home from the Festival . . .

. . . and all that went before. Music, music, for days it has been music, but it is the faces that come back to me, and I try to sort them out. The kindly eyes of a man telling me to think of Tai Chi as a meal - where, when, whom? Tim! At the Calling Lakes Workshop, "Sing and Worship with John Bell," that was Tim speaking, when I told him that I don't practice Tai Chi regularly anymore, but only when I desperately need it.

You're right, Tim. When I desperately needed it the very next day, to settle me down before I headed for the stage, the Tai Chi didn't come like breathing, no, nowhere near like breathing, and so it didn't calm my breathing, and when I saw another friendly face approaching, I gave it up. (For the time being. Tomorrow, it will be like breakfast.)

Heather. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your nerves and easing mine. Every time I saw your eager anxious pretty face, I just felt better, just like that. And laughing with you about bouncing for a minute to improve your memory for the lyrics, or doing the lion pose as first aid for a sore throat - yes, I still see your face, and you are pretty - don't you forget that.

Kathy - so good to see you again, like no time had passed at all since that midnight run to Humpty's - how we ended up there, I have no idea, but it doesn't matter. I'll see you again, somewhere, sometime.

And Michelle, you precious girl, with that searching, welcoming look that makes me the most important, no, the only person in the world - thank you for being.

Lloyd, too: you didn't know it, but it was you who finally settled me for the stage. Heather made me realize that what I needed was not solitude but more company, fun company - the opposite of focus, because focus only sharpened the fear. With company I forgot the fear and remembered what I love: faces turned to me, and that feeling that I am right where I need to be, giving what I came to give.

Lloyd and I talked about grasses.

Speaking of grasses, there was Jeff, too, Jeff at Calling Lakes: I knew his face from somewhere, and then when he showed up the next morning wearing a T-shirt that said "Stipa happens," I had to ask. "Where do I know you from?" And it took us a while to work it out, because each of us knew a different person from the botany crew that came up with that T-shirt, and our direct connection went back much further to my undergrad days and Luther College residence. Jeff didn't realize just exactly how Stipa happens, so I climbed the hill behind the Calling Lakes building and found him a speargrass seed, with the sharp barbed tip that happens to your socks and ankles.

Before Calling Lakes, there was Moose Jaw, and Murray McLauchlan's face, but only from the poster for his workshop (Creativity in Music) because he missed his plane, and I couldn't wait around for the rescheduled workshop next day. So I spent a good chunk of the afternoon slaving my way through the boutiques instead, until I finally found a top to go with the skirt that Garth bought me because Ruth had told him that I looked at it every time I went into King's in Carlyle. I'm wearing it now, and feeling so uncharacteristically lovely, I'm not sure when I will use it. But tonight most everything else is in the laundry. Honestly, now, I'll probably wear it almost every Sunday until it is so threadbare that I'm the only one who knows how pretty it is.

Anyway, after all that hard work in the fitting rooms, I went back to CW StringWorks and listened to Chris sing his fine new song about John Rae. Ah, Chris, it is a fine song, but sadly, after all the other music I heard this week, I can't bring much of it back to mind. But I see your face as clear as if I were back there in your shop. Is there anything greater in this world than the welcome of an old friend?

And thank you, thank you for fixing that buzz. Oh, my guitar was sweet to play this weekend.

Maybe I could remember more of Chris's song if I weren't listening to the Whistlepigs as I write. If my writing has gone downhill in the last few paragraphs, it's because I remembered the CD and had to play it, right now. No more focus. Amazing, I've had this CD for over a year, and I don't think I'd listened to it yet. How does stupid stuff like that happen? I remember starting to listen, and loving it, and getting called away to something, but why didn't I come back to it? How did Unjugged get tucked away in the rack on the wall behind all the mess of living? Well, enough of that - I'm listening now.

Fred, Joel, Chris, Ross - what can I say? I'll try to say it tomorrow. My six or seven hours of sleep since the festival started was not nearly enough for clear thought. I woke in my tent with the light and the birds again this morning, and tried to make myself sleep some more, but then I started hearing a new tune in a bluegrass feel - just look what you've done! I hope your twelve hours of homeward road rolled swiftly, unless the scenery was good. "Y'all come see us now and then!"

My homeward road was a blur. I wish I could remember something, anything, from the miles between the sagging bridge on Moose Mountain Creek and that nice new turn lane for Arcola. Well, I'm here, and the police aren't, so I guess I managed the drive alright.

I made that turn into Arcola, and saw the foxtail barley and the kochia dwarfing the wildflowers at the Who Has Seen the Wind sign. I pulled into my yard and saw the garden looking wilted and the lawn standing tall. Messages on the machine. Exhausted, but some of the stuff must come in from the truck - my guitar, at the very least. Hungry. What will I find in the fridge? Why didn't I stay in Forget for lunch? When will I ever learn to just ask - am I invited? I never have trouble inviting myself to Mom's. And suddenly I am on the phone to her, hurting, weeping, in spite of all the wonder of this week, all the things that went so well: suddenly everything is wrong.

She tells me: you're exhausted. Get some food into you and go to bed. And a few hours later I hear her voice on the answering machine - oh, yes, I should turn the ringer back on. She is inviting me out to the farm for supper.

So I got dressed up in my lovely new skirt and top, and drove my dusty ol' truck out to the hills, and pulled up at the wire gate. Oops. Forgot that the cows were in the home pasture these days.

Found out that I actually can close the gate from the inside, leaning and reaching past the railroad-tie gate post, even in a skirt. It's a funny gate, so awkward to close from the inside that I usually just stay on the outside, and then climb through.

Supper was delicious. Plain brown rice tasted so good, I had to ask what was in it. Just the rice. We had a bit of tasty pork, and peas in the pod, and fresh raspberries with milk for dessert. We lingered a little, but I kept catching myself nodding at Mom as she spoke, and then realizing that she was coming up to a question and I had not the vaguest idea what she had been talking about. Dad rode with me down to the gate so I didn't have to open it again.

And then I was driving south from the hills, and there was a doe in the rich green crop just outside the ditch, with the late-day sun glowing red-gold on the supple curves of her neck and flanks. Her huge dark eyes followed me past.

Later, on the outskirts of town, I caught a glimpse of red-gold again, and slowed the truck as the little fox came bounding over the crop rows, right up to the edge of the road. He stopped, and I stopped, and we gazed at each other a moment. Then his ear flicked back and he looked sharply over his shoulder at another vehicle approaching, turned with a bound into the shelterbelt and was gone.

And I am remembering one more face: the incredible intense blue-eyed gaze of John Bell as he tells his stories seemingly just for me. I wonder if everyone in that room felt that gaze the same way. And Anita's face, too - thank you, Anita, for coaxing me to squeeze in a bit of singing and worshipping with John Bell before Forget. I fear it will all be lost to me, lost in the midst of everything else that has happened too fast for my conscious grasp. But then I remember John teaching us the three parts of the Duncan Alleluia, and then telling us to forget it, so that we would know it.

He told a story then, and at the end of the story, we sang the Alleluia as if we had known it forever.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Flutter of a Swallow's Wing

So-o-o . . .

I got up early this morning to send my loving energy and do my part in the healing of the planet.

Then I went out to the farm to air out the house trailer we used to live in, in preparation for a prospective buyer's visit, and found inside: nineteen dead tree swallows.


The impending arrival of the buyer kept me moving, running up the hill to the farmyard and rounding up cleaning supplies, and then Mom came with me so it wasn't so bad. We gathered the bodies, and swept and mopped and wiped droppings off the fridge, the floor, the counters, the walls. Mom said it was a good thing it was a guy coming, and I agreed, as long as he didn't bring a fiancé along. Could be a life-direction-changing experience, you know. "Oh, honey, we can fix it up, can't we?" (Door slams, his truck tears off with him staring after it.)

But the guy came alone, and he was quite a good sport about the little feathered bodies scattered on the grass and the pails of mucky water that he helped us dump out. I hope the trailer serves him well.

Remember Forget!

This Friday-Saturday in Forget: the Forget Summer Arts Festival. The posters mention folks like Brad Johner and Johnny Cajun and Deb's friends, the Whistlepigs; but I'm going to mention:
  • the Arcola Community Band marching into the grounds to open the festival;
  • the "Two Ears, One Mouth" songwriters' circle where we will deliberately listen to those whose songs have not been heard before;
  • and a certain "tweener" act on the main stage at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. Right now I'm trying to decide whether to change my guitar strings for that lively sound, or stick with the old ones and play in tune . . .

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Two Pet Peeves

I'm sure others might draw a very different web; I know there are places where the arrows go both ways, and there are numerous other influences and outcomes. But this highlights my own pet peeves about the way the world is.

And for all you quick-on-your-feet bloggers who attended the SaskBloggers BBQ/picnic, this is what I wanted to say when I had all your attention and then had to say I lost my train of thought.

Now that I look at it, I guess I've probably said it before.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Googling the Vestibule

Now that the dimensions of the building addition are cast in concrete, I am getting down to the design details. A little late, no? Yep. Trying to make a vestibule fit in the corner, and still have room between it and the basement stairs for a utility sink, I got looking on the 'Net for ideas about minimum dimensions for the vestibule.

"Vestibule dimensions" turns up some interesting international building code stuff, but that's aimed at public buildings with high traffic. Then there are a couple of scientific articles, one having to do with ions and mouse lymphocytes (cool, but I don't have time to begin to understand it) and another with floral morphology and pollination (oh, yes, I vaguely remember something about a "vestibule" in a flower - again, no time for that). Scrolling on down, I find more building design stuff, but I also start to see product specs and reviews for backpacker's tents. Nope, no time for backpacking, definitely not.

Soon I start to see more scientific articles, this time about the inner ear. Makes sense. Scroll on, scroll on.

The link that startles me is "Ezekiel 40." Well, sure, now that I think of it, there are some vestibule dimensions in there.

Okay, I think I've pursued this wild google chase long enough. Time for common sense. Make the doors swing out of the vestibule, not into it, and remember to leave enough room for all four of us bending over to take boots off all at once. Then again, we could take turns...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Clearing the Air

I've often wondered about Dr. Tim Ball. What exactly is his background, and how did he end up with such a radically different perspective on climate change than other climatologists?

From some legal documents published on DeSmogBlog, it appears that he uses a radically different definition of climatology.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Blogwriting Analysis

Handwriting Analysis

What does your handwriting say about YOU?

The results of your analysis say:

You plan ahead, and are interested in beauty, design, outward appearance, and symmetry.
You are a social person who likes to talk and meet others.
You are affectionate, passionate, expressive, and future-oriented.
You are a talkative person, maybe even a busybody!
You enjoy life in your own way and do not depend on the opinions of others.

Well, Madcap, I got the "busybody" thing too. And I am definitely not talkative; ask anyone I know - they'll tell you all about how I just sit back and blend into the furnishings at a party (if I even go), and they might mention how they haven't seen me in ages, and then when I did show up at a church event I kept babbling on about all sorts of trivial things that happen in my daily life . . .

Hmm. Maybe I've changed. Or maybe I need to get out more.

That first item in the results actually struck me as pretty accurate, but hehehe, look at my hasty, unplanned, asymmetrical scribble there. Seems pretty clear to me that you could take the handwriting test without even doing the writing part - just answer the questions according to your dream vision of your own handwriting, and away you go.

Now for the more interesting analysis. The data: I got up shortly after 5:30 a.m. this morning, hurried through some breakfast and then worked fast and hard all day (well, I did pause to eat a sandwich, while standing in the yard beside the concrete forms and wondering if we would have everything ready before the ready-mix truck showed up), finally sat down to some pizza (kindly ordered in by my brother-in-law) sometime after 7:30 p.m., creaked my way back up out of the chair and went back out to tidy up in the yard and make sure all the freshly troweled concrete was covered up to keep it wet, came in, went to bed, got up thirsty, asked why the computer was still on, and wound up here in the midst of this blog post at 11 p.m. What does all this say about me?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Illich and My Garden

I found an archive of writing by Ivan Illich. I love his analysis of the number of hours put into owning and operating a car in a year, and the mileage gotten out of it. Divide the miles by the hours and you get about five miles per hour. Might as well walk!

This summer I have been resorting to a lot of powered and packaged conveniences in hopes of completing a renovation project quickly, before winter comes swirling in through the gaping hole that will soon be cut in the house wall. Ultimately that hole should let in a lot of sunlight and help keep the house warm, but only after a lot of framing and roofing and installing of windows and such. I'm in a hurry, and Dad has the tools, so I'm using them.

But I couldn't give up my garden, not even for one season. This winter I tried out the Ecological Footprint Calculator and realized that the environmental impact of food transportation is even larger than I thought. So I garden, stubbornly. There are some pictures over at my garden blog. I used to call it The Daily Bed, but now it's The Occasional Bed - still just as many beds, but less time talking.


On the part of the tree, that is.

Here you see Dad in his tractor, pushing at the roots of our chokecherry tree from yet another angle. He has already chewed a pair of six- or eight-inch deep tire holes in the lawn near the centre of the picture, and another pair off to the left out of sight. He stopped several times to cut roots with his chain saw.

It was big for a chokecherry, but chokecherries don't usually even qualify as trees; they're more of a shrub. I couldn't find a good photo of the tree before our onslaught, but this photo gives an idea.

Such a tree-killer I am. We could have just trimmed it back, to get the trucks past it to dump gravel and pour concrete behind the garage, but once I started looking at it closely, I realized that a good pruning to take off all the black knot wouldn't have left much tree. Maybe I'll replace it with an Evans cherry in the next year or two.

So now I look at all that blue sky, and the corpse of the tree shoved over against the garden, and I wonder.

How many gigantic Carboniferous trees went into the fuel for the chainsaw and tractor to take down one Holocene chokecherry?

(Oh, I know, they say the Carboniferous trees went mostly to coal, and the petroleum came mostly from sea creatures, Foraminifera or something. But you get my drift . . . oh, never mind. I'm in a bad mood.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ready or Not

Use the front door these days, folks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sibling Friendliness: Only If You're a Plant

Experiments at McMaster University have turned up evidence that plants are more friendly toward their siblings than toward unrelated plants. Fascinating stuff, but I'm not sure I agree with the comments in the article about implications for gardening. If growing near strangers causes plants to grow more root mass, is that a bad thing? I'm thinking a little bit of competition early on (maybe eased by thinning a bit later), might make all the plants more vigorous underground, so they would be better prepared to deal with drought.

You would think, after all these weeks trying to garden in sticky mud, I would quit worrying about drought.

Nope. I'm from Saskatchewan.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Science Commons

Oh, at last! When I was a biology student, online publishing of scientific literature was just hitting the mainstream. I was excited to think that, in a few years when I was out in the world somewhere away from a university library, I would be able to browse through all this vast array of scientific knowledge and delve deeper into anything that intrigued me.

But even before I left the sheltered wonder of the university, I was quickly losing sight of my dream behind a wall of insurmountable subscription fees. No individual of modest means could possibly aspire to maintain subscriptions to more than a handful of journals. Yet important research papers are scattered across literally hundreds of journals, making it virtually impossible to stay broadly informed without membership in an institution that can afford the subscriptions. And where do those fees go? How could it possibly cost the publishers that much to put a journal online? There must be some enormous profits involved here.

Today, as I dreamed, I can browse through the entire vast array of newly published scientific literature right here at my computer in small-town Saskatchewan. But as soon as an article catches my interest, I come up against that subscription wall. Sometimes Google can find me something similar, but if I want the real thing, I have a choice between an absurd per-article download fee and a two-hour drive to Regina to read it at the university library.

Now, at last, there is an effort to change that. The Public Library of Science is offering a new model that makes scientific literature freely available to all. The Creative Commons website has an interview with one of its founders, Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen, that lays out the rich potential and urgent need for this approach.

I almost want to be a scientist again.

UPDATE: SimplyTim has suggested another repository of free literature, in the medical and life sciences: PubMed Central. I took a quick glance down the first page of the journal title list, and decided I don't dare dig deeper there until the snow flies. Thanks Tim!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Latest from Percy Schmeiser

Through the Environment News Service (see sidebar), I just happened upon an intriguing new video:

Soil: The Secret Solution to Global Warming

from an intriguing new (to me) website:

Quantum Shift TV

In fact, Internet TV is new to me, and I haven't been able to get past a download hitch at about 10 minutes into the video. The first nine minutes had some frustrating questionable generalizations, and some familiar faces whose pronouncements I take with a few grains of salt, but the overall direction seemed plausible and I wanted to hear some more. Any tips on getting the entire video to download?