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?