Saturday, April 30, 2005

Ogawd Canvassing!

I feel compelled. Well, it is a way one can contribute to one's community, society at large. Little wonder why there are so few takers. After all, you're approaching someone's sanctorum, their refuge from a sometimes-hostile and always too-busy world. Their home, their castle. Asking for - what else? - money; cash cheques, anything will do. Most people work hard for their money, their resources are finite, they have bills to pay, they feel oppressed enough as it is. If, however, they also feel a requirement to 'give back' to support these fundraising efforts for obviously worthwhile endeavours, they'll find the resources. Truth is, while I'm awfully impressed when someone is generous enough to write a cheque for $50, $100 (and I've had both on occasion) I'm also grateful to receive a lowly $2, or $4 donation. I've thanked people who have handed me four quarters as a donation - and meant it. They always say don't bother with the receipt (for charitable/tax-return purposes) but of course they get the receipt anyway.

I've been canvassing for almost thirty years. First started when our oldest child, just before his 17th birthday was diagnosed with Diabetes. What did we know about diabetes? We learned - fast. It was devastating. Thus began my commitment to canvassing strangers for funds to support research and support services for diabetes. It soon extended to include the Canadian Cancer Society's drive, that of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Arthritis Society - and more.

I learned odd things. That, among other things, people can be kind, they can be cruel to those hesitating at their door stoop, introducing themselves, their missions, asking for funding. Some people genuinely express their appreciation for what you're doing (they're the ones who recognize the need, but know they couldn't themselves face going out to canvass); others are purely resentful of your intrusion (for such it is) and let you know it. Oddly, some people pour their hearts out to you, let you glimpse their anguish related to a loved one being diagnosed and treated, for example, with cancer. But they decline to give. Square that. I've had people accuse me of collecting funds and disposing of the funds for my very own use. That one, early in my dreaded canvassing career sent me into a tizzy resulting in tears (of no practical use to anyone). Others will complain that I don't respond in the affirmative when I'm asked if I speak French. They expect, they lecture me, to be addressed in French if someone comes to their door. I offer Yiddish? No, they want French; no English, no Yiddish but it's the best I can do. Huff and puff. That's the reality of the English/French divide-and-resent in Canada.

The even odder element to this ongoing experiment in human behaviour is the realization that while communities are recognized to share characteristics (as, for example, cities being known for certain mass behavioural virtues or lack thereof) so too do streets. Is it a virus that affects people who mass together? Is it an example of aggregate values being demonstrated? Beats me. But I knows it when I sees it. And see it I do. Repeatedly, in various venues over the years.

Take for example the street on which we now live. A middle-class neighbourhood, a mix of single-family homes, townhomes and semis. The street can be bisected; upper half, lower half. [Although, in the past, in other geographical areas that bisection was also recognized as one side (even numbered) or the other (odd-numbered).] On 'my' street, I can be assured that the upper half residents will welcome my call, thank me for coming, and reward me (often very handsomely) with donations. This by no means indicates that all home-owners are prepared to give, but most do. The bottom half of the street is the reverse behaviour-wise; I'm viewed with suspicion, as are the causes and I come away with scant few donations. So, why is this? Beats me.

I know that we are over-taxed, over-canvassed, bothered to death by mail solicitations, telephone solicitations, and (shudder) door-to-door canvassers. But, guess what? It doesn't really cost anything much to offer civil contact, as opposed to the chill of a rudely abrupt refusal. Having said which, unless I encounter truly egregious incivility, I can relate to the very real annoyance of being disturbed within one's home for a purpose that may happen to be personally unwelcome.

And I still detest canvassing door-to-door. I'm ever so glad that the canvass for the Canadian Cancer Society has now been concluded. (All I've left to do is the completing paperwork, and add up the total donations.) And I'm wondering whether the CNIB volunteer will remember to deliver a canvass kit to me for the month of May. Ugh!

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Recycling, composting, nothing like it. The law of diminishing returns dictates that we engage in both in defence of our lifestyles, at the very least. So we do both. And once you're accustomed to it, it's no big deal. Really. In fact, it does very much assist in assuaging the guilt of uber-consumerism for which we're all fairly responsible in North American society.

So we have a black box for papers, cardboards, and a blue box for all manner of recyclable plastics, glass, that kind of thing. These are collected with the normal garbage, weekly turn-about. During the summer months in addition to these collections there is also compostable collection, consisting of garden waste assembled in large paper compostable bags manufactured for that precise purpose.

We've noticed years back that since we began recycling the amount of garbage which we collect destined for the city dump/s has been reduced considerably. So much so that when our refuse is set out at the curb for collection two kitchen-waste-sized bags total the refuse at our house. For one thing, we maintain a kitchen composter into which all compostable kitchen waste goes. These include coffee grinds, tea bags, banana peels, melon rinds, egg shells (when I'm not collecting shells alone for use in the garden beds to surround the emerging hostas as a deterrent to slugs and snails which love to nibble on the tender leaves), leftover breads, crackers, dryer lint, corn husks and cobs, in fact any portion of fruits and vegetables which are inedible.

We started out many years ago with one composter. About five years ago, while strolling down our street on garbage collection day my husband noticed a still-boxed, never-used composter set out for garbage collection, and that became our second composter. So that, when one composter gets full and is left to ripen and eventually turn into black gold which we scatter each autumn on our garden beds, the other can begin the same process until full and ripe itself, at which time we return to the then-emptied composter. Two years ago, a backyard neighbour offered us yet another composter, telling us he just had no use for it. Into this third composter was tossed all garden wastes. Very handy indeed, as when, for example, in an excess of gardening zeal we decide to open yet another garden bed or border. Into the third composter then goes all of the turf which we've peeled back, fall leaf waste, summer gardening cut-backs, pine needles. And eventually the third composter too yields its share of black gold (garden compost) which further enriches our gardens. And guess what? We've a very modestly-sized back yard.

Here's a real corker: This Tuesday while ambling down the street with our two little dogs, headed for our daily ravine walk, we noticed that at one residence the owners had erroneously set out paper products instead of plastics, so that while everyone else's plastics had been collected, out at the bottom of the driveway at this house sat a forlorn six boxes of - books. Really. Books. My husband, never one to resist the allure of books, had a look at a few titles, told me I'd have to wait, whizzed back to our garage, brought out a trolley, and trundled all of the boxes into our garage.

The contents of these boxes contained books on world literature (past and current), economics (past and present), sociology, psychology, philosophy (ancient to the present time), history, the military, gardening, cooking/baking, atlases, dictionaries, physical activities/kinesiology, and health. Which, obviously, meant that the home-owners (unless the books were 'inherited') had a robust interest in a wide range of human activities and the sciences and literature presumably for the purpose of satisfying some inner hunger to expand their minds. So, how to square that with the observed intent to casually destroy those same vehicles for learning? Why not give them to someone, anyone, who could make good use of them? Absent that opportunity, why on earth not give them to, for example, the Salvation Army thrift shop or indeed any second-hand book shop?

For our part, we'll cull those books in which we have a particular interest (and that's quite a few of them) and the balance will be taken over to the neighbourhood Sally Ann, a mere two minute drive from our street.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Green thumb? Are you kidding!

An old friend with whom I've recently become re-acquainted as it were through the Internet, mentioned in one of her e-mails that although she loves looking at flowers and greenery, she has, alas, no green thumb. Although I love gardening and enthusiastically rush out to the gardens any chance I get, I too am bereft of a green thumb. Fact is, I know there are gifted gardeners who love to garden and appear to do it with the greatest of ease. Green thumb, though? Ridiculous. Even the most avid and knowledgeable of gardeners bemoan their gardening disasters. Everyone has them. We learn to work around them, learn from our mistakes and our successes - still there are no guarantees with perfection with living organisms. It's the successes that make the enterprise rewarding and worth working toward. There's 'green thumb' for you.

People who don't garden, and who envy the gardens of those who do, like to believe that gardeners practise a kind of green magic. In a way, it's an excuse for these people who don't really want to bother, to bow out. There's nothing wrong with that, actually. It makes them feel better to believe that others who will spend unstinting hours in a garden patiently working on their palette can just lightly create landscapes of shape, colour and texture with no more care than a flick of a talented wrist.

Nothing wrong with admiring gardens that other people devote time, energy and hopes in, not at all. After all, not everyone feels they have sufficient leisure time when they have children to look after as the highest of priorities, a time-demanding job, and a household in which some semblance of order keeps insanity at bay.

But to those who can and do allocate what time they may to gardening the pay-off is there in spades. The sheer pleasure of being out in the warming, life-giving sun (even a light rain is fine) working the garden beds and borders, coaxing compost and/or peat moss into the soil to enhance the opportunities for healthy, thriving perennials to rise up and burst forth into bloom represents pleasure in the extreme. There is an especial allure in working the soil, recognizing the plants poking through the spring soil and anticipating their seasonal maturity. When the garden is fully in bloom at various stages throughout the growing season, the appreciation of its glorious colour, form and texture, its fragrance and full heady presence delivers a wonderful satisfaction of purpose. Anyone who has worked in a garden can attest to its therapeutic properties. It does become a form of relaxation, despite the physical effort required. It's quite wonderful to realize that anyone with a bit of effort and determination can create a lovely landscape.

Some gardeners get help in dealing with the pests that love to invade gardens and whom nature has equipped to do so in the strangest of ways. The slugs who move on their trails of slime, the immature lily beetles who cover themselves in their own feces to ensure that birds will not see them as attractive prey, the spider mites, countless worms and burrowing pests, the garden rust and scales...these are challenges that the squeamish among us delegate to helpful 'others' less prone to revulsion at the challenge of picking and squashing.

Honestly, though, it's the people who contract out the care of their lawns to lawn-care specialists that earn my ire. These are supposedly intelligent and responsible individuals who have children and family pets and who obsess over the state of their grass. These people see nothing wrong in having pestitides and herbicides sprayed in the very grass where their children and family pets play. Who give no thought to the widespread damage they do to their and our environment because of their overweening (and incredibly stupid) desire to have unblemished green lawns. Funny thing is, it seems to me that these are the very lawns which look the worst throughout the growing season. No one should have a problem with weeds if they pluck them early in the season, don't overwater their grass, de-thatch properly in the spring, and never mow too short during the hot months.

Well, truth is, although I don't believe in green thumbs, I do believe that some people are inherently gifted gardeners. These people observe nature closely, use common sense, are not afraid to try things, to learn from what can transpire, be it success or failure. They do seem almost casual about the manner in which they set about their gardening. It's not casualness, though, it's confidence. I've known some gifted-confident gardeners (who can also bemoan gardening errors and disappointments). One of them is my own daughter. Although I've always admired wonderful gardens and the gardeners who inspire them, I always knew I'd never be able to accomplish anything remotely like them. I did, from time to time, make attempts to. But, after all, I realized I didn't have a green thumb.

I decided to persevere. My daughter taught me that. Example, example. Exemplary gardeners can, will and do discharge their obligations to the rest of us by inspiring us to keep trying despite our reservations. We then demonstrate our willingness to imitate them. And? Achieve some modicum of success, sans green thumb.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Difficult to believe...

I find it very difficult to understand sometimes how people can behave. It's all very well when we see the best of people, and wouldn't it be great if that was all we ever saw? People at their very best are the very best. In the sense that they do credit to themselves, have a right to feel good about themselves and enhance, by their good behaviour, the world we all live in. Some people, it is likely true, are born good in that (I would like to believe) they cannot conceive of ever behaving in a manner that would be harmful to others, let alone themselves. That their inbred, inborn sense of ethical values and human morals lead them to behave in a universally loving (for want of another, perhaps better descriptive) manner.

Others, and that is, sadly, most of us, require the strictures and structures that society places upon social, public behaviour to ensure that we (at least most of the time) behave in a manner befitting a member of a civic and civil society.

It's when the state to whom the individual is answerable and vice versa somehow fails, that we have a true problem. We think that we know which states can lead their populations astray and it is never the civilized ones, those which have reached a pinnacle of human achievement in the arts and culture, science, philosophy, medicine, architecture. But we also know that is not so, since World War II was initially waged for supremacy against other nations by a country whose culture was widely respected by those very other countries whom it sought to gain hegemony over.

I am personally puzzled by a country and a people which I grew to love and respect when I had the good fortune to live there for a short while. My head was completely turned when we lived in Tokyo. It felt as though I'd somehow fallen through time, space and geography to a wonderland of the exotic where the jewels of history, culture, art and public civility shone with a brightness and an allure that nothing could dispel.

All the while we lived in Tokyo I was aware that Japan had behaved in a tragically horrible way toward Korea and China from around the first quarter of the 20th century until the Second World War was over. I also knew that much of Japanese culture, its language, its religion, its art was originally derived from India, China and Korea over millennia through a slow process of absorption, although I also was aware that Japan was more than a little reluctant to admit this osmosis from its neighbours in the mists of history.

Living there, I delighted in the people, their public courtesy and kindness, for all of this was very evident and much practised. I admired their physical beauty, the characteristics of their outer selves, their manner of living. I thought of Tokyo (a true megopolis with a very crowded population of some 14 million people) for so it was, as a city of neighbourhoods, each portion of which was fairly self-sufficient unto itself, with its temple, gardens, neighbourhood mom-and-pop shops (the rice, vegetable and fruit, tea, fish, coffeeshops, garment, household items) everywhere serving the close neighbourhood. There was a small local police presence in every such neighbourhood whose function was to keep order by knowing what was happening at any given time in their precinct (not, I felt, insiduously, but rather in an openly avuncular manner). These Kobans (small police stations the size of a garden shed) could be approached for any type of assistance, including locating a destination from a detailed map (most of Tokyo's streets locations are unnamed and the houses thereon unnumbered) hung for that purpose in the Koban).

Ambient noise was frowned upon, so very seldom did cars use their horns, and people had a tendency to speak quietly in public. Every evening at five o'clock a sweet sounding electronic tune sounded in every neighbourhood in the city to inform the residents that it was 5:00 p.m. Time to leave work, time to gather for the family meal. (Most Salarymen prided themselves on working overtime, then partly to avoid the crush of traffic as people wended their way home from the office, they would visit local bars, and exit when thoroughly soused. Despite which, one seldom sees a nasty drunk; rather they become sentimental and sweet as they lurch their way along the streets.)

How did such a people who pride themselves on their conformity (the old adage of the square nail in the round hole being pounded to fit is quite acceptable there) to social mores, their peaceable nature, their manifest love of nature, their adherence to Buddhist teachings, their respect for the tradition of the Imperial family, their cleaving to the place of authority on their crowded little isles with their countless mountains ever give themselves over to pillage, rape and murder of their near eastern neighbours?

Human nature. In which we demean or demonize others to permit ourselves to look upon those others as less than human to enable dominance and worse, over them. We see the results of this in every hemisphere, every country in the world, to greater or lesser degree.
Little wonder that China, harbouring ancient grudges against the Japanese invaders, let alone those of more recent times, is doing its utmost as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council is attempting to bar Japan from joining. Although China, during its Cultural Revolution was capable of regarding millions of her own people as dispensible to the greater cause, they now use Japan's dreadful history of cruel imperialism to inflame their people against Japan, resulting in mass demonstrations within China.

It is true that after the war, when Japan reflected what American General MacArthur constructed of it in bringing it back into the fold of acceptable humanity, the Japanese although (rightfully) bitter about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did feel great regret and militarization was strictly forbidden, written into the new Constitution of the country. Their armed forces became self-defence forces only. Members of the armed services dressed in street clothing, to change into uniforms only when they reached the Ministry of Defence. It was not unknown for uniformed members of the military to be attacked on the streets by still-outraged and bitter Japanese.

Still, official Japan dislikes admitting it was ever wrong to invade its neighbours, to wage war. Case in point: the recent publication of school textbooks in which Japan's role in the war is never quite admitted. The Rape of Nanking does not appear with an admission of commission and wrong. Pride is extremely important, it does not admit to gross wrongdoing. Another human trait.

The more things change the more they remain the same. Human nature is so profoundly blighted, we will never, it seems, rise above the very worst of which we are capable. Instead of realizing our potential for accommodation with one another, we appear destined to go marching through history repeating our dismal acts of outrage against 'the other'. Sad, sad.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Just talking...

On our daily ravine walks, apart from observing everything around us, we discuss things of interest to us, bring one another's attention to news reports the other might not have seen, and then proceed to discuss the whys and wherefores. Last week on one particular walk we were speaking of why it is that people vote as they do, how committed they may be, how easily swayed they might be, that type of thing. It brought to mind something that happened to my husband many years ago and he described it for me.

We had been planning our yearly vacation trip and were set to leave our home for a week away in New Hampshire to do our usual week of climbing around the Presidential Range. My husband had left work and was heading to where he generally parked his car, and he had a pocket full of wadded cash (he never uses a wallet). On his way a man younger than he was at the time accosted him and asked if he could spare some change. My husband snuck his hand into his trouser pocket and extracted a $20 bill, proferring it to the man. Who was utterly delighted, and he actually hugged my husband, thanking him profusely, and telling him he had just been released from prison and this restored his belief in a future for himself. (!?) Then he asked my husband what he could do, in exchange, for my husband. Somehow, he struck upon a solution (so he thought) and asked my husband for whom he would like this man to vote. My husband's advice was that he should vote for whomever he believed in, and finally went on his way home. I don't recall his telling me this before, although he might have, for in fifty years of marriage much is recalled and much forgotten.

I thought that quite an interesting story, and said so. (All the more so, since he always remonstrates with me when I respond to requests for money from street people.) We began talking about travel, and our conversation turned to the many places in the world his work had taken him to, how, at first it was a delightful diversion to travel so broadly, a privilege he looked forward to. It soon palled, however, and he began to dread the continual need to travel, and wanted instead to stay home. He spoke in particular of a very difficult winter we'd had at home, and how, after his long flight to Tokyo, he'd gone for a walk in Aoyama Cemetery (just off Aoyama dori, close by the Aoyama Twin Towers, and not far from the Presidential Hotel, where he was staying. He sat on a bench, he said, feeling himself unwind and relax from the long trip, the bitter cold he'd left behind at home, and letting the sun warm his face, eyes closed. He was soon approached, he said, by an elderly patrician-looking Japanese man who spoke, he said, excellent English, and who commiserated with him on observing how drained he looked. He man offered him a slender cigar, and they spoke for some time, both smoking, enjoying the peace of their surroundings, the warmth of the sun.

Our exchanges with people can be an utter delight on occasion. We all need contact, however superficial-seeming at times. Just these two brief points of contact made such an impression on my husband that he has never forgotten, and was able to dredge the occasions up from the far reaches of his memory to recount them to me.

An entertainment tip, tangential though it seems: Last night we cuddled up and viewed a film titled "Himalaya". A film by Eric Valli, a French documentarian, it is a look at village life in the Dolpo region of Nepal. Wonderfully filmed, poignant and beautifully acted. Well worth watching. Subtitled, an Academy Award Nominee, winner of best cinematography, and best original music (oh, the music!).

Friday, April 15, 2005

What on earth are we doing?

We've got one planet, one only for the human race. It's getting more crowded, more depleted of resources, more ecologically stressed as each day passes. Why are we messing up our earthly house like this? I suppose that if we have to pass municipal and provincial by-laws in an attempt to persuade residents not to scatter their garbage hither and yon, the answer to that question must be that we just don't care. Once we toss the garbage out the car window, it's "out of sight, out of mind" and it won't come back to haunt us. From such small beginnings grow larger insults to our earthly home.

For heaven's sake, now we read that Equador is permitting over-fishing around the Galapagos Islands, a World Heritage site. In so doing, the breadth and depth of the problem is threatening its delicate ecology, from its unique flora and fauna to its very existence as an ecology apart. Equador has not yet responded energetically to the concerns being raised.

The Brazil rainforest is slowly being cut down. Brazilian landowners who enjoy a thriving cattle business like to encourage this deforestation for greater pasturage for their herds. Brazilian peasants, living in dire penury, know they can make a subsistence living when no other is available to them, by surreptiously cutting down the forest. Surreptitiously, because the Brazilian government has made some attempts to halt the deforestation (and with time the inevitable desertification). To legally cut trees, loggers must have permits. Permits are given out carefully, to ensure that a critical balance is maintained. However, in many areas permits are not to be had since it is recognized that in those areas the situation is dire. This does not stop the loggers, fearful of discovery, but more fearful of starvation for their families. The government knows very well that within these areas where permits are disallowed there exist many sawmills to service the surreptious, illegal logging. How's that for a no-win situation? Um, why not offer the loggers paid positions to plant

Over-fishing and government inaction in Canada led to the depletion of West Coast salmon fisheries in British Columbia. Now we have fish farms instead, where Atlantic salmon are being farmed. The farmed Atlantic salmon occasionally slip by the bonds of their ocean prisons to mingle with native salmon. The fear being that the larger, farmed fish will threaten the existence of the wild salmon. Farmed salmon are rife with sea lice, and they spread sea lice to wild salmon in greater than naturally-occuring numbers. Severe infestations of sea lice imperil the survival of salmon.

Over-fishing and government neglect in Canada led to the destruction of the cod fishery in the East Coast of Canada. Fish factories which once thrived, employing thousands of people are no longer in operation. New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia have all been dreadfully affected by the collapse of the cod stock.

President Bush has now made it legal for oil companies to drill in the Alaska Wildlife Preserve. What is a natural preserve meant for, but for its preservation in as pristine a state as possible for future generations? Instead, his obliging acquiescenc to his energy buddies is resulting in that preserve, as with others, to be drilled for oil.

What do we know about Mount Everest? Why, it's the highest point on earth, isn't it? And because we must have our thrills, our conquests, our reputations to flaunt and uphold, it is also littered with thousands of tons of spent equipment and garbage (not to mention human excrement). And, sadly, corpses of would-be conquerers.

Do we even want to take seriously Species at Risk measures? We're losing organisms, large and small, on this earth at an alarming rate. Do we care? I mean collectively? Everyone's too busy making a living, trying to enjoy their all-too-brief time on this earth to give it much thought. So we don't. How about remedial measures like the Kyoto Accord? Good grief! This has big business screaming at the potential incursion into their freedom to loot the earth of its resources, and regard the bottom line. Why bother.

Are we mad, or what?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Going to the polls - again!

Much as Canadians resent the position in which they've been placed, it looks as though there will be another election. So soon after the last, which produced a minority Liberal government. Called by many Canada's "natural governing party", the Liberals were left in shabby shape with the departure of the previous Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, he of the small-town cheap reputation. He who so urgently desired his "legacy" to remain intact. So what was his legacy? That of a wise 'little guy' from Shawinigan who governed well? Don't think so. Instead, corruption, pay-offs, snouts-in-the-trough old-style (dare I say it? Quebec style) graft. Funny how it is that the electorate becomes so unreasonable about the waste of their hard-earned and grudgingly rendered taxes.

There are few Canadians who really begrudge the government a portion of their wages for needed infrastructure, to ensure a balanced, creative, sensitive and honest federal government. We want and have the nerve to expect that Canadians' desire to live decent lives with appropriate social structures (health, education, social services, affordable housing, reasonable government services, future prospects, public safety) will start with the federal government, trickling down to the provincial government of the day, and finally rest with the municipal governments whose decisions are closest to where we live, as it were.

The federal government has to make hard choices, and we expect them to do so with the best interests of all Canadians in mind. Strangely enough this excludes glad-handing to family and friends, clubby acquaintances and big corporations who hire in-the-know (often former politicians) lobbyists.

Our former prime minister, a true wolf in sheep's clothing, dirtied himself and his party and he dismally failed the Canadian people, despite the occasional (poll-driven) good decision-making ensuring at least that our national pride was kept intact. It is the bad decisions he made, those which lined the pockets of those with influence that have now come back to haunt his 'legacy', his party and his former Finance Minister whom he so much loathed, and who returned the compliment.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, despite (through a veil of suspicion, since this was, after all, the very same finance minister who did his utmost during the previous ten years to beggar our much beloved social safety net) the promise so many hopeful voters saw in his potential has done very little in his short tenure to give the impression that that faint hope would be realized. He was flawed by his association with the former Prime Minister almost as much as he failed the electorate by undercutting our health and social welfare systems. He may indeed be the honourable man he wants us to believe he is, but he is tainted irredemiably by the fallout from the ongoing Gomery Commission into the Liberal "Adscam" scandal, despite the fact that he appointed Judge Gomery.

Pity. All the more so, as Canadians have scant choice as a potential successor. The Bloc? to enable Quebec separation to the general detriment of the country? I'm almost tempted to let them go if they want it so much - but do they? The New Democratic Party? To whom I've always pledged a tentative allegiance, but whose socialistic rhetoric I always found distasteful, and whose current head is a master of such rhetoric. Added to which the sometimes dubious choices of direction and action which the NDP has taken in the past decade leaves me wondering about their collective intelligence. The new Conservative Party? Or should I say Reform-Alliance, as that more accurately portrays their background, their adherence, their support. There would be no separation of church and state with them; we would, under them, realize what a true right-wing governance would look like in this country.

Is this the best Canada can offer to its citizens? Perish the thought.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Spring ... in the ravine

Despite that the low last night was minus-4 C (25 F) spring has finally come to the ravine. By the time we got out for our daily jaunt in the ravine the temperature had risen to plus-6 C (50 F) and we needed only light jackets. We had full sun filtering through the forest, and although there is still plenty of snow pack left on the ground, and ice too in places, the trails and hillsides are beginning to dry nicely, except where there's lots of mud still. But this is the first time this spring when we've worn our hiking boots, leaving our winter boots and strap-on cleats behind. Our two companions, a miniature black female poodle and a toy apricot male poodle (with far more of his share of testosterone than his size warrants) were able to hike with us uncoated finally. No longer does the black one feel humiliated to be wearing winter coat and boots - and the apricot one doesn't much mind either way.

The squirrels are now running madly up and down the pine trees, after one another, causing our two dogs no end of anguish, since they simply cannot catch up to them. Mostly black ones; we prefer the grey squirrels and delight in seeing the tiny, territorially scolding red squirrels. We see chick-a-dees and their constant companion, a nuthatch, creeping up tree trunks, looking for insects. Also, finally, robins! Cardinals, bluejays, and a great Pileated woodpecker, serenade us. The crows are mobbing and shouting their uncouth language, and occasionally we hear the hoarse cry of a raven circling overhead. From time to time we hear and see small flocks of Canada geese coming back to the north. And what's this!? The dogs are dashing madly before us, and tree a young racoon, and we wonder if it's the one who visits our backyard composters so regularly. He's welcome, takes what he wants, unscrewing the top of the composters with no apparent difficulty, and leaving no mess behind.

The huge willows already have their leaf buds, as do the early-leafing poplars. Nothing to be seen yet on maples, oak and ash. The pines, spruce and fir look greener than ever. The hawthornes, first to lose their leaves in the fall, are nowhere near leafing, nor are the Serviceberries. Sumachs are fuzzy but not yet ready to surrender to spring. It's been a very cold winter, we've had a lot of ice build-up, let alone snowpack. Strawberry greens are already in evidence aside the trails. It will be some time yet before we see our scarlet trilliums, foamflower, trout lilies and Jack-in-the-pulpits. The heat of the sun bakes the pine needles and the fragrance envelopes us.

Yesterday we saw a lovely orange butterfly. Early, we think. Was it a Fritallery? For the past several days we've seen Mourning Cloaks - oddly confined to those areas of the trails where we usually do see them in the spring. We see the occasional bug or fly pass us, and even a mosquito or two.

Once in a while, but not too often, we come across someone else walking a dog. Yesterday it was the (very red) Golden Retriever, Reese, with his mistress. Reese hunkers down on the trail waiting for us to clamber up the hill toward where they are, awaiting our rise. After greeting, Reese sniffs one of my pockets and begs. What else? for a begging strip (chicken flavour) and our two then do the same so strips are dutifully doled out. Reese races down the hill, his mistress close after him, and the dog plunges into the cold, cold creek for his daily ablution. Ours are not permitted to do this, as our little black one once cut one of her back legs badly in the creek, presumably on a piece of broken bottle. Besides which, the creek is running pretty high with the meltwater and the result of recent rains.

We feel ourselves to be fortunate beyond compare to be able to enjoy this little bit of heaven.
When we first moved into this house, we could barely believe our good fortune in being so close to miles of forested trails. The proximity of the ravine to our home bespeaks the quality of life that means so much to us.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

So, why is it?

You've just got to wonder. Why is it, why on earth is it that men and women are so adept, so often, at twinning themselves with those who are so obviously inappropriate for them? Case in point: Pierre Elliot Trudeau, one-time Prime Minister of Canada, a sharp and witty intellectual, a seemingly avowed bachelor, well beloved of women, loving them in turn, makes his final selection: a very young, quite pretty dimwit. True, before she stepped lightly away from the marriage she produced three sons, but is that enough?
Case in point: Prince Charles of England, he of the critical mindset, the most intelligent of a sadly debased lot whose interests in organic farming, architecture and watercolour painting, let alone his many charitable endeavours, mark him as a man apart making his selection: a too-young, tentative and prettily ditzy poseur whose complaints with respect to the burden marriage imposed upon her palled mightily. Providing endless fodder for the British tabloid press with her pursuits of lovers to soften the reality of her rejection. True, she produced two sons, but is that enough?

Why do men make these obviously poor selections? In the long run if they chose women more suited to their temperaments, their interests, their cerebral functioning, would not marriage have realized more success?

As prototypes of a certain kind, these two stories resonate. And women? Why on earth do so many women, both of imbecilic variety and the more intelligent ones make overtures of desperate undying love to men who have been imprisoned for the safety of society? Why do so many women feel comfortable in presenting themselves to convicted rapists, murderers? Why, why?

Still, if one ever despairs about the state of committed relationships both within and without the confines and comforts of marriage, one has only to look around to see people seemingly suited to one another, so in the end, nature does have her way. Despite a rather dimming of intelligence resulting from a surge in irrational emotionalism, people do luck in. Look at the newspaper pages, for one thing, devoted to anniversaries, and even in relatively small populations, it's surprising to see the number of couples 'celebrating'(remembering) 50th anniversaries. Through thick and thin?

Just fodder for thought...

By the way, the nuptials just taken place in Britain, which saw Prince Charles married to his Camillia does restore a much-needed balance in the enquiry. Long may they live, in peace and in love. And shame on the British news media.
Shame on Charles, too, for shaking hands with Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (at the funeral services of the late Pope John Paul II), that miserable excuse for a helmsman whose population is facing starvation as a result of his nasty little machinations.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Can a good and godly man produce evil?

Hanna Arendt famously stated "the face of evil is banal". Which is to say ordinary people can perform the most unbelievable anti-human acts with the assistance of circumstance, ignorance and fear. In effect, no one can really say how they might behave in the face of dramatic events over which they feel they have no control. But human beings can envision choices and they are more than capable of understanding the outcome of their choices, be they for good or ill.

How much more difficult to understand what could motivate someone who responds to circumstances sans ignorance and without fear, and their response results in countless deaths and dreadful human misery. One might think that chosing to make decisions based on their outcome would predispose any humane person, (let alone one set high on a spiritual pedestal as an intercessor to god) to select a favourable outcome for as many of humankind as might be possible. You would do that, would you not?

Think, then, of the late, earnestly universally lamented Pope John-Paul. This man, who deliberately chose to do god's will, (in other words to do only good) and to entreat others to do likewise, made choices ultinately inimical to vast tracts of human society. By refusing to move away from traditional church doctrine he did this, and the outcome will be felt throughout the world for a very long time. Roman Catholicism has carved a great niche for itself in the developing (third) world. The dreadful epidemic that AIDs represents continues to take a terrible toll throughout these societies. Pope John-Paul's steadfast refusal to countenance the use of condoms as a first-line defence against the transmission of AIDs and HIV, in the face of what we know to be happening worldwide, is indefensible.

This great and sensitive man, who suffered for his flock, refused to permit marriage within the church, demanding that its priests practise strict celibacy in obeisance to what he believed was god's demand and in severe contravention of the first order of any of nature's organism's requirements: survival. The urge to procreate stems from the code of survival; men and women share sexual relations as a means of sharing life on earth. Simply put, whether for purposes of procreation or 'recreation' it is a means of attaining emotional fulfilment. Denying this to the priesthood is a guarantee of moral malfeasance, so we have the dreadful spectre of priests preying on children in their care. The church, in its wisdom, traditionally concealed this uncomfortable reality, going so far as to transfer such transgressors to different locales where their pasttimes were unknown, until they began again. Protecting the identities and the lives of the priests, not the protection of the innocent, resulted in children's lives being ruined. Peculiar way to serve god, to be sure.

The ordination of half of the aspirants to the role of shepherd of god's flock has been denied simply because the Roman Catholic Church sees itself as the masculine responding to the needs of the faithful. Women are regarded as inappropriate to the role of shepherd to the masses so one might ask: does this church view them as less worthy of the role because they lack traits males have in abundance? Does the spiritual behaviour and values of countless women within the church over the ages not prove otherwise?

Medical science has laid to rest the old belief that Homosexuality is a 'disease' of the soul. It is a genetic endowment in some individuals, and to be accepted as such. Individuals who discover their place and comfort in society to be with those whose gender reflects their own deserve the same respect from society at large as those who seek out those of the opposite gender. Just as there are humanist, secularists, agnostics who are fully capable of practising all the virtues of humankind which religious 'believers' take unto themselves exclusively, so there are Homosexuals who are fully capable of fulfilling the humane obligations of priesthood.

All these have been denied by the late lamented Pope, John Paul.

Tokyo in summer...

Tokyo has an almost semi-tropical atmosphere (weather-wise). Winters as we know it in northern North America, are almost non-existent. If, during a winter, four centimeters of snow fall twice in a season, it's a tough winter. I relate Tokyo's weather to that of Atlanta, a city far more familiar to many people. But as humid and hot as Atlanta gets in the summer it just isn't as much so as Tokyo.

When we lived there, almost twenty years ago, central air conditioning was reserved for very new buildings and most homes had nothing to dispel the hot city air at all, other than to throw windows wide open and drape futons over the sills to 'get some air'. (Observing tall grey apartment blocks thus festooned, it becomes a kind of urban art.) Those relatively few city inhabitants who lived in what passed for 'western-style' houses had window-type air conditioners placed throughout the house and although they were not very efficient they did provide some relief from the wet, scorching outdoor temperatures. Leakage was a problem as houses were not built to western standards and one could just about pass a hand through gaps between the air conditioners and the house walls.

Walk outdoors of a summer evening to 'get some air' and one almost reels from the shock of the temperature which slings itself at one's face, feeling like nothing less than a hot, wet towel enveloping the face. During the day when outdoors, you can slip your hand down your arm and watch the accumulated perspiration drip off, note the resulting dry area on your arm, and the portion of skin untouched still hosts its reservoir of perspiration. Everywhere, along main streets, side streets, there are huge electronic street cases dispensing sport drinks, hot or cold tea, coffee for a modest cost, catering to the everpresent need to rehydrate.

Which is why, when I recently read a news item reporting that the Prime Minister of Japan is trying to encourage energy conservation through persuading 'salarymen' (white collar workers) and their superiors to go 'casual' in lieu of the usual suit and tie in an effort to remain cool, and cut back on the office air conditioning, my response was - not likely.

But guess what? The temperature might be a tad much, given this description, but living in Tokyo is like living nowhere else on earth. For a metropolis of over fourteen million people, this is a city par excellence, in its public civility, its atmosphere of culture, tradition and history. To live there is to be blessed with the opportunity to view a population accommodating itself to an incredible human density and managing to do so with grace, humour and sensitivity.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Try this:

Think outside yourself. You may like yourself even more than you already do.
  1. Smile at people. If they smile back, all the better. Perform small courtesies; try not to feel hurt when your courtesy is not returned.
  2. Give away possessions rather than selling them. (Don't mean big-ticket items like real estate, vehicles, etc.) If you have items surplus to your needs, give them to thrift shops like those the Salvation Army operates. They're also great places to shop at, for yourself.
  3. Give a donation to a worthwhile cause; think: Red Cross, Cancer Society, Medecines sans Frontiers for example. Alternatively, welcome kindly those volunteers who come to your door for the Kidney Foundation, MS, Heart and Stroke, Diabetes, and give what you can afford.
  4. If time and your schedule permits, select one social entity or charitable enterprise a year to which you can volunteer a little time to help them achieve their goals.
  5. Get out with someone you like, or go yourself into a nature preserve of some kind and relax in its natural beauty, whether by hiking nature paths or simply observing the life around you, or resting your back against a tree and reading a good book.
Try this excellent recipe:
Using olive oil or Canola oil, stir-fry two chopped garlic cloves, a medium-sized onion, and one Scotch bonnet or two Jalapeno peppers, chopped. When they're transparent, add 4 to 5 medium-sized chopped tomatoes, and stir until the tomatoes become somewhat soupy in texture. Sprinkle basil over and set aside.
Cut floppy tortilla shells into halves, and brown each half in hot oil on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
Shred one to two cups of old cheddar. Beginning with the browned tortilla pieces, line the bottom of an oiled casserole, and begin layering with the tomato sauce, the cheese, repeating until all ingredients have been used. Bake in a 350-degree oven until sizzling, about 30 minutes. Serve. Goes nicely with a small tossed salad of lettuce and grape tomatoes, followed by a dessert of sliced fresh fruit served over natural yogurt. Yum!

Ruminate on this...

Why do you read? To be entertained? informed? in an attempt to understand? Right. Me too. Is it working for you? You're entertained, right. You do become informed, right. Do you understand? You do understand what you're reading, but does what you're reading help you to fully (even partially) understand the world, its events, its inhabitants, humankind? Thought not. And why is that? Do we expect too much of ourselves? Or is it because humankind is beyond rationality? I expect so. Still, trying to come to an understanding of why we behave as we do, cannot but help. You, individually, the world at large. Intelligent introspection.

You've likely seen the film "Schindler's List", and enjoyed it, and felt you came away with some (informed) understanding of what the events therein described were like. Fooled you! Try reading the book by Thomas Keneally, "Schindler's Ark". Isn't it always said that the book is better than the film? Never more true.

Ever read the Nobel Prize winner (1988) Mahfouz Haguib? He's kind of a rare bird, an Egyptian novelist of some repute (whom you've never heard of, nor had I). His novellas, "Midaq Alle", "The Thief and the Dogs", and "Miramar" have been translated and published in one volume (Quality Paperback Book Club, New York). If you ever wondered what British-occupied Cairo during WWII was like, this might give you an inkling through the lives and thoughts of the inhabitants of an ancient alley in the city.

Try also: "A History of the Arab Peoples" by Albert Hourani, and "The Jew in the Medieval World" (315 - 1791, Jacob R. Marcus) Atheneum, New York, for a study in contrasts. Neither are books likely to be completed even by the most avid reader, but worth reading in patient interludes of determination.

It's raining out. Looks like we're going to be skunked out of our daily ravine walk. Nothing like ambling in a forest (unleafed as yet) to clear the mind and provide some tranquility to one's sore soul.

Here I am!

Here I am, a Blogger.
Yesterday, received four emails. One from our younger son, living in Vancouver, forwarding two photographs. One, the front of the house; I can identify hollies and rhododendrons and a large pine. Its situated on the periphery of the UBC Endowment Lands, so he can bicycle to his office at the university. He leaves a small footprint on the environment. Second photo is a shot of the steps leading to his deck which he just finished rebuilding. Solid work, excellent workmanship befitting his scientific mind and builder's ethos; his father's son.
Second email from my cousin in Atlanta, crowing about their 70-degree (F) day-time temperatures and the eruption of leaves on the trees, flowers in gardens. I respond by saying that our day-time highs of 8-degrees (C) seem downright balmy to us after our usual winter, and I've uncovered the yews, roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, tree peonies, et al, and tulips are pushing their way through our frozen soil.
Third email from one of our neighbours who lives at the foot of our street. Nothing but good news from him: did I read the latest experimental results indicating that men who selected chemotherapy for their prostate cancer are more likely to contract cancer of the colon, as a result? Gloomily informs me that he has made an appointment for a colonoscopy. Also says that, since his wife is taking yet another month's vacation and he cannot see how he will be able to look after their 14-year-old Golden Retriever, they have agreed to 'put her down'. Might as well put him down too, he says, and he doesn't know how he'll be able to face life without her - the dog, not the wife.
Fourth email from a long-lost friend of 50 years ago in Toronto, when we were youngyoungyoung. She's recovering from shoulder surgery, cannot brush her hair, dress herself or wash, and the week-end weather in TO was so awful she was unable to venture out. The homemaker assigned to assist her in washing, dressing, brushing has been replaced for a more sensitive and professional individual.

Having said which, how about all this incredible circus atmosphere in Rome? Folks, seemingly very young people, happily anticipating a Woodstock-like atmosphere (and helping to make it happen) are converging, to help history along. Is that what is meant by 'get a life'? Like the outpouring of grief over the death of the late unlamented Princess Diana? Good grief.

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