Sunday, October 29, 2006

Drum Roll Please!

As promised in the previous post, here are some more of the pictures Ian and I took of the brilliantly-coloured autumn foliage and some interesting wild plants yesterday.

This first one is a two-foot wide mullein "rosette", the first year's growth of the biennial plant which produces a tall spike of small yellow flowers the second year. Mullein is also called "flannel flower", because the leaves are covered with a soft, dense down. Nice bush TP, but better used as a tea to releive chest congestion. The flowers can be slowly steeped in olive oil (using a double boiler) for a couple of hours, producing an oil which relieves earache and is good for sore joints.

There are also pictures of a bright red "burning bush" which was taken at the Oliver Visitor's Centre, and one of a red pyracanthra bush with huge numbers of berries. A pyracantha bush always reminds me of my Dad. We had them in the garden when I was a girl. The berries would ferment on the bush and the birds would eat them and get roaring drunk. Some would fight like bar room toughs on the lawn, others would stagger around chirping happily. All were totally unable to get off the ground and were easy prey for the neighbour's cat.

My Dad would go out and pick the drunken birds up and bring them into our screen porch. He'd put the fighters into lidless shoeboxes. The happy drunks got put onto an old bed which was covered with a heavy cloth. Once they'd sobered up enough to be able to fly he'd catch them and put them back outside. He was a gruff, undemonstrative man with a heart like melting butter.

Lastly one of wild-growing aloe-type plant, which had white spots and soft spines. Can't find it in my book - it must be a native cactus.

A Visitor and an Outing

Ian arrived from Calgary late Saturday night. He took a spectacular picture of Castle Mountain, in Banff national Park, as he wended his way west. He has a "new" car which unfortunately developed a problem on the way over. It may mean he has to leave the car here to be repaired, go back to Calgary on the bus and come back on the bus to pick it up. We're hoping he can get it fixed quickly. If it only takes a couple of days he will just wait and drive it home.

But today was sunny and warm enough to be comfy with a light jacket. We lazed around until one o'clock, then went to town for lunch. After lunch we drove up to the Oliver Visitor's Centre, which is an old railway station.

The flowers and shrubs are spectacular. The fall colours are past their height, but still lovely. We both took photos of the flowers and foliage. I'll do a separate post with more autumn colour pictures.

After walking along the river we decided a drive was in order, so we got on the road and headed toward Penticton. We turned off at the Okanagan Falls road and drove up a very twisty road for about a half-hour looking for the falls. (We found, as we came back, that they were only about 100 metres from the highway. We drove right past them without seeing them on the way in. I'd call them "rapids", rather than falls, but....)

We saw some beautiful country on the way in. There were gorgeous vineyards on the bench-land, and large stands of ponderosa pine. These are the most beautiful trees you can imagine, with long needles, cinnamon-coloured trunks and huge pine cones. We started talking about the predictions that the *&^)( pine beetle is going to wipe out all the pines in BC in the next few years.

What a catastrophe this would be! Many of the pines on these slopes are hundreds of years old. What will the landscape be like without them? No nesting spots for birds or chipmunks, no trees breathing out oxygen, no trees to stabilize these loose hillsides, no trees to keep the watershed clear and clean. But just to think that our generation will be the one to watch them all die, and that it will be hundreds of years before our descendants can stand in awe at an enormous pine again. It's enough to make you weep.

We stopped along the road and picked some mullein leaves - they make a wonderful medicinal tea to clear up chest congestion. We found some interesting cactus, sort of like an aloe plant.

On the way back we stopped and bought ice cream at a place called Tickleberries. Yummy ice cream! See our double chins? Sadly they aren't from eating ice cream like this every day. As we sat in the truck slurping our way through these gigantic cones we looked up to see a doe and a yearling fawn walk across the hill in front of us. By the time we got ice cream cones handed off and cameras ready the two were too far away to get a good picture, but it was fun to see them.

It was a lovely day all around. Now if Ian can just get his car fixed without losing the engine....

On an Autumn Afternoon

Like two incredulous kids, we keep looking at each other and asking, "How lucky can you get?"

We have the world's happiest cat, as evidenced by his smile. We are struck by the beauty of our surroundings again and again, and we are surrounded by congenial people. Even better, and the real reason we made this move to begin with, Tony has been feeling very well recently. He's been able to go to town with me to shop, and we've been able to go out for lunch or dinner as well. This was almost impossible for him to do in Calgary. He simply never had the strength.

The men in the park get together for coffee at 8:30 two mornings a week. I could count on one hand the times Tony has been up at 8:30 am in the past year. But yesterday he was out the door shortly before 9:00 and came back an hour later full of stories and the energy of the companionship of other men. I can't remember how long it's been since he's had the ability (or opportunity) just to sit and visit with a half dozen other guys.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Thy wide grey skies

Today, as I walked and gaped at the beauty around me I recalled a poem that perfectly described the day, a poem I had to commit to memory in high school.

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!

Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!

Thy mists, that roll and rise!

Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag

And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag

To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!

World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,

But never knew I this;

Here such a passion is

As stretcheth me apart, -- Lord, I do fear

Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;

My soul is all but out of me, -- let fall

No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

God's World
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Feeding the Inner Me

Nature and growing things are nourishment to me. Walking outside, looking at the plants, wild and cultivated, watching and hearing the birds, feeling a crisp autumn breeze on your face... no-cal food for the inner me.

Today is a bit cooler than the 70 degree days we've had this week. It was 17 degrees, about 63 degrees F, at noon today, slightly overcast. The Red Chief and I had a long long walk. He is adamant about the route, I just follow along, hold the leash and keep him out of trouble.

In the 10 acre field next to us the pepper harvest continues unabated. I don't know how they will ever get all those peppers picked unless they find a few more pickers. (How do get yer peppers picked without a pack of pickers?) Right now there are a couple of old women, bent nearly double, patiently working their way down the rows. We don't appreciate the work (the pain) that goes into producing the food we so blithely toss in the cart on shopping day. I took a couple of pictures of the pepper plants, with peppers hanging on them like bright jewels.

And, though our days continue warm and dry the occasional tree is beginning to color up, like the Japanese maple two sites down. What a glorious sight this tree is, the colours are so intense and vibrant.

And a visit to the grapevine growing on the fence finds its leaves yellow and russet, with a dozen or so clusters of marble-sized purple grapes still hanging. Tempting, but these blue grapes seem to trigger migraines and since mine has not yet fully resolved I pass the clusters by, mouth watering.

Friday, October 13, 2006

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on..."

Dreams have been a rich vein to mine since early man relied on the dreams of their shamans and holy men. Writers have quarried their depths. Psychologists and psychiatrists take their interest in dreams straight to the bank.

Though not a shaman or a shrink, I've had an interest in dreams for a long time. One thing is clear. The body communicates within the context of the dream. I can personally attest to this.

I've had migraines since I suffered a head injury at age 17. I probably would have developed them anyway, since they are primarily genetic in origin and they run in my Dad's family. The sick headache they used to call them, as in, "I got up this morning with the sick headache." Sick referring to the nausea, and the sensitivity to light and sound which comes with the throbbing one-sided pain.

The type of migraine I have is preceded by a light show, wildly dancing zig-zags of neon light which fill my visual field. This is called an aura. It is not painful, but can be a problem because you can't see very well. But it's a short-lasting phase, 15 minutes from start to finish. After the aura fades there's a lull and then the hammering starts. If I can get to the pain pills when the aura first begins I can usually stop the migraine from developing, but when it begins while I sleep (as it did last night) I am sunk. Once established my migraines can last for a week.

The interesting thing is that my brain still sees the aura, even when I'm sleeping. In my dreams the aura is translated into brilliant flashing lights. In a dream last night they became enormous flashing Christmas lights, and lights on a helicopter (carrying none other than George Dubbya, of whom I am not a fan.) I will spare you the details, as they were most pedantic, something about a book signing.

But that the aura takes place in the brain, and is not just a visual effect, cannot be more clearly demonstrated.

Another type of dream which demonstrates that the body clearly communicates with the brain during sleep is one I call the frustration dream. I have Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis (HypoKPP). HypoKPP is also a genetic disorder, another passed to me through my dad, who also had it. In HypoKPP a fall in the level of potassium in the blood causes temporary attacks or episodes of weakness, sometimes to the point of paralysis. Attacks often develop during sleep.

When I have an episode during sleep I get frustration dreams. The most common theme of these is that there's an emergency of some sort. I must summon help, usually by telephone. But though I try to make a call I can't. I can't find the number, can't read the phone directory, can't work the phone. I've often dreamed that the house was on fire. I rush in and carry the children out, only to have them run back into the house as soon as I put them down.

Everyone becomes paralyzed while they dream, in what is called the REM stage of sleep. During REM, the electrical activity of the brain, seen on an electroencephalogram (EEG), looks about the same as the electrical activity that occurs when a person is awake. Although the brain functions much the same way during REM sleep as it does during waking, REM sleep is characterized by temporary muscle paralysis. So, being paralyzed during a dream is absolutely normal, yet the brain can tell the difference between normal REM paralysis and the paralysis of a HypoKPP episode, and (in my case) translates that inability to move into a dream full of frustration and panic.

Another odd consequence of HypoKPP episodes are hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. These occur as (normal) people are falling asleep or waking. They are the result of parts of the brain falling asleep, or waking, at different rates. A dream, seen through the filter of an awake brain, while the body is still in the REM stage of sleep paralysis, can be mistaken for reality. These hallucinations are extremely vivid and are interpreted as reality by the brain. They are undoubtedly the basis for many an alien abduction experience, legends of "The Old Hag", etc.

A study done by Italian Neurologist Giorgio Buzzi et al. showed that people with periodic paralysis are far more likely to have these brain out-of-sync hallucinations. I've had these since childhood. I remember standing in the window of my childhood home at about age six, bending my knees, spreading my arms and flying out over the back gardens, the creek behind our house and the neighbourhood beyond. My memory says this actually happened. I know it didn't because there was no way I could have stood up on the window sill in that window. It simply was too small. Shame. The ability to fly would be useful.

The brain is amazing in its ability to interpret not only what we experience externally, but also what we experience internally. I am always fascinated, but I remain rooted in reality. If the aliens show up to probe me during a hallucination I'll probably note that their sophisticated instruments have Black and Decker stickers.

One other funny thing is that when I have a migraine it interferes with my ability to frame sentences verbally, but writing actually helps mitigate the pain. Blog post as pain killer. What a concept!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Winter's Coming

It's beginning to be reliably cold at night. We are busy getting ready for winter. We've wrapped the water line with heat cable and insulated it and put the flexible sewer line inside a PVC pipe.

As we were renovating we insulated the back walls of all the cupboards and closets with a material called Reflectix. We brought enough Reflectix with us to make covers for the windows. We plan to put these on just after sundown and take them off in the morning.

We started making these covers a couple of days ago. For the last few days as soon as the sun went down the temperature started to fall very quickly. It would be a very pleasant 75 degrees F inside when the sun went down and fall eight or nine degrees within an hour. This means we have been turning on the smaller of our heaters almost as soon as the sun went down. Still, even at what should be a toasty 72 degrees we felt cold because the warm air inside was hitting the cold glass of the windows, cooling and creating a draft.

So we began putting the Reflectix on the windows yesterday by covering the two sun vents, and making covers for the bathroom window and the window above Tony's bed. Today we made a cover for the window above my bed, and for each of the large side windows in the front. We still need to cover the two largest windows in the trailer, the ones in the front.

Even so, the difference is encouraging. Two hours after sundown, and covering the windows, the temperature has fallen by less than half a degree. The cold draft is all but gone. It's supposed to fall to freezing tonight, so I'm sure the weather proofing is going to be appreciated.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Feline Dreams.... hissssss

It was raining when we got up this morning. The cat was teed off big time. No walkies? How disgraceful! Maybe later. The sun is trying to shine now, in a half-hearted way. Red Chief is curled up asleep in his box, growling at some other cat in his dreams. Last night he must have had a ferocious dream. He growled in his sleep, then made a mighty twitch and conked his poor head on the leg of the bunk. He came awake hissing and spitting like a cobra. Poor puss. Maybe he needs psychotherapy.

I found a way to keep busy this morning, despite not being able to take the cat out. While looking for the coffee filters I discovered that the bottle of soy sauce I had in the pantry had tipped over and soaked everything. I had to empty the shelf, wash and dry the bottom of everything that had been on it, take out the shelf liner and chuck it, and clean the shelf. Once I got going I just kept going and cleaned out and reorganized both pantry cupboards.

Also organized the closet and the shelves we keep clothes on. Things migrate like African swallows. You can't tell me that hoodies, jeans and sweaters aren't migratory. I've evidence to the contrary. It's been two hours and already a pair of Levi's has migrated from a hanger in the closet to the top shelf above Tony's bed. I've heard that there are men who are neat freaks but I think that's an urban legend, like the dead prom queen that hitches rides on stormy nights.

Well, kitty has awakened, the sun is shining and I'd best make hay while the sun shines and get him outside to work off some of his energy.

A later note: Sometime between yesterday afternoon and this afternoon someone kicked that lovely big round mushroom into three or four pieces. This aggravated me, I really would have liked to see it mature. Looking at the pieces the skin is black inside (or has turned black from exposure to the air) but the woody, sponge-like interior is light neon green! What a surprise. Obviously the "baseball" was very immature. I wonder how large it would have gotten, left alone to grow to full majestic adulthood?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Valley of Heaven

There are lots of wild mushrooms here, of various kinds. I know nothing about mushrooms and wouldn't presume to eat any I'd found growing wild, but they are interesting, and some are beautiful. Yesterday morning I took the camera along on the walk with Red Chief and while he read the news I took mushroom pictures. Don't know what any of them are, but thought I'd share their pictures anyway.

The cluster of orange-speckled ones are growing at the base of a tree in the site across from us. There's another mushroom on the other side of this tree. It may be the same type, just further along in its life cycle.

In the orchard across the road there are numerous examples of these round, dry mushrooms. Some are the size of baseball, a couple even larger. These don't appear to have a stem, one had been kicked loose and had no "foot" or stem. There was a larger one (about 6 inches across) of the same colour and texture, but it was flat. Again, I'm not sure if this is the same kind of 'shroom as the round ones farther ahead in its cycle or not. I'm gonna keep my eye on them and see.

The last ones are tiny, the size of the fingernail on my pinkie finger. They grow in clusters at the base of the cherry trees and look like brownish-grey pebbles. They are easily overlooked as they are only about 1/2 inch high.

The day dawned clear and quite cool (6 degrees C or about 40 degrees F) with a brisk "Nordic" wind. I bought a digital thermometer at the hardware store yesterday. It has a remote sensor so we can take the temperature in two spots. We placed the main unit at the foot of my bunk, and the secondary sensor in the kitchen. When we got up at 8:00 am, the temperature was 66.9 F at the foot of my bunk. Perfect for sleeping in our new Mountain Equipment Coop sleeping bags which arrived yesterday.

There's a Farmer's Market down by the river every Saturday morning spring through fall. We went down and while there were very few booths, we got something from almost all of them, organic tomatoes, red and green peppers, basil, cucumbers, a jar of apple butter, and one of Dave and Pat Whalley's fabulous pies. The rhubarb and raspberries came from their garden and the pie was dee-lish!

Once we'd finished shopping we took a walk along the river to see the big red kokanee salmon migrating upstream. I would love to have taken a picture, but the reflections on the water made it impossible. There were many of the big fish working their way toward their birthplace and it was a thrill to see them. They are a spectacular colour!

We took a little drive on the way back, south toward Osoyoos. What a beautiful spot this is. It's like one huge park. One realtor says the postal code, V0H 1T0, is an acronym for "Valley of Heaven in the Okangan".

Once we were back from our rambles I took a very impatient cat for a nice long walk. He had to read the news and check out all his favorite spots. Someone's little grey poodle came up to the fence. The Red Chief noticed and turned around to run back to the fence where the dog was standing. The dog had the bad manners to bark, which made Sal hiss. I've noticed that he is very interested in dogs, and wants to go see every dog he lays eyes on. He isn't afraid of dogs, and wants to play with them. This makes me wonder if there wasn't a dog friend in his past, when he was just a small kitty?

When we returned from the walk Tony joined us to sit in the sun until I decided to come in a make lunch. I made a corn salad using many of the ingredients I'd just bought, put some sliced roast beef out, along with a bowl of grape tomatoes. It was a meal fit for a king, and we invited our next door neighbour, 82-year-old Bernie, to join us. We had a good conversation and a pleasant time. Lovely day!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

And then there were two

When it comes down to it, nothing is as important as family. And nothing is quite so painful as losing someone you love. Nothing prepares you for it.

My mother's family and my dad's family were neighbours, and there must have been many youthful and yearning glances across the barbed wire fence. Three couples formed from the children of those two families. My Mom and Dad, my mother's brother Henry and dad's sister Mary Annie, and mom's sister Fannie and dad's brother Arthur. These three couples had between them nine children. That's how we ended up with nine "double" cousins, cousins which carry the same genetic background as brothers and sisters. Of the nine I'm the youngest, and as of day before yesterday only two of us are left, my brother Hall and I. Our cousin Wanda passed away Monday.

What do you say about someone you love that much? She was 18 years older than I am and she is part of my earliest memories. I remember a summer day when I was four or five, 1950 or '51. Wanda and my mom decided to pay a visit to the graves of my Clark grandparents, in decidely rural Oklahoma. Mom and Wanda took turns carrying Wanda's baby Brenda, and I got to tackle the stickers and Johnson grass (which has saw-tooth edges and cuts like a razor) on my own.

We parked and climbed over a farm gate made of iron pipe and hiked in, what seemed a very long way for my short legs. I don't remember seeing the graves, or much of anything else about the trip, but in 1982 while at a family reunion Wanda, Brenda and I decided to revisit that little graveyard.

We checked with the county but they had no knowledge of a cemetery in that area. However we knew the road it was on, or thought we did so we decided to go looking. It was July and hotter than Billy-be-damned. I drug along my nine-year-old son Zak, I guess as a witness to history.

We drove and drove. I saw a gate I thought I recognized as the one we'd climbed over 30 years before, but Wanda thought the cemetery was further on, and that it was on the other side of the road. Oh well. She was driving.

Eventually we parked and started hiking across a very rough field. We hiked, sweated and swore in most unladylike fashion. Need I say that all of us follow the family pattern for females? Short and (ahem) plump. It was hard work.

After about a half hour a farmer came along on a tractor and asked what the devil three generously endowed ladies and a little boy were doing hoofing it across his hayfield. We told him we were looking for the cemetery and he said there was no such thing on his farm. We hiked back out, turned around and went back down the road.

On my insistence we stopped at the iron gate and (why do you never have a camera when you need one?) climbed over it, at the risk of our dignity and lives. I led on like MacDuff, probably a quarter of a mile through a parched forest of post oaks and cactus. The farmer had re-joined us by now, still insisting that there was NO CEMETERY on his land. He asked us to leave. We got a bit cranky. He followed along, protesting too strongly that he knew every ince of his land and that there was NO CEMETERY!!!!

He was getting a bit cantankerous when we came to the cemetery. Evidence was strong that he was allowing his cattle to graze, a distinct no-no. He then became contrite and said he "hadn't noticed" the headstones. He promised to repair the fence and keep his cows out. I doubt that he did, but he made a show of respect anyway.

The large stone monument the family had placed at the head of my grandparent's graves was in perfect condition, as was the fence surrounding their plot. The many unprotected stones had not fared as well. We did a full survey, including noting the placement of rocks which marked graves with no identifying information.

The earliest graves were from the 1890s, our granddad's burial was the last, in 1935. The little town which the cemetery served was blown off the map by a tornado in the late 20s or early 30s, and the dead had stopped coming. Except granddad, who made the final journey from Kilgore texas, where he died, to lie beside my grandmother, who died in 1921, and by two of their infant children.

The cemetery has been duly recorded by the county now, and one hopes it will not be completely forgotten, even though the ones who lie there are fading one by one as those who knew and loved them take their own long journeys.

But those two days will live in my memory, filled with laughter and that wonderful sense of complete acceptance and belonging one rarely feels anywhere but within the family.

Go sweetly on your way Wanda Lee Clark. You have been greatly loved and you will be missed.