Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Robert Frost's poem Bereft is usually read as one reflecting loss, in particular the loss of a partner. Yet when I read it lately it brought to mind a different kind of loneliness. The loneliness of being alone within a relationship.


Where had I heard this wind before
Change like this to a deeper roar?
What would it take my standing there for,
Holding open a restive door,
Looking down hill to a frothy shore?
Summer was past and day was past.
Somber clouds in the west were massed.
Out in the porch's sagging floor,
leaves got up in a coil and hissed,
Blindly struck at my knee and missed.
Something sinister in the tone
Told me my secret must be known:
Word I was in the house alone
Somehow must have gotten abroad,
Word I was in my life alone,
Word I had no one left but God.

Have you ever wondered what a man (or woman) sees in their life partner? In particular what does a perfectly nice, attractive older woman see in a man who belittles her, not only to her face but to others? Why would a woman enter into a relationship with such a man at any time, let alone in the autumn of her life? Why tolerate such loneliness? I'd rather be alone all my days than live with such a person and endure such loneliness.

A man who calls his wife stupid (and worse), who treats her with open disrespect in front of others, is seriously lacking in the qualities men of intelligence used to aspire to. Nobility may be a very old-fashioned concept, but a man without nobility and honor in the dealings with the woman he loves is a poor specimen indeed. Most of these men appear to be bullies to begin with, have an inflated opinion of their importance, and love to recount how they always know better than anyone how to handle every situation. They are always telling someone off.

However, even if you are an insufferable boor in your daily interchange with strangers, it seems if there is anyone you would defend it is the person you love, your life partner. The man (or woman) for that matter, who disparages their partner to others says a great deal more about themselves than they do the partner, and what is said is none too complimentary. The impression left is negative.

I wonder how a woman is "wooed" into a relationship with a verbally abusive man? Perhaps she feels as if she deserves no better. Perhaps he wisely conceals his abusive nature early in the relationship. From what I have seen it starts slowly and builds. The time to stop it would be when it starts, but bullies have a sixth sense and can smell vulnerability. Where a woman with a healthy sense of self-esteem wouldn't stand for such treatment, the timid woman, the fearful woman, the woman who was raised by an abusive father, or has been the victim of an abusive partner before, may allow it.

Such women need all the support and encouragement we can offer. Surprisingly enough, so do their partners, but the encouragement given them is to live up to their potential as protectors, both physically and emotionally, of the family. If other men (and women) voiced intolerance of such behaviour the bullies would be forced to examine their own actions.

Once again peace, and the love of peace, begins in the heart and works its way outward. No one should be left bereft.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

In Hardwood Groves

The same leaves over and over again!
They fall from giving shade above
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.

Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up,
They must go down into the dark decayed.

They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world,
I know that this is the way in ours.
~Robert Frost

I've been raking leaves. They've gone from green to gold to rust, and the cherry trees are spangled green and gold and rust even now, but the leaves rain with each shiver of wind.

Autumn is a good and tidy time. You rake up the summer's green, load it into bags and send it away to the farmer who turns it into compost for next year's crops.

It would be nice if life's cares were so easily gathered together, bundled up and turned into a rich bed for new experiences. All the ragged edges and unraveled sleeves, the old angers and resentments allowed to break down in dark decay and come up again in flowers. A garden of the spirit.

This week's correspondence and conversations have reminded me that people do not allow their bitterness and grudges to go down to decay and come up in flowers. The old hurts, the bent and crippled coping mechanisms, are carefully tended. Keep them warm and dry, like museum pieces. Go back to stroke them when the pain begins to dull. Lay on hands and let the bitterness burn like a green fire. There is no going down in decay possible in the carefully tended museum of the spirit. No coming up in flowers.

It's hard to work with the curator of a museum of pain. Curators guard their collections, lest some part of it be touched, soothed, shattered. Curators love their collections, even if they are no more than a heap of old wounds and broken promises.

You look and listen while they catalogue in detail, each one. You can love a curator without loving the collection. You are patient and wait, hoping that a bright treasure lies hidden among the rubble heap. But days, months, even years, into the tour, no brightness emerges. You suggest perhaps it's time to look up from cataloging the misery to see the sun shining through the windows. But curators are focused on pain. Not to cherish it with them amounts to betrayal and abandonment in their eyes.

It's much easier to be out in the garden, tending to a cycle of life that allows the death of all things, and the subsequent flowering. Out raking leaves, in the crisp cold air.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Be the Change You Want to See

Yesterday, as we were going through boxes looking for something, I discovered (to my shame) some items packed as we left Calgary and forgotten in all the hub-bub of our new and exciting life.

I opened a small box to find inside my turtle shell rattle and a feather from a certain bird which is held sacred in Native American circles. The feather was a gift from a tribal and clan kinsman who has now taken the long journey himself. He gathered it at the base of a tree wherein was a nest.

As do many Native people who still walk a traditional path, he cared for an area of forest, and for its creatures. He left gifts of fish and road kill at the base of the nesting tree, and over the years the birds had come to know him, and would sit quietly as he approached. He considered their dropped feathers their gift to him, and that gift he shared with me.

The rattle fits snugly in my hand, reminding me of the first time I ever saw what we called a "terrapin" as a child. Funny little animals. Infinitely patient. The owner of my shell had long since vacated it when I picked it up along an Arkansas creek bed. It was bleached of all color, the chalky white of bone, scribed with the irregular pattern of it's growth plates. It had a handle once (the rattle not the terrapin) but I found it awkward. I pulled it out and sealed the hole over. Now it lies in my hand in perfect ease, with a tail of beading and feathers. It whispers as I move my hand.

I took it from its wrappings and laid it on our altar between the Buddha and the prayer bowl. It is an emotional, if not a physical, link to ancestors who kept time primarily with rattles, in a homeland three thousand miles away. There is a dichotomy for you - a genetic dog's breakfast who (in blood quantum terms) is half Native American or as Canadians say "First Nations" and a Buddhist.

What is culture and what is its value? We had a rip-roaring, and at times loud discussion about culture and acceptance, or a lack thereof, at "Happy Hour" a couple of days ago. We are of a generation whose members often feel threatened by difference and diversity. Never mind the names the "others" were called. Behind it all is fear, fear and ignorance - though sometimes a willful ignorance.

If you want to see a face light up, smile at the turbaned gentleman and his wife in her sari, at the mall. Say, "Hello! How are you today? Isn't it a beautiful day?" Or greet them and tell them that their child is beautiful. I've seen tears come to the eyes of grown men, simply because they and their wife were greeted warmly. I think that's heartbreaking.

Every human life is a treasure beyond price. Every human has incredible potential for good. We are all a part of the great cycle of eternity and if we only knew so we would be filled with joy. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore expressed this idea, "The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures. It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers."

I cannot change the mind of the 70-year-old who announces that he "hates them people". His world is divided into "us" and "them". ("Them" being anyone different from himself.) However, I will not sit quietly by while he reviles "them" in my presence. I remind him that his people, his "us", the Irish, the Scot, the Pole, the German, was once the reviled immigrant.

Change must come from inside. It cannot be imposed. But the self-motivated and positive inner change of a single individual affects the larger web of life and results in the advancement of human society.

I cradle my turtle shell rattle. While I sometimes yearn for days that are gone, and songs that have been long stilled, I know that if we are to ever have peace in this world, we must renounce our tribes, the cult of "us" and "them", and simply become "us".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Along the Road to Lillooet

We came around a bend in the narrow road a few miles from Lillooet to find a small group of Dahl sheep standing at roadside. They were quite unconcerned with us and hardly even broke their chewing pattern.

Ian took this picture from the driver's side and they were on my side. I could almost have touched them. The baby was really cute and reminded me of the baby Saanen goat we had years ago, when we lived out in the middle of nowhere in the Columbia Valley. She was wild as a March Hare and quite untouchable when we first got her, as a "bonus", when we bought her mother.

The mother's name was Villanelle - which is a kind of complicated poem. A villanelle has 19 lines. The first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate as the third line in each successive verse and form a couplet at the end. I can testify from taking poetry classes that a decent villanelle is damn difficult to write, although many poets have taken a stab at it. The most famous villanelle is Dylan Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

We called the baby Geraldine, after Skip Wilson's character whose catch phrase was, "Don' chu TOUCH me! Don' chu DARE touch me!" Both goats were both sweet as could be but they climbed like monkeys. One day we found them on the roof! They also immediately ate the 100 foot row of raspberry bushes I planted.

Vill was huge, as big as a Shetland pony. One day we had some pesky folks visit. I won't say who or what they were but they often called to force religious tracts on us and try to convince us to attend their church. In those days we were too polite to tell them to push off.

This particular day they pulled up in a brand new Honda Civic, first year Civics were built. They came in and expounded on topics of no great interest to us, but a source of some excitement to them. After a very long while they got up to leave. We stepped outside to find both goats standing on the new car, Vill, the 250 pound sumo goat, on the top, and Geraldine - who was by this point a substantial goat herself - on the hood. Each goat was standing in a sheet-metal sinkhole. They looked up and said, "Maaaaaahhhh".

The gentleman said some most uncharitable words about our goaties and rushed at the car screaming blue murder. The goats bounded away like their cousins the antelope and resumed their observations from a safe distance. If it had been up to the caller he'd have had roast goat for dinner. Happily enough having the goats stand on his new car put an end to the persecution by pamphlet we'd been enduring. Saved, or at least rescued, by goats!

And all this memory sparked by one little picture.... By the time you are 1000 years old (much like I feel some mornings) there are a great many memories flying around in your head, as useless as single socks or flat bike tires. Oh well, if I download them onto a page then there's more room for important stuff that needs remembering, like where the heck did we put the paper towels?

Monday, October 15, 2007

This One's For Dave

A few kms out of Lillooet, in the middle of nowhere, we saw this neatly shingled outhouse a couple of hundred feet off the road. It was quite a hike up a steep hill, so if you needed to go you'd certainly want to plan ahead. Pack a lunch, cancel any standing appointments....

We stopped and I took a picture for Dave, who is the local "Outhouse" expert.

Now, how many people would come to a screeching halt along the road to take a picture of an outhouse? But you know me, always thinking of others. ROFL

Friday, October 12, 2007

On the Road Again...

When the boys were children and we set off on a road trip we'd always sing an off-key version of Willie Nelson's On the Road Again. No different now. Wednesday morning Ian and I set off on an 800 km road trip to visit the small and somewhat out-of-the-way village of Lillooet BC. We got a mile or so down the highway when we looked at each other and began singing On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again....

Tony and I have decided that as much as we love the Tin Palace, it's time to put down roots again. The Okanagan is beautiful. We love Oliver and the people are wonderful. But the real estate prices are in the stratosphere and surprisingly enough, I'm finding it a bit too developed. It's an almost unbroken corridor of development from the US border to Vernon. The only thing we could possibly afford would be an apartment. Been there done that.

I am adamant. I want room for a garden, a greenhouse, a pond and a few chooks. There is nothing that says contentment for me as much as the background clucking and fussing of a few well-fed hens. I had my first flock at the age of six and I have never gotten over my love of the chicken. Chicken-kind is calling my name. Thus we have begun the search for a warm and reasonable place to buy property. Lillooet is both warm and has reasonable land prices. Hence the road trip.

It was raining when we left Oliver, rained harder on us as we headed up the Okanagan Valley, poured as we rose out of the valley and turned west, and more or less drizzled all the way to Merritt. The highway to Merritt is chopped through an ominous-looking forest of lodgepole pines. Mile after mile of sun-starved skinny trunks packed so closely together that dead trees lean on still-living neighbours but do not fall until they collapse into shards. Walking through such a forest, with spikes and splinters of deadwood thrusting in every direction, would be like facing a medieval army.

After Merritt the Nicola Valley widens out and the wall of trunks is replaced or interspersed with aspen and sumac. The autumn colours were spectacular. I took some pictures from the passenger seat, at 90 km an hour. Hard to capture the brilliance of the colours through a dirty windshield.

Somewhere along the highway between Merritt and Spence's bridge the sun came out. Spence's Bridge looked like an interesting little community, but we had no time to explore it. We pressed on through the village of Lytton and onto Highway 12, toward our destination.

The scenery between Lytton and Lillooet is nothing short of spectacular, but I was clutching the dashboard which made it hard to take pictures! The Lytton - Lillooet road is your typical Canadian mountain "highway" - two narrow lanes, no shoulder, precariously huddled between a sheer drop-off into the Fraser River on the left and unstable and menacing cliffs to the right. "Slide Area" is the most common sign.

For a short stretch a few miles this side of Lillooet the road narrows to one and a half lanes, as it traverses the area known as "The Big Slide". This is where a substantial part of the mountain above the road moved house about 1200 years ago and took up riverside accomodations. Unfortunately the mountain is still moving. It flings stray rocks (or truckloads of rocks) onto the road on an almost daily basis. (A grader is stationed permanently at the edge of the slide to keep the road cleared.)

According to locals, as you enter the Big Slide Zone you pray to whatever gods you believe in, grit your teeth and dash through as quickly as you dare, hoping you don't meet a loaded logging truck coming toward you around a hairpin curve. I guess you get to test your backing skills if that happens. There are a couple of pull-offs, where two vehicles could pass. I wouldn't want to back down the road looking for one of them!

Thankfully we met no other vehicles coming across and we were soon through what had been for me a dreaded stretch of road. Then the vista opens up. Years ago we lived in the Columbia Valley between Radium and Golden. The road into Lillooet reminds me of that same stretch. Amazing beauty, rolling green meadows on both sides of the river stretching right up to the foot of the mountain.

We entered Lillooet as the sun dipped behind the mountains. It's a funny little town. Main Street meanders and changes directions two or three times. Downtown is about two blocks wide, which is all there's room for between the banks of the Fraser and the first bench of the mountain, but it must be a couple of miles long. The shops are separated into two distinct areas, on opposite ends of Main Street. The residential streets mostly climb up the benches in terraces. It's easy to see why most of the real estate listings include the words, "River View" or "Water View". I think the modifier "spectacular" is assumed.

We checked into a motel and went to find a place to have dinner. Chinese, pizza, Greek, and any number of "regular" eating establishments were available to choose from. We chose the Greek place and were not disappointed. Excellent meal.

Thursday morning the air was crisp and squeaky-clean, the day was warm and perfectly sunny. We spent the morning exploring the town, beginning with the realtor's office. We spent time in the jade shop which is a mini-museum with a talkative and very pleasant artist/owner. We dropped into the nice museum which is jam-packed with artifacts representing Lillooet's colorful history, including a camel saddle.

We drove up and down the terraced streets directly above downtown in what might be charitably called the "working-class" neighbourhood. Not a bad neighbourhood, just small lots and older homes, interspersed with mobile homes. Some of these places were immaculate with wonderful gardens, others were "accented" by peeling paint, sagging gates and discarded car parts.

Drive-bys of several of the properties dampened any "listing-based" enthusiasm. One appeared to be a large two-story building in the photo, but turned out to be incredibly tiny, with a false-front and what appeared to be a four-foot-tall front door. We decided that the realtor must have lain down in the middle of the street to take the photo. Another house, which looked nice in the photo, appeared to be one strong puff of wind away from collapse. Another candidate was a very nice house, but is backed up against the foot of a steep slope and may very well be under it within a few years.

Another series of terraces held newer "up-scale homes", the kind with sharp edges, concrete driveways and aggressively manicured flower plantings. The lots were wider but so were the houses. Not the neighbourhood for me. I can visualize vigilante committees protesting mychickens headed up by women wearing anti-wrinkle cream and carrying "hot yoga" manuals.

I need a neighbourhood with a certain relaxed atmosphere, where no one would drop dead if my chicken crossed their road. Thus we moved our search to the semi-rural edge of town. Big lots with houses that appear to have grown a bit here, pushed out a bit there. Horses, gravel drives and big sheds. Swings in the front yards. Large and somewhat disorganized flower beds. This is more like it. I think this is the neighbourhood. It will take another trip or two to narrow down the field to any one property but we're not in a hurry, we're where we want to be, at least until next spring.

We headed for home, the long way round, passing Pavillion Lake, with water as blue-green, and as clear, as a Jamaican reef. There were boats and cabins around the lake, in a scene which could have been picked from the top of a puzzle box. The contrast between green water, cliffs dotted with dark pines, yellow aspens and brilliant red sumac was breath-taking. A painting with such colours would seem gaudy and contrived, but nature does it to perfection.

We stopped at Marble Canyon and took pictures, and saw a huge pile of very fresh bear scat full of berry seeds. This incredibly huge spire is part of Marble Canyon. We saw some nice country the rest of the way home, not as spectacular as the scenery on the way out, or through Marble Canyon, but certainly enjoyable. We had a very good trip.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


I feel so much better than I did a few years ago. This became obvious yesterday when Ian and I went to the grocery store, and stocked up on "Thanksgiving" fodder. We got home about 3:00 pm.

Ian has celiac so can't eat anything with wheat, so I made cornbread (substituting chickpea flour for wheat flour) and then made a cornbread dressing for the turkey. It was yummy. It contained the usual celery, onions and mushrooms. I added cooked wild rice to it, which gave it a great texture.

I also made sweet potatoes, baked regular potatoes, gravy, and a pumpkin-pecan pie with chickpea flour crust. With cranberry sauce and turkey cooked on the grill outside it was a feast fit for kings, and amazingly enough, it was ready to eat by 6:30.

A few years ago it took me two or three days to cook a holiday meal, and wore me out for a week afterward. I was fine today, made a big brunch at 11:00 and have been busy all day.

Our neighbour Stan has been working hard for several days to put the winter skirting on the Tin Palace. We bought OSB and he did a superb job. He's a meticulous worker. I painted the board before he put it on, and he fitted the pieces so carefully you couldn't slide a piece of paper between the skirt and the trailer in most places.

When he finished and I asked him to figure out his hours and let us know what we owed him he said, "Oh I don't work for money anymore. I'm retired. I just do what I like to do."

I was astounded! He has worked four long days, and I couldn't get him to take any kind of payment! We will have to think of something very nice to do for him. People can be so kind.

More snowbirds have arrived in the last couple of days. We are looking forward to lots of fun this fall and winter.