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Monday, November 21, 2011

Outhouses, part II

coming soon to a computer screen near you

Monday, November 14, 2011

On the subject of Outhouses

With the advent of the winter's first snow, I'm discovering a renewed appreciation for indoor plumbing. I thought I'd take a short rabbit trail round back to the outhouse, where we'll find interesting details those with a more innocent upbringing than I may be unaware of. I'll amaze you with previously unknown facts about:

a new definition of luxury
flora and fauna

what O.J. thinks of indoor plumbing
sound effects
how you can tell the difference between really cold and BLOODY cold without a thermometer
and much more!

but first, a poem from the Yukon's beloved bard, Robert Service

The Three Bares
Robert W. Service

Ma tried to wash her garden slacks but couldn't get 'em clean
And so she thought she'd soak 'em in a bucket o' benzine.
It worked all right. She wrung 'em out then wondered what she'd do
With all that bucket load of high explosive residue.
She knew that it was dangerous to scatter it around,
For Grandpa liked to throw his lighted matches on the ground.
Somehow she didn't dare to pour it down the kitchen sink,
And what the heck to do with it, poor Ma jest couldn't think.

Then Nature seemed to give the clue, as down the garden lot
She spied the edifice that graced a solitary spot,
Their Palace of Necessity, the family joy and pride,
Enshrined in morning-glory vine, with graded seats inside;
Jest like that cabin Goldylocks found occupied by three,
But in this case B-E-A-R was spelt B-A-R-E----
A tiny seat for Baby Bare, a medium for Ma,
A full-sized section sacred to the Bare of Grandpapa.

Well, Ma was mighty glad to get that worry off her mind,
And hefting up the bucket so combustibly inclined,
She hurried down the garden to that refuge so discreet,
And dumped the liquid menace safely through the centre seat.
Next morning old Grandpa arose; he made a hearty meal,
And sniffed the air and said: `By Gosh! how full of beans I feel.
Darned if I ain't as fresh as paint; my joy will be complete
With jest a quiet session on the usual morning seat;

To smoke me pipe an' meditate, an' maybe write a pome,
For that's the time when bits o' rhyme gits jiggin' in me dome.'
He sat down on that special seat slicked shiny by his age,
And looking like Walt Whitman, jest a silver-whiskered sage,
He filled his corn-cob to the brim and tapped it snugly down,
And chuckled: `Of a perfect day I reckon this the crown.'
He lit the weed, it soothed his need, it was so soft and sweet:
And then he dropped the lighted match clean through the middle seat.

His little grand-child Rosyleen cried from the kichen door:
Oh, Ma, come quick; there's sompin wrong; I heared a dreffel roar;
Oh, Ma, I see a sheet of flame; it's rising high and higher...
Oh, Mummy dear, I sadly fear our comfort-cot's caught fire.'
Poor Ma was thrilled with horror at them words o' Rosyleen.
She thought of Grandpa's matches and that bucket of benzine;
So down the garden geared on high, she ran with all her power,
For regular was Grandpa, and she knew it was his hour.

Then graspin' gaspin' Rosyleen she peered into the fire,
A roarin' soarin' furnace now, perchance old Grandpa's pyre....
But as them twain expressed their pain they heard a hearty cheer----
Behold the old rapscallion squattinn' in the duck pond near,
His silver whiskers singed away, a gosh-almighty wreck,
W i' half a yard o' toilet seat entwined about his neck....
He cried: `Say, folks, oh, did ye hear the big blow-out I made?

It scared me nearly half to death. I hope you w'unt too afraid.
But now I best be crawlin' out o' this dog-gasted wet....
For what I aim to figger out is----

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

From the yukon Journal - Monday, April 19, 1976

A guy from Teslin Lake we met at Haines Junction weigh scales and his woman stopped by on their way home from fishing at Haines, Alaska. They caught 5 Dolly Varden.

Gave us two for the cat.
As I recall, the cat got the head and fins. Dolly Varden is good fish, and we weren't too proud to eat someone's bag limit overflow... or whatever they were. The cat's name was Bagheera - named after the panther in Kipling's 'Jungle Book'. This was before I knew my frequent colds etc were due in part to animal allergies. He was a gorgeous fellow, huge, gentle and patient, once he got over his kittenhood belief that he was the most dangerous creature on 4 legs. Unlike every other cat I've ever known, Baggy came when called. He had the famous Siamese yowl, but, for the most part he didn't have a lot to say, unless he thought he was late for lunch. The strong, silent type. A purr like an idling tank. He came into the family just a few months after we got the German Shepherd pup... the one mentioned a while ago, who had porcupine radar. On arrival, Baggy entertained us for weeks at the dog's expense, with his fierce attacks. His favorite skulking hideaway was just behind the woodstove in the kitchen of the house we rented before heading to the Yukon. The dog was half grown by then, so he was too big to fit in the space between the woodstove and the kitchen wall. This became the kitten's private domain, as he was brand new, and hardly more than a pocketful full of creamy fluff.

The dog was Kochise. He loved everybody, without any bias as to race, species or gender. He especially loved that vicious little Siamese kitten. He responded to attack after attack with a smile and a wagging tail, certain that they'd soon be friends. The kitten wasn't convinced. He stalked and pounced, scratched and bit until he learned that the monster dog's most vulnerable spot was his big black nose. Baggy would skulk and peep until he saw Kochise nod off to sleep on the floor near the stove, then skitter out on tiptoe and POUNCE right on that big, black defenseless nose. Kochise would waken with a confused yelp to 20 needle sharp claws embedded in his tender nose. It wasn't a game. Baggy was out for blood - certain he was big enough and tough enough to take on anything. So the poor dog would paw - always gently - and lick and whine until he could dislodge the wretched feline from his injured proboscis. He'd lick the blood off with tears in his eyes, while the rotten cat skittered back to his vantage point to plan the next skirmish.

On a brisk fall day, they were each napping in their favorite spots near the crackling stove. Bagheera woke, stretched, and peered with evil blue eyes from behind his fortress. Aha! The monster slept. Perhaps he wasn't quite awake yet, or maybe he thought he'd try a new angle of attack. Whatever the reason, on this particular day, he leaped, not for the nose, but onto the end of Kochise's tail, sinking claws and teeth into it with fierce delight. The dog, of course, awoke immediately, lifting his head to look over his shoulder for the cause of the pain in his tail..... and broke into a toothy grin. It was his little friend the kitty! The tail began to wag. Thud! With .... thunk.... the kitten... konk.... attached.... whump. Thud. Thunk. Whump. Konk. Thump. Bonk. Clunk. Thud.

Stunned nearly to unconsciousness, the fearless predator lost his grip and tumbled to the floor. He was then scooped up by a careful black and tan paw, held down by another huge black and tan foot, and licked until he was a slobbery, slimy, dripping dog breath smelling mess. A few half-hearted feeble hisses and spits were vanquished by a tongue bigger than his body. They were fast friends from that moment onward. Until the cat got too big for this method of transportation, the dog liked to carry him by the head. He'd take the cat's whole head in his mouth, with the limp and completely relaxed cat's body hanging out the side. There was seldom any complaint about this. If Kochise was less careful than he might be, Baggy would reach up with a paw and poke the dog's nose lightly with a claw as a reminder to be more careful.

As they both reached maturity, they were often found curling up together at nap time, Baggy between Kochise's front paws, or at his belly, and they'd groom each other before they nodded off. When we travelled to the Yukon, at every pit stop, they'd leap out of the truck and rush off to explore. When the time came to hit the road again, at the sound of a bellowed "Kochise!......... Bagheera!" the enormous pointed ears of the German Shepherd and the brilliant blue eyes of the Siamese would appear from the shadows, each above its respective smile.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

From the Yukon Journal - Sunday, April 18, 1976

Mitch skied to Dalton Post. 6 buildings. One was being used but empty of human occupation. Klukshu River and Tatshenshini both running.

Heard a moose

& shot a squirrel.

Found cabins belonged to Charlie Ross. Weather overcast but not cold. Left .22 at trail by Pringle Lake

We at a lot of squirrel back then. They're cheeky and bold, so you can get close enough to them that even a half decent marksman can bag one. Not a lot of meat on them, but it was protein. Not terribly tasty or tender either, but marinated in soy sauce, they tasted similar to teryaki. When you haven't had protein for a while, almost anything tastes good with enough soy sauce or garlic.

Mitch skiied to Dalton Post on the home-made skis. They didn't hold up particularly well. I think he did more wading through hip-deep wet snow than skiing. I know the skis didn't come back with him. That was, to the best of my knowlege, his one and only attempt at making skis.

There's a kind of unwritten law in many wild places, that no door is kept locked, and the shelter of an uninhabited roof is free for anyone who needs it. If you're hungry, and you find food there, there's no shame in eating it. Just do your best to replace what you take. The same applies to firewood. If you need it, and it's there, it's yours to use, but never use all of what you find unless you're right out of options. And always, unless you're mortally ill or terminally injured, replace the firewood you used, with dry, split wood for the next visitor. He or she may need it worse than you did. It's the frontier version of the 'Leave The World a Better Place Than You Found It' philosophy.

In the wilderness, especially in an extremely cold climate, it's hard to forget that your actions could mean the difference between life and death not only for yourself, but for a friend or a stranger, who comes there after you. This is true, not just about firewood or moose jerky for tomorrow or next week or month, but also or things that last for generations or more. Trappers often inherited their traplines from their parents or bought the rights to them from an old-timer. Some wanted to make a living there for a lifetime or more, so they were careful that there were always animals left to live off of. No one who knows he's going to need moose meat again next year kills all of the moose he can find this year. It's a philosophy we could use more of in places and situations further afield. Imagine businesses and countries harvesting minerals and trees and fish with a feeling of responsibility for the next people who came along and might need some?

There were cabins at Dalton Post, used by the fellow who trapped in the area. People who make their living trapping generally have any number of cabins along their traplines. They have to cover many, many miles, sometimes in the worst weather you can imagine. Back in the day, they traversed the miles on cross-country skis or snowshoes or, if they were lucky, by dogteam.... these days they're more likely to have a snowmobile with a heated seat and hand warmers in on the handlebars or in their mitts. A trapper who's really serious about his (or her) job can spend a week or more traveling the trapline, and never go to the same place twice. They build little cabins, spaced a day's journey apart, where they can build a fire, cook some hot food and sleep in a dry sleeping bag on a bed of sorts. Often the trapline trails are cut cross each other at the location of a cabin, so it can serve double duty.

There's usually a tin airtight heater with a flip top lid in the middle of the single, low ceilinged room, and if it's really civilized, there'll be a table and a chair made of peeled poles and a chunk of plywood hauled in from somewhere. There may or may not be a window. The thing about windows is, they're the easiest place for a critter to get into. Bear and wolverine, squirrel and porcupine are really clever at finding ways inside something they know contains food. So if there is a window, it's probably also got heavy shutters that can be closed and fastened down when there's no one home. The bed might be a wooden pole frame with more peeled poles stretched across it, fastened to the wall on two sides in a corner, and propped on the one unsupported corner by a post. Spruce boughs often served as a mattress, cut fresh and replaced every week or so. The dried twigs and needles of the previous bedding made great kindling for the fire. A few nails in the walls served as clothes hangers and a pole hung by snare wire from the ceiling over the wood stove made a drying rack for mitts and socks crusted with snow.

There's often a spitoon. Almost every cabin had a rusty old coffee or lard tin half filled with disgustng brown slime. In a pinch it could also serve as a chamber pot.... not something I even want to try to imagine.... no matter how cold it is outside, I'll choose the outhouse over that every time, thank you very much. Chewing tobbacco is easier to manage than cigarettes when it's too cold to expose your face. And there's the difficulty of lighting a match with mitts on, and making the sulphur ignite in very low temps . Exposed flesh freezes quicly in sub-zero temperatures. When you might be hours away from the next warm fire, you do your best not to get cold. So you chaw your 'baccy. In the winter, the nicotine dribbles formed along the side of your mouth freeze in your beard, till you have 2 brown icicles hanging down, one on each side of your mouth. It's easy to pick out the fellas who chew, even when these extremely attractive sludge colored icicles have melted away. The frozen tobacco juice bleaches the hair downward from the corners of their mouths, leaving blonde or orange or silver streaks. Fetching - most fetching... but doesn't hold a candle to being offered a kiss by a face covered in frost and dripping brown half-frozen slime.

This particular spot was operated by fellow who was more of a gold miner than a trapper. He annually forsook the 'civilized' life of Vancouver, from which his wife refused to budge, when the spring blossoms began to unfold, to spend his summers in the then untouched wilderness along the banks of the Klukshu and Tatshenshini Rivers. Yes, there was gold. Placer gold, washed down the rivers from some unknown source, which he patiently panned throughout the sommer. When it was all cleaned and weighed and cashed in , there was enough to pay for his 'vacation' and take some home to the little woman. His name was Charlie, and he was very proud of his sourdough bread.

He told us he sent a loaf of it home to his wife in Vancouver one summer, as a treat. The next time he went to the lodge for supplies he telephoned her to see how she'd liked it. She told him haughtily, "I threw the horrible stuff in the garbage." She wasn't so haughty when he told her he'd baked several ounces of gold in the middle of it as a surprise to her. It didn't seem to bother him much that she'd thrown the equivalent of a month's good wages out; he loved to tell the story, and he knew there was lots more gold where it had come from.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

From the Yukon Journal - April 17, 1976

Made 2 pair skis to go to Dalton Post. Weather, sunny but cool.

That's what it says.... MADE 2 pair of skis. A little thing like 3 1/2 feet of snow and no skis or snowshoes wasn't going to keep us from getting where we wanted to be. Snowshoes seemed like they might be a little harder, and we didn't have the materials for them, so we went for the skis. We salvaged some lumber from somewhere along the highway, and made harnesses from the strips cut from tanned moosehide I'd brought along to make mukluks and moccasins.

In the trailer we were towing was an assortment of hand tools and materials we thought we'd need for building our cabin. Mitch grew up with a dad who knew what to do with wood, and what tools you'd need to do it with. A real craftsman didn't use power tools. As a result, we had a pretty interesting assortment of 'primitive' wood working tools. By the end of the day we had 4 rudimentary skis cut, planed, smoothed and waxed, complete with moosehide harnesses.

But best laid plans, and all that.... We didn't have great wood to work with. One ski broke the first time we tried them out, so we did a quick evaluation of the plan and concluded that perhaps we didn't both need to go on the first reconnoitering expedition. Pidgeon Hawk and I would stay with the gear, and Mitch would travel to Dalton Post solo.

I don't recall the little offshoot road to the south and west that this map shows, being there when we were there. Dalton Post seems to have become a favorite summer sport fishing spot these days, so there's actually a road most of the way there now. Not so 35 years ago. We were camped along Haines Highway as close to Dalton Post as we could get, and had planned to hike the rest of the way in. We hadn't counted on there still being 3 1/2 feet of snow in April. We thought the snow would be mostly gone - and we were right; it was mostly gone. There was only 3 1/2 feet of it left. The Haines Highway has these poles along either side of the road along there. They're striped, red and white, like candy canes or barber poles 12 or 15 feet tall. They puzzled us for a while.... odd sort of Christmas decorations for the side of an isolated highway. What we learned is, they're markers, so you can find the road in the winter. Some winters the snow gets so deep they're completely covered. 3 1/2 feet of snow is only crumbs, when you started with 15.

Dalton Post was our destination for the next leg of our journey. . There was a trail to Dalton Post, but it wasn't negotiable by anything with wheels. The place we'd chosen was further beyond that, a sheltered valley with a salmon bearing stream running through it and mature forest on the shoulders of the surrounding mountains. According to our research, there was a small area there, a little micro climate where wild crabapples had been found growing on the shoulders of the mountains. Our own little Eden.

We had the summer to locate a spot, build a cabin, catch and preserve salmon for the winter, prepare a garden plot for the coming year, and get to know the neighborhood. We had cases of preserved fruit, berries, veggies and jam, bags of dry goods, pots and pans - including a pressure canner with dozens of canning jars and supplies, nuts 'n bolts 'n screws and nails, and a box with a couple years' supply of vegetable seeds for the garden. In addition to enough clothes, bedding and housewares for a year, we had fabric to make more of whatever was needed, my grandmother's treadle sewing machine to sew them on, and extra needles, thread, buttons, zippers and whatnots. We had coal oil lamps and oil for them, salt for making jerky, widgets and gizmos I can't even remember the name of or the use for anymore. There was even a hand powered cream separator; we hadn't been able to bring the goats with is, but planned to go back for them when we had a barn and corral built for them.

And we had mead. Honey wine, made the winter before we left, and stored in those big hillbilly gallon jugs with the little handle loop thing for easy pouring. I think A&W root beer used to come in those jugs. So when the opportunity arose, we were prepared to entertain. When company stopped by our campfire, we mixed up a batch of sweet, fruity bannock, and poured everyone a glass of mead while the hearty aroma of baking bannock wafted over those lucky enough to be downwind of the fire.

After the evening meal, we'd tuck little snoozing Pidgeon Hawk cozily in bed under the heaviest down sleeping bag ever created, topped off by the hide of an unlucky black bear. I'd tune up my guitar for a singalong. Life was good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

From the Yukon Journal - April 16, 1976

Set up camp & relaxed. Weather fair - warm and sunny. Mitch went downstream to falls and old building site. Snow 3 feet deep. Saw dippers on the river.

There were no folding camp stools or gas powered barbeque. 'Set up camp' meant digging a fire pit, lining it with stones and clearing the area around it of snow and /or flammable materials. It meant finding tree stumps or deadfalls that could serve as stools. The tailgate of the truck was the food preparation area, with all of our cooking utensils just inside the box of the truck and below our sleeping platform. Meals were cooked in fire blackened pots either set amongst the coals of the campfire, or propped on large pieces of wood which eventually succumbed to the heat and added to it. Mittens served the double purpose of keeping hands warm in the cold air, and protecting them from burning when removing a pot or a tea kettle from the fire. Water for washing dishes and, just before bed, ourselves, was heated over the last of the campfire's embers in an enameled dishpan, while we squatted around the fire to eat. When we first arrived in April, there was still too much snow to get into any of the government campsites, so we found quiet places off of little-traveled roads to camp at.

The campfire was our only source of heat, for both comfort and for food. Fire was life. The morning campfire warmed water for the first cup of tea of the day, and a pot of oatmeal. Lunch was usually leftovers from the previous evening's meal, or bannock with preserves from the previous summer's berries and fruit. I was getting very good at making bannock. Often it was closer to cake than to bread, made rich with dried apples or raisins I'd soaked overnight, honey and cinnamon. There was no need for refrigeration, as nighttime temperatures still dropped below freezing, and daytime temps were not far above it. Long woolen underwear was de rigueur, even for the baby, as were thick woolen socks and hats. He spent much of his time in a corduroy baby carrier on mum's chest, safely tucked and zipped under my coat, with just his hat and bright little eyes showing.

On a walk along the creek one evening, we spotted a winterhawk in the sky, and
came across the remains of its recent meal. The hawk had left a few small, delicately striped feathers behind, so we picked the best one and tucked it in the brim of the baby's knitted hat. We began to call babe Pigeon Hawk, because he was small and not very fierce.

We'd brought non perishable food supplies - flour, margarine, salt, baking powder, honey, rice, oatmeal, etc. and canned berries and fruit. So there was always food, though not much protein. To rectify this, we poached - duck or partridge mostly, hunted by Mitch with a .22 rifle or, if we thought the game warden might be within earshot, a compound bow and arrows. Meat was a treat not enjoyed every day, until we discovered the place was crawling with porcupines.

The dog, in fact, made this discovery for us, by coming back from a ramble with a mouth full of quills.

After some experimentation we learned how to best skin a porcupine without bodily harm. Skinning a porcupine also takes a very strong stomach, as they're crawling with vermin. After all, how 's a porky to groom himself without injury? Once the pelt is separated from the protein inside, you're left with a treat. Small cubes of young porcupine cooked on a stick over the fire proved to be quite delicious, and porky soon became a favorite. It didn't hurt that they were everywhere, and, being who they are, have few predators, so t hey don't seem to make any effort at all not to be seen or apprehended.

The plan was to find out who had the trapline where we hoped to settle, and, best case scenario, reach some 'sharing' agreement. Worst case, we'd reconsider our final destination.

Monday, September 19, 2011

From the Yukon Journal - Thursday April 15, 1976

Stayed Wed night at Pine Creek. Flat tire on trailer. Arrived [Thursday] at Takhanne River campsite. River running. Set up camp. Lots of snow. Warm weather. Saw our second Mountain Bluebird. Good omen.
April in the Yukon is still winter. Everything is covered in snow. Daytime temperatures hover around the freezing point on a good day. And we were CAMPING!

We had this John Deere green, home- made plywood 'camper' on the back of an old red Ford pickup we called Bertha.
Bertha had seen some tribulations. The most memorable one was a few months before The Big Adventure In the Yukon, when my parter... we'll call him Mitch.... had a few days off work, and thought he'd replace her head gaskets. He worked as a 'doodlebugger'. No kidding, that's what they called them. Some offshoot of seismic exploration for the oilpatch, I believe. If you have any history with the oilpatch, you'll know that days off are rare and retractable. Someone didn't tell someone else that there was work to be done, or someone else didn't show up for the job, so Mitch's crew were called back before they'd even had time to change socks.
And I was left with a truck whose entrails were glistening in various locations on the dirt floor of the garage. In a small northern Alberta town about 15 miles from the nearest mechanic. In January. This was an unheated garage, whose only source of light came from the open door, or a trouble light on a 50 foot cord plugged into the kitchen wall.
Trouble light picture thanks to wikipedia

It was -35C that day, in the few hours of sunshine January brings. I swear it was colder in that garage. Certainly, it was colder by the time I had the baby settled for the night, and knew I'd have a few hours to work. But I had help. Yes, being the thoughtful guy he was, Mitch wrote out instructions for me to put the truck together in order to take it

to his buddy, that mechanic who was 15 miles away, so HE could put the new head gaskets in.

Well, I grew up with truck drivers. I can't remember a time when I didn't know what a wrench was, and nobody told me I couldn't do it, so I didn't know any better. I put the truck together, in the blistering cold, in the light of that lone trouble light. I broke a few lightbulbs in the process.... glass is fragile at those temperatures.... but in a few hours I had dear old Bertha back in one piece.... well, two pieces.... I couldn't find the hole in the oilpan, to put the plug back in, in order to pour in the engine oil. It had been a long night. I remembered my brothers talking about oil pan plugs sometimes being in odd places. I'd call the mechanic buddy in the morning; he'd be able to tell me where it was.
The words Mr. Mechanic said to me are burned in my memory forever. After I'd spent half the night putting the #%*! truck together in the dark in 30 or 40 below weather, he said, in a voice of pure condescension, "Diana, if you don't know where the oilpan is, just leave the truck alone." He knew very well I wasn't looking for the oil pan, but for the orifice IN the oil pan. There clearly was no point in continuing that conversation, so I hung up on him. Hard.

He didn't say anything at all to me when I pulled to a screeching halt in front of his shop early the next afternoon, grabbed the baby, slammed the door and handed him the keys. Nor did I say anything to him. The scorn in my eyes said it all, and my ride back home was waiting.

Bertha was a good old girl. After we built the plywood camper for her, she became 'Bertha Box'. It wasn't much of a camper, really. A plywood cube with a small heavy duty plastic 'window' on each side. The entire back side hinged at the top for entry. A ledge was built at the height of the top of the truck box, where we lovingly placed the mattress from our bed, complete with a bearskin souvenir from a previous adventure. a smaller ledge, attached to the wall at the foot was supported by hinges and chains, for the baby. Underneath this, in the box of the truck, were all our worldly goods, cooking and food supplies. In the trailer was our grubstake - lengths of stovepipe, rope, tools and hardware to build ourselves a cabin in the wilderness.

We had a spot all picked out. A sheltered valley amongst mountains, heavily forested, rich in wild game and fur, with a salmon bearing river running through it. After a year of practice living in trapline cabins and primitive farmhouses, we knew how to be comfortable without electricity and all that goes with it. We had the hang of heating and cooking with wood, and lighting the winter's darkness with a coal oil lamp. (the rented place with the dark, cold garage was a temporary luxury. We wanted to use power tools to build the camper, so we had to have electricity) We'd spent a year or more poring over maps and reading everything we could find about the Yukon, native land claims negotiations, climate and microclimate, fishing, hunting, and edible native plants. We were certain we could just show up, knock some trees down, build a cabin and move in.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


i've stumbled over the journal i started keeping 35 years ago, when my partner of the time and i left northern alberta for our Great Adventure In The Yukon. my eldest son came across it a few years ago when visiting me, and stayed up all night reading it. there's another somewhere, which continues the tale.... the second has drawings illustrating moments that seemed particularly illustragenic. i hope it shows up as well.....

i'm thinking it might be fun to post some of the stories that the journal entries bring to mind, and, should i manage to get my life under control, perhaps i'll have some time to try illustrating them.....

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Relax, what's your hurry....?

click below for some good advice from singer / songwriter Connie Kaldor

I am always alone, but at this moment I would prefer to be alone by myself."

thus saith Death to his (mortal) hired man, after having a brief brush with his own unexpected, and temporary, mortality.

in an attempt to remember what it is to relax, i'm holed up in my little row house, puttering in a very minor way, and lazing in a major way. a much anticipated trip to the mountains has fallen through, so i'm holidaying at home.... determined to do nothing responsible for 2 weeks. eat, drink and be merry, occasionally doing a few dishes and possibly sweeping the floor and taking out the garbage. basic maintenance only. no PROJECTS allowed, other than the very serious project of regaining some sanity in a life which has become far too overbooked with projects and responsibilities and obligations and the demands of others.

unfair to be hit betwixt the eyes with profundity when one is trying so hard to be narcissistic.

i'm holed up with a stack of Terry Pratchet novels, having recently abducted one from my goddaughter. i seem to be the only person i know who isn't already familiar with him, but if he's new to you, i highly recommend Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. i've printed off the

Discworld reading order guide for guidance, though there's no need, i'm told, to follow any order, as they all stand freely on their own.

summer is doing her last bright trot around the neighborhood; there'll be hard frost any morning now. thoughts run to inside activities... reading, cooking hearty soups and stews, creative things involving paper and ink and paint.... fabric and pins ..... yarn and finding a place to set up the loom..... honey and yeast.... too many possibilities, really....

and i wonder why i need to re-learn how to rest. even when i'm resting i'm thinking of ways to exhaust myself.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wonky Robin

the robins we have here are called 'American Robins'. British Robins are a little chubbier, and, i believe, a little more colorful. ours are lanky and subtle.

well, some of them are subtle. this particular robin was a cheeky blighter with an attitude that would make a rhinoceros proud.

they're very territorial birds, i'm told. and, i'm not sure if it's the norm, but it's fairly common for a male robin to build a nest in order to attract a female. it seems the ladies like some assurance that his intentions are honorable.

but he'll pick the oddest place to build the blessed thing!!! i've seen them glued on the traffic side of a tractor trailer, with the tiniest lip of metal supporting the whole structure he expects his intended to raise a family in. or on top of the carriage light between two electric garage doors. i'm sure herself's first words on inspecting such a dwelling are 'what were you thinking?!' and the second sentence she speaks is probably 'i'm going home to mother till you come up with something habitable'.

this particular romeo chose for his 'home' base the horizontal beam that supported the second story deck of the old church i was renovating. it was on the west side of the building, broadside to the prevailing winds. each joist of the deck above rested perpendicular to this beam, forming a little box which created a mini wind tunnel. were flatlanders here. there IS wind. a LOT of wind.

now, romeo was on his own for some time. i'm not sure if there had been some confusion about where and when the rendezvous would occur, or if he was a magnificent optimist who just knew someone wonderful would appear magically, and find him irresistible. i tend towards the magnificent optimist theory, and here's why. romeo didn't just build a nest. there were something in the neighborhood of a dozen little wind tunnels on that beam. he built a nest in every one of them. or, he tried to..... he drove himself crazy trying to.

remember the wind? in the tunnel? often i'd come home from work and walk under the deck to the front door, in that howling prairie wind. and i'd notice as i strode along, that those once-nest-filled tunnels were empty, or had only tattered shreds of vegetable matter left in them. but the next day (if the wind had abated) there'd be little heaps of new - or possibly recycled - vegetable matter in each of them. if enough windless days managed to cling to each other long enough to become a weather pattern, there'd soon be a little nest in each darling little hurricane chute. till the wind woke up again. this continued from spring till well into summer, and still no sign of a missus.

i mentioned that robins are territorial. i haven't yet mentioned the scaffold. it had been built to facilitate installing the new roof part of the renovation. it worked terrifically for that purpose, and the roof - a gorgeous blue sheet metal with a pitch that a chinese pagoda would envy - had been through its second winter by then. i couldn't see that the scaffold continued to serve any useful purpose, and the horizontal footpath planks were right at eye level from inside the building. as well as being in the direct line of vision, whenever it rained, muddy water splattered all over the windows. i wasn't sure why it even existed anymore, but any effort to discuss the subject with the architect and engineer responsible for the structure - my (now ex-) husband - resulted in long periods of darkly silent glowering and pouting. even the kids knew better than to behave that way, for crying out loud.

turns out i was wrong about the scaffolds not serving any useful purpose. romeo discovered they were perfect for pacing on. perhaps he was relieving sexual tension, what with no missus, and all that nest building. he spent every waking moment that he wasn't building nests walking the plank. back and forth in front of the windows. he must have had drumsticks of steel. his favorite spot seemed to be the kitchen window - glaring at me as i did all the kitchen things one does with 2 teenage boys who can't eat processed food. i spent a lot of time in that kitchen. when he couldn't stand it any more, he'd fly screaming at the window in a fury, with murder in his eyes. so now the windows were splattered with mud & robin guck and covered with robin footprints and feather smudges. bleargh!

this went on for much of the summer. he didn't bother us in the yard, but he seemed to consider the house his turf, and anyone inside it fair game. more than one visitor who dared approach a window from inside was frightened off by his sudden and very angry appearance. several made reference to alfred hitchcock's 'the birds'.

i'm not a 'birder', but i like birds. i like the way they fill my yard with song, and i keep my bedroom window open all summer because i like to wake up to the sounds of their conversations, even if i don't understand the language. i like to keep a bird feeder and feel very proud when i can identify one or two of my dinner guests. i don't want them to be hungry in the winter. at first i thought he was charming. then, amusing. then, though he was becoming annoying, i empathized with his frustrated nesting instinct. by the time july was ripening tomatoes, i'd about had it with him, and i was calling him ugly names and wishing he'd go away. my front step was always full of trash from his bloody nests, and i didn't dare go near any of my blinkin' filthy windows when i was inside my own damned house. i'm ashamed to say, i even told him i could see why he was still single, and i thought he deserved to die a virgin. the sooner the better.

but miracles do happen. one day, he was gone. the wind blew the last of his nests away. i washed all of my windows. my friends made tentative forays over for tea. a new robin's nest appeared on that carriage light i mentioned earlier, between two electric doors on the garage across the street. he'd found his lady love after all, but, though he'd given her a dozen cozy nests to choose from, she hadn't liked the neighborhood, and he had to help her build a new one, from scratch. baby robins grow at a phenomenal rate, and we caught glimpses of them feeding and learning to fly, before the family packed up for the trip south.

i guess my Mr. didn't like the neighborhood either. he left the following winter. one of the first things i did the spring after he left was tear down the cursed scaffold. i wasn't chancing the arrival of any more wonky robins.

Monday, July 25, 2011

May in Vancouver

After the Habitat for Humanity AGM in Vancouver last May, I stayed an extra week to enjoy the city and visit friends. This lovely lady is someone who first came to me a couple of decades ago as a very small girl, for violin lessons . She's now living in Vancouver, articling to be an architect. She showed me her town. We walked a lot. Van is a lovely city for walking..... through parks filled with forget-me-nots and the last of the spring bulbs,

down to Granville island where buskers have to audition for the privilege of performing, and in designated locations during specific time slots. Kind of an oxymoron... regulated busking.... The mermaid statue got in before they made all of those rules, so she didn't have to audition. i suspect she wouldn't pass the dress code requirements.

We walked along the harbor, where children danced to the sounds of flamenco guitar, and fed the pigeons.

And to Gastown, where the steam clock fills the streets with the breathy voice of a giant pan flute.

A fountain in old Gastown. Fish are a popular theme. These are copper, transformed to an organic looking verdigris by the weather.

A walk along the shoreline as the sun goes down.

And a lucky find! It's poetry slam night at a local cafe'.

Up 'way past my bed time.

Then a few days with another friend at her lovely cottage on the Sunshine Coast, where I lost count of the hummingbirds swarming the feeders on the porch... at 26!!!

It was a gorgeous week

Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't make friends with dinner.

after graduating from high school, youngest son, Luke chose gainful employment over further education. he was tired of school and wanted a way to finance his love of all things electronic. a regular paycheck was the only honest means of accomplishing this, so he worked for a big box electronics store. seemed like the dream job, working with all his favorite toys, AND getting an employee discount. after locking horns with the real world for several years, he was disappointed to learn that his opportunities didn't match up with his ambitions, (or his expensive tastes) so he has conceded that post-secondary education might be worth his while after all, and has enrolled in university, to begin this fall. meanwhile, his dad had a trip to Africa planned with a colleague from work, and asked the lad to join them. it was all paid for by the pater, and there were no longer any worries about job security, so how could he refuse?

he was a tad worried about traveling with his dad, who is the mastermind behind many many holidays from hell, but his sister and i assured him that even his dad couldn't spoil africa. mama and big sis were so right. and so ensued a photo safari where the boy snapped this, and many more shots of his all-time favorite animal, the cheetah......

as well as lions, zebras, giraffes (oh my!), and numerous hordes of bouncy or galloping ruminants. he loved it most that he was taking pictures, and no one was killing anything. then they helped install water tanks and rain collection gutters in a school in Nairobi.

note the ladder. when he asked "where do i find a ladder?", he was told, "you build one." as there was no hardware store to run to, he did just that, from wood he had to harvest himself. he also made the hole for the spigot in the 500 gallon vinyl water tank with a screwdriver, as there was no drill or cutting implement to be found.

the gentlemen below are responsible for security at the school. hall monitors of a sort. there's a certain faction who consider educating and feeding children to be a threat to the local economy - or at least to their lucrative business selling hootch and drugs. if you look closely, you'll see the business end of one fellow's rifle resting between his feet. their job is less to keep the children in class, than to ensure that outside interference stays outside.

as Luke finished work on the eaves troughs one day, a newfound friend offered an invitation to join his family for a meal, which invitation they were pleased to accept. their time in Nairobi had already taught them that they were sometimes awkwardly ill-informed regarding local social conventions, so they asked another friend if there were some protocols they should be aware of, regarding a dinner invitation. the conversation went something like this:

"Well, it would be polite to bring a chicken."

"Where can we buy a chicken? There is no store here."

"I think I may know someone who might sell you a chicken."

so off they went to the home of this lady.....

Luke waited in the car while, after a pleasant conversation with their friend, the lady agreed on a price for a chicken, of which there were none in sight.

she received her payment, reached inside her house for a tin of something, and scattered a handful of it round her feet. a flock of chickens immediately and magically materialized out of empty air, pecking cheerfully at her feet. just as cheerfully, she reached down and snatched one of them up by its feet, which she bound together with a piece of string found in her pocket. by now the chicken was less cheerful.
it made a terrible racket as her customer opened the back door of the car so she could toss the desperately flapping chicken on the floor at Luke's feet.

i'll let him tell the rest of the story in his own words. "i felt so sorry for the chicken, Mum. i just wanted to pick it up and cuddle it and tell it everything would be o.k..... except that would have been a lie.
.... and i didn't want to make friends with dinner."

shortly thereafter, lad and dad continued on to climb Mt. Kenya, which i believe he said is the 2nd highest peak on that continent - where only 25 non-nationals make the summit each year. he was determined to be one of this year's 25. today i received a note from him via facebook, posted from his cell phone, "3rd person this year to summit point Batain via north face of mount Kenya. Also the 3rd canadian to do it in 6 years. no big deal... :p"

credits for all photos but the chicken (which i stole from a web archive somewhere) go to our intrepid adventurer, Luke.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Badgering a Kiltie

in a recent post Susan mentioned the Halifax Military Tattoo. though i've never been to one of these events, i was once married to a Scottish-born fellow who went to great trouble to immerse me in the traditions of his homeland. part of this immersion was a requirement to participate in numerous Scottish Country Dance workshops and other related events. one such event was a Scottish fiddling class taught by a fellow whose love of storytelling was second only to his passion for the music of his homeland. some of the tunes i learned from Calum are still among my favorite performance pieces. the story i'm going to share with you is one of his, told over pints of beer at the local pub one evening after class.

but firstly, some cultural background. as the photo shows, what is worn under the kilt (or more accurately, not worn)is considered the test of a true Scotsman. the gents in the photo are, indeed, true Scotsmen. here they are seen marching in a parade somewhere or other. a military tattoo is much like a parade, but it's all done on a parade ground instead of down the streets of town. the groups involved are in full military dress. they're immaculately groomed, attired in perfectly matched uniforms. they perform complicated choreographed maneuvers on the parade ground, marching in time to the music they play, to the admiration of crowds or visiting dignitaries. today's story, boys 'n girls, is about one such true Scotsman - a piper, participating in the Edinburgh Tattoo.

to the unwashed masses, a uniform is a uniform is a uniform. those encased in the things, however, know there are specific, and distinct differences, which serve as identifiers to the indoctrinated eye. there's a lot if available information in a uniform, if you speak the language. from small details one learns the rank of the wearer, where the regiment is from, how important the event they're attending is, etc. etc. i don't pretend to be uniformally literate, but i do have a glimmering of understanding of how much i don't understand.

the uniforms of Scottish regiments are unique even to the untrained eye. the most noticeable difference is the kilt. Scottish men are, we're led to believe, so very certain of their masculinity, that they can wear a skirt into battle. they'll also knock the head off of anyone gauche enough to call it a skirt. another take is that they're so insecure about their manhood that they need to be able to lift their skirts to prove it on a second's notice. the jury is still out on that, and i'll confess to a certain amount of cynicism which i cheerfully blame on the former spouse. The fellows below are at the Edinburgh Tattoo, one of the most famous and extravagant of its kind, performed on the parade grounds of Edinburgh castle each year.

on the front of the kilt, you'll usually find a sporran. this is the original man-purse. (calling it a purse is also grounds for having your head knocked off) the kilt has no pockets, after all, and a fella has to put his pocket knife and coin for beer somewhere. this can be a simple, flat leather bag on a string run round the waist, but it isn't usually. there seems to be some sort of competition to see who can come up with the most elaborate or outrageous sporran. you'll find everything from tastefully tooled leather to grotesque carven ram's heads in 3D. most common are bits of fur and tassels. yes, the Scots assure us, real men can, and certainly do wear tassels. they also wear a wee bit of lace at their wrists, to formal balls, which, i'm here to tell you, looks absolutely smashing. in addition to serving as a container for needful items, the sporran helps hold the front of the kilt down in a breeze, and while dancing. the back, it seems, is fair game for gusts and curious onlookers.

a certain middle aged lady of North American extraction was attending this particular edition of the Edinburgh Tattoo. she was clearly enamored of all things Scottish, and was having the time of her life, snapping photos and chatting with the locals, who described her speech as having a very nasal and high pitched 'twang'. after the grand finale, with fireworks and deafening cheers, the contents of the parade ground swarmed into pubs in the neighborhood of Edinburgh Castle. participants and onlookers mingled, celebrating the great event.

the hapless hero of our story was a strapping handsome young man - a piper in a regiment whose sporran was made from the head of an equally handsome badger. it may have looked something like this. he stood at the bar, with his foot up on the foot rail that is often found in such places. he was a fine specimen of Scottish manhood, striking a most appealing pose in 3/4 view of our lady tourist, as he chatted with a friend. she appeared to be fascinated with him, and most especially with his sporran. as the evening progressed, and she enthusiastically sampled the local brew, she couldn't take her eyes off of him. it took her some time, and many brews, to screw up her courage, but she did it. tottering unsteadily up to the object of her attentions, she laid her hand on his arm. he turned toward her and smiled politely. taking a great breath, in order to speak loudly enough to be heard over the ear-numbing noise of music and conversation, she shrieked, "oh, i just love your scrotum!" she had an excellent set of lungs, so was heard by everyone in the room, which now echoed with silence. all eyes turned to question what the ears couldn't believe they had heard. the poor fellow's ruddy face paled, his foot dropped convulsively from the rail to the floor. in total silence, and to the glee of the hundreds of eyes following him, he bolted from the room.

whether she intended to say what she said remains a mystery. no one else had seen anything but his sporran, and the lady was in such a state of confusion afterward that she required assistance to find her lodgings.

Friday, June 10, 2011

There are Yurts in Heaven

The yurt, a 'modern' adaptation of the Mongolian ger, is a fabric skinned structure, round in shape, with a conical roof. its skeleton is comprised of overlapping slats of strong wood constructed and operated much like a folding baby gate.

The walls and ceiling are often double thickness, with a heavy layer of insulation between, and they are available with fully operable glass windows and framed doors.

I dream of one day living in a yurt.

Monday, May 16, 2011

on the cusp of summer

on the cusp of summer the Burnaby sky is filled with colour

and with crows! hard to see in such a small image, but the sky and trees are full of them. i'm told that, decades ago, this was a marsh - crow territory, and, generations later, they have not relinquished it.

we're springing!

gentle sighs of green
bravely exhale
and spread themselves
over the discarded remains of last summer.

crushed brown swaths of departed grasses
part reluctantly,
reveal that banshee winter
hasn't altered the circle of life.

for months stark, naked and shivering
against pewter arctic skies,
begin to soften their silhouettes.
a mist of infant green forms an aura around them.

even the sky
warms from dull to deepest blue.

only weeks ago rigid and grey with ice,
small energetic wedges of green persistence
thrust through its crust.

we blink,
shake off the gritty residue
of winter's demise.
a miracle has surrounded us.
last month's frozen grip is broken
by the softest of golden touches.
how subtle is a sunbeam,
yet what can resist it?

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it

For at the time appointed the end shall be. (Daniel 8:19)

May 21, 2011 - Are You Ready?

i heard this on the truck radio today, on the way to get my summer tires put back on, so i looked it up online. it comes along with some weird formatting i don't know how to get rid of.

seems these guys never get tired of being wrong. i suppose if they keep it up long enough, they'll eventually get it right. in the same way that a stopped clock is right twice a day. ..................................................................
if i were Seraphina i'd have a cool 'toon and a great quote for you, but i'm not Sera.
if i were Linda or Susan there'd be a photo of something beautiful i'd made or photographed, but i'm not Su or Linda
if i were Lindsay Lobe, i'd enlighten you with the historical and cultural background of this phenomenon, but i'm not Lindsay
if i were Madcap, i'd have some thing witty and original and insightful to say about it all, but i'm not Madcap
if i were Cicero or Claire i'd help you keep both feet firmly planted on our gorgeous planet's skin with a stunning photo and/or a recipe, but i'm not Cicero or Claire.
if i were Jozien, i'd have a breathtaking wilderness photo or a poem for you, but i'm not Jozien
if i were Gary or Zee i'd give you a global perspective on the subject, but i'm not either of them
if i were Utah Savage, i'd have something really brilliant and insightful to say about it all, but i'm not her either.

in the process of understanding all that i am not, and accepting that, i learn all that i am.

and i am not convinced the world will end in 15 days
at least, my world won't