Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

It is the time of the Perseid Meteor Shower and my wife were out last night observing. The first session was from about 11 p.m. to midnight looking to the north. We settled into chairs, let a bit of night vision settle in and waited for things to unfold.

I had actually been down to the river shore a bit earlier and watched a bit from my kayak landing spot. Sagittarius was nicely positioned and almost reflecting in the water and I was rewarded by a very bright meteor that left a very distinct trail. The water was like a sheet of glass on a slab of ebony. The sky was like a blanket of black silk on which has been scattered diamonds, sapphires, and rubies. The temperature was dropping so I could see the water vapour condensate from my breath in front of me. I felt like I was an observer at the centre of the universe. Then I figured out that that is exactly what I was.

Anyway, back to the observing chairs. We saw likely five meteors collectively ; one was bright. My wife saw a couple more bright ones while I was staring off in the wrong direction. Nice night and then we were off to bed.

The alarm went off a 3;15 a.m. and I wandered over to the window, secretly sort of hoping for cloud. No such luck so we went outside. The night had chilled and the stars of winter were out. The Pleiades were smudging the sky in the glory that only they can reveal:

Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro' the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.

(Tennyson - Lockley Hall)

Lord Alfred also noticed Orion, or as he said :Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest, did I look on Great Orion sloping slowly to the West.

In our case he was rising from his slumber (Orion, not Tennyson) and more sloping to the east but I the non poet quibble. Tennyson must have been talking about late winter.

But I digress - again the sky was making us so humble, and this time she rewarded us with 20 meteors.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Hamburger - Is that the quintessential food of Canada? Please don't say that the quintessential food is Smoked Winnipeg Goldeye served with Organic Ontario Dill, a side of bannock and sweet butter from the Black Canadian Cow. I am not Ian Brown searching. (I well may be envious of Ian Brown but I am not he)

The Hamburger , as I understand it, is viewed with scorn by Europe and as an excess by Asia and Africa. The Australians and South Americans would view the bun as too much of a detraction to the meat. The only Continent left is Antarctica and I doubt that they care.

So that just leaves North America - three counties - Mexico, the United States of America and Canada. I would be slapped silly by any Mexican if I used Hamburger and Mexico in the same sentence. The United States is collectively too big an eater to be nailed to one food. I am sure the masters of the great barbecues of the South, the vegans of California, and many others would be chasing me down if I tried to label the hamburger as the food of the USA.

But in Canada ...... My wife and I spent a glorious ten days in Newfoundland last year. We were always asking the locals for a good place to eat, implying , but not directly asking, where to eat fish. So many times the answer was that so and so makes "a mighty fine burger". In Ottawa one of the most popular local chains makes burgers so hummungus and so cheese laden that they don't dare print the nutritional information. I challenge anyone to so to a small town restaurant , or a big town restaurant, and not find a hamburger on the menu.

And who does not like the hamburger? In the three in the morning darkness of my mind I crave the fat, the sodium, the nitrates, the protein, the meat of the hamburger. Garnishes - Pickles and ketchup and relish and a slice of Kraft Processed Cheese Food. Sorry Family Doctor, Sorry Cardiologist, Sorry Cardiac Surgeon, Sorry Nutritionist, Sorry Mentor.

But I have resisted the siren call of the burger until the Moment. The Moment had to be there. So today a neighbor's 60th birthday barbecue, friends and neighbors all collected in the garage as it was pouring rain, Stan and John barbecuing outside under umbrellas, and the smell of charring meat on the barbecue. It was the Moment . I had the quintessential food of Canada and never have I felt more patriotic.

Two things for the record:

  1. The next moment is going to be planned to be at some far point in the future.
  2. Winnipeg Goldeye hardly ever comes from Lake Winnipeg and the nice red colour is dye.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ian Brown has been writing in the Globe and Mail about eating in Canada is a series sensibly called "Ian Brown Eats Canada". Not a bad gig, he is driving across the country and stopping in at restaurants, farms, and private homes to get a feel for food in Canada. Brown is a terrific writer; he could write about going into the local convenience store for a litre of milk and the tale would be compelling. If his task is to capture food in Canada in a series of selective snap shots he is doing just that; I hope that the stories stay around as they would be compelling reading for someone 50 years hence.

I found today's story "Tell me, were you really Miss Grey Cup?" ( ) strangely unsettling. The story is cute enough. Brown encounters an old grade school chum and is invited the chum's place for dinner. The "Miss Grey Cup" reference is to the chum's mother who Ian had a bit of a thing for 50 years ago. She is alive and very well at 80 and is part of the dinner party. A good story.

What unsettles me is the meal itself. The menu is seven courses "featuring only the best Alberta local ingredients". I won't repeat the whole menu , the reader can check the link (which of course has a limited life) but as one example : bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes from Broxburn Farm near Lethbridge and basil from Calgary's Basil Ranch, all on oiled-and-grilled ciabatta from Lina's Italian Market in Calgary. All seven courses were that special. There was an entire buffalo tenderloin that is supposedly very tough to get. The pasta was made by a lawyer who once spent a month in Italy just learning how to make noodles.

The communal cooks were all wealthy and took a great deal of pride in this meal: Local, Organic, Fresh, Homemade, Meticulously Cooked. Is this what Food Porn is? Maybe I am just being petty and jealous here, I lack the resources or the skill to make a meal such as this. But this clearly is a meal for the wealthy elite.

There is a quote from Tom Standage's "An Edible History of Humanity" from Voltaire "After the year 1500 there was no pepper to be had at Calicut that was not dyed red with blood" Calicut (now Kozhikode for those who care) is / was on the south west Malabar Coast on India. Voltaire was talking about the millions of lives that had been lost, disrupted, and ruined since Roman times in the quest for for unnecessary foods; that is to say spices. One could say the the Western Domination and Colonization of the East would not have happened had it not been for our love of pepper.

So if Pepper was the Original Food Porn, is not our obsession with that impossible to get bison tenderloin the same thing? The people in Ian Brown's story sound like remarkable, intelligent, caring, human beings. And let me state the obvious - I wish I had been there , although I am sure if the likes of me had shown up within camera range of the house I would be in a Calgary Police Cruiser.

But why can't I shake the feeling that this obsession for local and organic is just as evil as setting sail to trade for spices in the Indonesian Archipelago?

Friday, August 6, 2010

I don't really want to know what my heart looks like. I know that five arterial grafts were somehow put on it; some from my left arm and some from my mammary glands. I have a feeling it would be like looking at the cloverleaf of an expressway; you would look at it and wonder how anyone could possibly travel on it, yet millions do - it is better just to experience it than try to figure it out.

So here is what five arterial grafts feel like:

They feel like the Wind and the Sun. Today I paddled with the wind about three or four kilometres down the river to a bridge and then turned into the wind to come home. The sun was in my face, warming it and caressing it like a mother's love. The wind would keep things from getting too hot for comfort, the wind reminded me that change is always there, coming at you to refresh and challenge

They feel like Work and Effort. It is such a pleasure to be able to simply put energy forward, one stroke after the other, one stroke at a time. You may feel like you are making slow progress for the wind is strong yet you know when you make the paddle cut through the water that you will be able to do it again and then again and then again. You have the gift of not just standing still but the gift of progress and advancement.

They feel like Beauty. The river is change and the river is the moment. The river is different at dawn than at dusk. At noon it is one place and at midnight another. The frozen white of a Saturday afternoon in February is so different from the ebony lunar surface just before a summer's storm. The beauty is never ending and today I saw and felt and rode the wonder that existed only today in my moment and will never exist again.

They feel like the Past. How many have paddled this river? How many Algonquin? How many voyageurs? How many log drivers have run the waters and how many perished in the old rapids? Every time out there, I paddle with them. When the tiny callous on my hand reminds me it is there, I think of the working men that toiled on the water.

They feel like the Spirit. There is an energy or a power or a strength or a something out there that is greater than me and maybe even greater than you. The mystics , the saints, the oracles, the witches, the apostles, the monks, the shamans, the holy women, the addicts, all seek the Spirit and so do I. But I am either blessed, or have the delusion of, the connection almost every day.

They feel like the Ordinary Day. Waking up in a warm bed . Having the waking process hastened by hungry cats. The luxury of a breakfast meeting. The sweetness of a canceled conference call. Fish for dinner. An evening walk and run with the beagle

They feel like Love. My wife. Cousins near and far. My Tuesday Night Friends. My Thursday Night Friends. Friends of past, present, and future. Jack the Tweaker of Curries and Souls.

I have no idea what a quintuple bypass looks like, but at least I have the blessing of feeling it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I would hardly call myself an expert or even a modestly expert or serious kayaker. I do take the safety part seriously, and also like to think that I take the fitness part seriously. By that I mean, once I start moving I don't like to stop, to smell, or more realistically contemplate the water lilies. I figure that my mentor from the UOHI would want me to move somewhat aggressively (after the appropriate warm up) and keep that heart rate up, up, up for those 45 minutes or more.

My wife takes a more Henry David Thoreau approach to things, as least as far as the paddling goes. She wants to contemplate the water lilies and the exposed tree roots and the giant polyp water plants that we saw yesterday. She in fact headed out before me today as I had to attend to the beagle, but as I finally got into the river, I saw her lazily drifting along the shore on the other side of the river. I got in the water and as rapidly as I could, raced out to meet her, slowing down only when I thought that I fell within her gaze.

But then we slowed down. There are indeed water lilies out there that sit on the water like regal princes and princesses surrounded by their green leafed minions. There are water striders out there as well, and as we approached our little water falls, there must have been hundreds in the water, jetting at breakneck speeds (relative to their size of course) They looked to me like a squadron of the hated and despised "Sea Doo" crowd viewed from above. At least they were mercifully silent.

The wonder of the morning was a deer and her fawn staring at us from the banks. They had obviously come down to the water for a drink and were fascinated by the two idiots that were floating out in their river. The little fawn kept staring at me and as I glanced backwards, as I slowly moved away, the look of triumph on her face (Mom, Mom, I sacred them away!!) was evident to even a non wildlife biologist like myself. I am proud of myself that I was able to quietly drift by a small turtle, sunning himself on a log, without making him retreat into the water. I always feel bad when I do that. Just imagine being cold blooded, sitting in the sun and warming up to almost the perfect temperature, and suddenly your security concerns make you jump into the water; it must be like having the hot water cut out half way into your shower.

I also saw what looked like a black duck that a) Swam like a duck in the water, b) did a very conspicuous running across the water take off for flight, and c) perched on a branch for a while. It at first thought to me was the dreaded cormorant but somehow seemed too compressed to be one of those. Maybe a scoter? But those are unusual guests here and I am not sure if they perch.

But pondering the question is quite pleasant. The slow morning in which Mother Nature offered such an exquisite buffet of wonder makes me think of electronic gadgets as the dichotomy. Our desk top computer is starting to hum increasingly loudly which makes us think it is not long for this world. "Fixing the Computer" is not done, so we likely will need something new, but what? A laptop? A netbook? The iPad? I had dismissed even consideration of this less than 24 hours ago , but was reminded by the old (old - 36 months old!) machine's possible death song this morning. My wife has a laptop, I have a work computer, what is this fear of being without that electronic connection? Why do I go crazy if I cannot check the Globe and Mail on line when I want to? Why do I feel so vulnerable when I leave the house without my BlackBerry? Maybe it is because I worry that I would be not able dial 911 should the need arise. Sure

What I really need is less Internet time and more time trying to figure out what that black bird really was. Thoreau, writing in Walden Pond has a great line: " I have always been regretting that I was not as wise the day that I was born" . Great line, and what he says about that ever diminishing wisdom certainly rings true for me. But getting stupider all the time accelerates the search for the return to wisdom and I do think is the search is what matters. You can search with Google and you can search with the paddle ; I am grateful that I am at least wise enough to which one is better.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It feels a little strange to now be the occasional blogger. I feel slothful for not recording the blessings of the day. Today I was out in the river by 6:30 in the morning. The air was a cool 13 degrees Celsius and that, with the help of the warm river water created a mist that looked like dry ice on a stage. By the first of August, the sun is increasingly low in the sky at 6:30 a.m. so the river mist is slow in burning away. I was in the river, the view of the banks shrouded in a white veil, the only sounds my paddle, a loon crying overhead, and the wing sounds of a startled loon. No doubt my avian pals thought of me the way that I think of the Sea Doo but I enjoyed my moment.

I was out for only about half an hour and then back home for coffee and blueberries and yogurt. The blueberries were picked near Pembroke Friday by my wife and you could taste the summer in the berries.

Then it was off to my wife's church were she was singing. Today's readings were about vanity and greed and obsession with things. I am still thinking of getting either a Kindle (new and reduced in price!) a Netbook (reduced in price) or an iPad (new!) I applied a few tests? Do I need any one of these gizmos? No. Will they enable me to do something that I cannot do now? Not really. Will they be obsolete in three years? That would be the optimist's answer. Do I have better things to do with my cash , like pay of mortgages, give to charity, buy something really useful? Yes, yes, yes. Am I just looking to feed my ego? Probably.

A little side bar - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest are the current Must Reads of the Western English World. None of the three are available in Canada via Apple or Kindle. ( I learned this in an exploration phase of just maybe justifying the iPad or Kindle.)

After church we went for lunch - we shared an omelette and one heck of something called a Village Salad. Lots of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, a bit too much feta for my cardiologist's liking, but a heavy on vinegar and light on oil dressing to counter balance. Then home for a nap and and then another paddle.

This paddle was with my wife. We explored some of the quiet lagoons of the Madawaska and she took lots of pictures of the water plants and the exposed tree roots that are on many of the banks. We both thought that the setting would be perfect for one of those movies where ordinary things become terrifying when the sun sets. (So much for my evening paddles for a while - maybe my courage will come back next full moon)

Yesterday we drove to Bancroft and stopped by some cottages that we rent just before Thanksgiving. The owner, his daughter, and I compared surgery scars - she won!

I am rambling but so grateful and happy.