Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Dogsology

Sunday morning: a traditional time of worship for many. When we visit with Cuppa's sister, we celebrate the day by singing The Dogsology to/with Zeus.

Seriously, the dog's name is Zeus, and he will always join in with anyone who is singing. He lifts his head and seems to try his best to howl in tune. It's always delightful — something that I really look forward to. It seems especially appropriate to sing The Dogsology to/with a dog named after the Greek god, Zeus, especially when you consider that dog is a palindrome of god.

We've had our pack howl (or song of praise) this morning, and are just about to head home with a side trip to see daughter #2.

A photo of Zeus staring out of the window,
taken last weekend at Riverwood


Saturday, January 29, 2005


Yesterday, we left our country paradise and drove to the big city to visit family. It's almost spooky that humans are so adaptable. As we lunched at a trendy restaurant and then visited a large bookstore in one of those Big Box Malls that are simultaneously dreadful and wonderful, I felt extremely comfortable despite the incredibly different environment. There were more stores in that tiny area than within a hundred miles of Riverwood, yet, I adapted instantaneously.

Despite the fact that it may not have been the milieu where we would have most preferred to have been at that time, and despite the fact that we had been somewhat saddened to leave The Cottage, there were certain compensations: a restaurant in which we were pleasantly served; a bookstore where we could browse for days if we so chose; and, even a car wash that removed a least a layer or two of grime form Harriet the Chariot — there is simply no way to wash a car in the freezing countryside.

Sometimes I ponder the possibility of relocating to the country, and I deduce that I could surely cope and even enjoy dwelling in such a rural environment. But more and more I am coming to the conclusion that living in a settlement of some size and keeping our Riverwood Retreat as just that — a retreat — has much merit. Perhaps day-to-day and season-to-season familiarity would diminish the daily joy that we presently experience when we are able to be there. Perhaps it's best to keep it special and joyfully absorb its uniqueness without dilution in the relatively short intervals that we are there.

We'll see what the future holds, but I am convinced of this: that happiness comes from within, and I am to port it with me wherever I am and wherever I go.

Meanwhile, may I present you with yet another recent chickadee photo?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Last Hours

Sometimes emotions catch me unaware. Usually I am very happy to arrive at (ahem) The Cottage, and usually I am more than content to depart. In point of fact, up until a day or two ago, I was rather looking forward to packing up and heading for home. Generally, I seem to be that way; once I know that something is imminent, then I'd just as soon that it should occur so that I can get on with whatever is to come next. Lest one mistakes my meaning, I speak of anticipating such events as trips, dinners, or others outings and not events such as appointments for root canals, colonoscopies, or frontal lobotomies. Things of that ilk, I am more than happy to put off indefinitely.

This day of lasts added fuel to the slight bit of melancholy that I had been beginning to feel. The last, glorious walk through Poyson Fen, past Treebeard (see him here), and onto the frozen river. The last glimpse of a Riverwood sunrise and then a Riverwood sunset. Most of all: the last feeding of the chickadees.

Once again, they swooped onto the peanut butter jar while I was still far from The Feeding Tree. No camera: I just watched them, chatted them up, and revelled in their company. When I got to the tree, I only placed one dollop at first. I stood there, my face not more than a hand-length away, and I chattered to them some more. These guys, I will miss!

One reader has jokingly likened me to St Francis: bald head included. There is more than a bit of truth to that. Somehow, the presence of animals touches me, especially birds such as these who are not bound to me but choose to trust me. They look right into my eyes, just as I look into theirs. I choose to believe that we both see kindness, acceptance, and even trust.

I will miss these tiny feather-fluffs. So much life in such tiny bodies. Yes, I'm feeling a bit of emotion — of leaving them and of leaving the beauty of Riverwood.

I took this picture this morning before our final snowshoe walk. My goal was to try to 'freeze' them in flight. Even at a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second, the birds were nothing but a feathery blur in some attempts. No great picture this, but with several birds on the roof and one in flight, I thought it good enough to share.

We're heading to Toronto to visit Cuppa's sister this weekend and then back home early next week. I can't imagine that I will have time to write, but, like last weekend, I have set a few photos aside in draft mode.

I'm doubtful that I will continue to post as frequently as I have recently. In truth, I am not totally thrilled with my recent posts: too banal, more of a chronicling of events rather than the perceptive musings which I prefer. Perhaps I need to back off and post less frequently.

Thanks for reading regardless. I'll talk to you again next week, but, in the meantime, stay tuned for a photo or two over the next few days.


Barry, Berry, Bury

How do you say these three words: Barry, berry, bury? Depends on where you're from, apparently.

When daughter #1 was younger, we couldn't really get her to hear and repeat what to us was the very clear difference between Barry and berry. When she tried to repeat what she was hearing from us, she emphasized the "ah" sound in Barry to such an extent that it became comedic.

This mirrors the difficulty that Americans have with the way that Canadians pronounce house and about. They hear and repeat it as hoose and aboot, which of course isn't how we say it at all. And I'll swear that I hear Americans saying that they're going to church to worship Gad.

According to a little reading that I am doing about Canadian English, this is normal. Apparently, most older Canadians such as myself, tend to pronounce berry and bury as homophones, but we pronounce Barry differently. Younger Canadians tend to pronounce all three the same way — the way most English-speakers pronounce berry.

It all depends on your age and location. If you're a Brit, you probably have a distinct pronunciation for each of the three words. Many, but not all, Americans do the same.

That's quite a difference really: from younger Canucks using a single pronunciation to most Brits and Yanks using three.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Where Are We ...

... and What Is It?

Now that we are almost ready to depart, I finally find ... or make ( take your pick) the time to describe Riverwood's location just a little more fully and to throw open the question: "What is this place?"

Our location is easy enough to describe: on the southern lip of the Ontario portion of the Canadian Shield, several hours drive from the country's largest city to the southwest and about the same distance from Canada's capital to the east. We are not terribly far north: well below the 49th parallel that forms much of the Canada/USA border. Although this might surprising many, we are south of both Seattle, Washington and London, England.

I suppose that from my recent spate of snow-dominated photos, that one might be excused for thinking that we must be much further north than that. It is even difficult for me to conceive that in our home town, only about a five hour drive away, today's temperature is -2C while it is -19C here. Basically, at home, we're positioned to be moderated by the proximity of the Great Lakes, but, here, we're away from their moderating effects.

Click air photo for larger view

The aerial photo shows our site in some detail. The green line represents the boundary of the 125 acre (approx) property. The house and yard are contained within the red circle. There are three paths, two of which — the orange and the yellow — are trails or paths that have been cleared. The orange logging road has long been cleared, but the yellow Riverside Ramble was hacked out of the woods just this past summer. The blue line is a marked but decidedly uncleared trail that we follow on occasion: when we are feeling both energetic and adventurous. It ends at a little cemetery on the edge of the property.

Can you tell from the photo that the bulk of Riverwood is forested? "Why does he ask such an obvious question," you might ask.

Well, the family is divided on what to call the place. You see there is another family property not far away: on a much smaller piece of property on which stands what has lately become a somewhat rundown shack. That bit of land has been in the family for more than thirty years and has always been called The Cottage.

When this piece of property was purchased about eight years ago, the family began to refer to it as The Farm in order to distinguish between the two properties. We also call it Riverwood, of course.

I have no problem with designating this as the farm when we are referring to it within the family circle because we all understand exactly what we mean by the term. However, some family members insist on also referring to it the farm when speaking to people who have no prior knowledge of the place. They speak of the glories of the farm and how wonderful it is to spend a month here.

Frankly, they receive rather blanks stares for their troubles because, if you say farm to almost anybody on the planet, that person conjures images of cleared land, fields of crops, cattle grazing, and barnyard animals milling about. I see actually can these people trying to come to grips with the notion of anyone being so exuberant about passing their lengthy holidays in such place. To the average person who is not privy to the eccentricities of the family lexicon, it doesn't compute.

That's why, when speaking to the uninitiated, I always make an effort to remember to refer to it as a cottage (which in other parts of Canada and the USA I would be call a cabin or a camp). People seem to comprehend that: place in the country, water, trees, maybe hills, perhaps rock outcrops, rural area, sparsely populated. And that really describes this place.

Well, there you have it: a little bit more information about this place that we are to depart shortly, and a little bit about our difficulties in coming to grips with how to describe it to others.


Revisiting the Scene

We begin the process of bringing our rather extended vacation to an end. This morning, we gathered our trash and recyclables to deposit at the local dump. In just this past year, the township has begun to collect these items, just as they do in larger communities, but non-residents (i.e. cottagers) have yet to be granted such a boon.

What I wanted to do, on the way there, was to stop by the scene of Harriet's Slalom, show it to Cuppa and take some snapshots. However, the roads were very slippery and the going was very tenuous this morning, so we decided to pass up a trip down a relatively unused, winding, and sloping sideroad. With Cuppa to constantly remind me, I stuck to the main roads, drove extremely cautiously and arrived at the dump without mishap.

We proceeded to the local village to pick up our formerly flat tire, only to find Mr Tirefixer out assisting somebody else in distress. The nerve! With not much else to do for an hour, we repaired to the local, seven-table restaurant. We had five tables from which to choose and, even though it was lunchtime, ordered breakfast food, which was rather tasty. We have visited this little restaurant several times in the past, and the food is always tasty, even though the menu is, quite understandably, limited.

By the time we had dined and had our tire installed, the roads were in somewhat better shape, so we did venture to Saturday's Scene. The top photo shows the slope that I slalomed down. The second photo is an attempt to show the spot where Harriet and I landed. Because they have already banked new snow, the previously large gouge seems muted, but perhaps you can begin to appreciate the situation from what you can see. For example: can you tell how hard-packed the sub-strata is and begin to deduce what a chore it was for this old geezer to make such a supreme and fruitless effort?


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Bird on the Head

Ever since we started this feeding of the birds business, I have been waiting for a warm day to try this stunt. Since we are to leave shortly, I decided that I could no longer wait.

The stunt: I was hoping to attract five birds at once by putting a dollop of peanut butter on my head and, via apple slices, to my shoulders and hands. It didn't work as hoped. At best, I was only able to entice three birds at one time; sadly, we weren't even quick enough to capture that brief moment.

Notice that my hands are also bare? I wanted to feel their feet, and it was a rather pleasant sensation, even if my fingers did run the danger of falling off in the numbing cold. One demented chickadee didn't even bother with the peanut butter; she simply hammered away on my fingers. I guess she was taking out her frustration: from being brave enough to land but not brave enough to go to the centre of my hand for the food.


Slaloming with Harriet

Alright! I'm ready to try to talk about my weekend. Although the material is good, I remain unsure about whether or not I possess the stamina to do the subject justice, but, at the very least, I can share the bare bones outline.

As you know, we had company on the weekend. Whenever we have company, we like to order a pie from the local convenience store/gas station at the hub of Glen Alda (pop. 11). On Saturday afternoon, I picked up the pie. No problem — easy as pie — so far!

Because the weather has been quite cold here lately, I decided to take Harriet (our chariot) on an slightly extended spin to thoroughly warm her before leaving her to sit through another long night, exposed to the frigid air.

In future years, should we plan to be here for a protracted period of time, I will have a block heater installed because Harriet surely moaned and groaned when trying to start up after a few of those bitter, long nights. Just a few hundred miles away, our home climate is milder enough that no one there seriously thinks of installing a block heater, but up here, anyone who leaves their car outdoors definitely should.

Regardless, when I said that I decided to take Harriet for a spin, I was not intending to be literal. Unfortunately, it shortly became literal. I took her along a less-frequented local road. The slope of the road was downward. The road, unbeknownst to me at the time, was icy. The road was winding. The road was a lot of things, none of which were particularly conducive to safety: particularly in my state of mind, which was quite carefree and unconcerned at the time. In short, I was travelling a might too speedily for the conditions.

The road bent downward to the right, but Harriet skidded on a course to the left, directly toward the snowbanked side. I remembered: "Turn in the direction of the skid." I did and promptly found myself careening right toward the opposite snowbank. Once more I turned the wheel in the direction of the skid; once again Harriet responded by swooping — now toward the left bank: the problem being that each swoop (or slalom) became wider and wilder than the previous.

I was in a quandary. Although my foot was already off the gas pedal, Harriet's speed seemed to be increasing exponentially (although I'm sure that was an illusion perpetrated by the wild, out-of-control careening). Harriet has ABS brakes, but I knew that they wouldn't deploy in time to keep me on the narrow road when I was perpetually pointed toward one looming embankment or another.

The fourth swoop did Harriet and me in. We did a complete one-eighty, and plunged deeply into what had previously been the right bank but was now the left. By this time, I was no longer trying to compensate by steering; I had surrendered to the fates. Although I never had cause to really fear for my own safety, I knew that Harriet and I would end up in a predicament, and we did.

Being a typical Canadian, I was totally unprepared: no shovel, no rope, no blanket! But I knew that I could walk home in less than a half hour. The significant cold didn't concern me because, at the very least, I had the wisdom to dress appropriately.

I began to try to free the wheels with the only instrument at my disposal — a windshield scraper. Useless! Soon, three snowmobilers passed by and stopped to help. They couldn't budge the car, but I begged a lift home, and they were glad to oblige.

It was my maiden voyage on a snowmobile. I hunkered behind the driver who, I must say, was doing his best to take it easy on the old , nervous gaffer scrunched up behind him. Therefore, he was quite concerned when I fell off. I dusted off both myself and the small shred of dignity that I was able to muster and proclaimed myself fit and ready to proceed. He offered one bit of advice: "Lean opposite the tilt." So, if we were banking left, I should lean left so that I wouldn't fall off the right ... as I had just done in such splendid form.

Permit me to do some snipping and to bring this to a conclusion.

My car was in an embankment, and I had fallen off a snowmobile, but I was still in one piece and not much the worse for wear. After obtaining a shovel and working doggedly for an hour, I was able to free the front wheels: a fruitless effort because, once dug out, the wheels were off the ground. Spinning them until doomsday wouldn't get me out. We eventually arranged to be towed out of the embankment, and Harriet and I got ourselves home under our own steam. Harriet is fine apart from a few broken pieces of plastic fender, which will, doubtlessly, cost sixty thousand dollars (give or take) to replace.

There's more to the story, including a flat tire (the next day), and the fixing of same (the day after that), but I'll let Cuppa tell all rest in her blog, which I recommend to you if you desire to read the rest of the story. For, I am done.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Most Depressing Day

I have no trouble believing that this day, January 24, is The Most Depressing Day of the Year. According to The Toronto Star and all sorts of other news sources, a British scientist, Cliff Arnall, has "discovered" this through various analyses and formulae. To quote The Star:

The calculation for this day of misery reads: [W +(D-d)] x TQ divided by M x NA.

W is the weather, D is debt minus the money (d) you earned in January. T is the time since Christmas and Q, the time since you lapsed back into your bad habits. Divide that by M — your low motivational level — and NA, the need to take action.

While I'm am sure that the whole thing is all rather tongue in cheek, good old CBC radio is always quick to follow a good story when one presents itself. This morning, they interviewed another scientist, who fundamentally agreed with Arnall. While he didn't necessarily concur that this specific day must be the most depressing of all, he did verify that Arnall was essentially correct and agreed that we are entering depression season. He seemed to be legitimizing a Winter Blues syndrome, which is similar to SAD but not as serious. It's apparently a matter of degree; one can still function relatively well if s/he is merely suffering from Winter Blues.

This story certainly resonated with me today. Although we thoroughly enjoyed our weekend company, certain unrelated events must have left me somewhat shell shocked, for I was barely functioning this morning — felt completely drained. Duties had to be faced regardless, and my tiredness morphed into The Black Cloud that settles on me periodically.

In truth, I am a misery to be around when this occurs. I know it, but I can't seem to help in — at least in the short run. Before too long, however, I realize that I must be proactive — must do something to begin to effect the much-needed mood change. Both reading and writing were completely out of the question in that mind set, but I knew that I must do something aggressive.

I didn't much feel like snowshoeing, but knew that there was little else that I could do with myself. To quote the article: "Exercise is very important ... Get out and about — put on your hat and gloves and go for a walk." So I did. Almost immediately, as always, The Black Cloud began to give way. One glimmer of sunlight pierced through; soon the cloud began to tear apart.

The walk, I followed up with two other mild physical activities: hauling a little firewood, and shovelling a little snow. Then, I chose to continue my proactive behaviour by cooking a dinner rather than scrounging for leftovers.

In truth, I am still right knackered, but I trust that one more good sleep will amend that. And, while I'm still not exactly ebullient, neither do I remain morose.

It must be an awful thing to suffer from clinical depression. I read blogs of several people who suffer from this affliction or from something much like it, and they sometimes drop by here. I cannot claim, even after today's episode, that understand what they must endure, but I believe that I can at least say that I understand that it must be very difficult indeed.

Of course, my day had nothing to do with Arnall's Most Depressing Day of the Year or even with Winter Blues. In my case it was simply a coincidence: the aftermath of weekend events. Perhaps I shall tell of those events when I am feeling a little more energetic: not to worry — there is nothing tragic to reveal. I'm just not up to the telling yet.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Five Chickadees

Believe it or not, I took this photo. Oddly enough, it was with Sue's camera rather than mine. I say that because it might seem odd since I have been posting photos taken by The Boy with my camera.

I also posted this in advance, and I hope that both you and I are enjoying our weekends.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

Little Chickadee

We have company for the weekend, so I have posted this photo in advance — lest my absence were to bitterly disappoint and ruin weekends the world over. Yes Virginia, I have a sense of humour — although not necessarily a good one.

This is also The Boy's handiwork — I take credit only for allowing him ample opprotunity to play with my camera.


Friday, January 21, 2005

Photo Talk

-epm of Deertown Times has requested some information about my photos and my photographic equipment and processes. I didn't think that I would be able to honour his request until some time next week after the departure of our weekend company, but I find myself with some time before they arrive. This post is specifically directed to those who have some interest in and knowledge of photography (but not much — believe me), and, therefore, will not benefit all readers although I welcome all to read on.

I have no great secrets to share; I am a lowly amateur at best. I have just struck it lucky lately by having all of these birds offering me so many incredible photo-ops. Most of these shots (that you have been seeing recently) were taken with a 300mm telephoto lens on a Canon Digital Rebel. It has been difficult to for me to obtain a proper light reading, so I have usually set the camera to overexpose by 2/3 of a stop (for this set of photos — not for all photos) . I also set the shutter speed at 1/250 and the ISO at 200. You want to keep a relatively high shutter speed when you are photographing birds, especially with a telephoto lens. Sometimes, I wasn't working with a lot of ambient light. Had I been, I would have attempted to increase the shutter speed and decrease the aperture further, but one must compromise.

I chose to purchase the Digital Rebel because I already had a couple of compatible lenses (the 75mm - 300mm zoom basically) from my old Rebel G 35mm camera. I also had invested in a decent flash that I wanted to be able to use as well. So, the Digital Rebel seemed to be the most logical choice when I took the plunge almost a year ago. I'm sure that they already have a better and less expensive model, but it's like buying a computer; you jump in when you can and enjoy it while you can, knowing that your prize purchase will start on the pathway to obsolescence in rather short order.

Cuppa already had a pocket-sized digital camera — the Canon Elph 400. It's small and light enough to carry anywhere, and we get some excellent photos with it. The photo that I will post on Sunday has been taken with the Elph.

Once she got the Elph, I found that I simply stopped using my 35mm camera. The immediacy of digital photography was too wonderful for me to bother continuing with film. You can learn more stuff more quickly by seeing your results right away. If pictures aren't turning out well, you can make an adjustment and try again. When you use film and wait for the results, you tend to lose track of what you did unless you take notes. If anyone is asking me questions and/or reading this blog, s/he is most likely not a note-taker.

I use Photoshop to some degree on every picture. Occasionally, I just use it to print or size a photo for the web without making any adjustments. Saturday's photo will be a good example of that. However, I tend make some small adjustments to a typical photo: crop; adjust the exposure slightly; boost the contrast a bit; and/or sharpen the image to some degree. Sometimes, I can make a bad photo acceptable if the image is of enough value to me. The very first bird-in-the-hand photo of the recent series is a good example. The original photo (see bleow on left) was taken on a gloomy day at dusk and is, therefore, quite gray and unappealing, but I was able to crop it and render it somewhat passable in Photoshop (see below on right). I went to the trouble at the time because I didn't know then that I would get so many more opportunities to get better shots in better light. Paragraph summary: I give most photos a slight boost from Photoshop; a few don't require any help while some, such as the one below, require a lot of assistance.

LVS Online offers little six-week, six-lesson courses for very little cash outlay. Each week's lesson might involve several hours work, but the demands usually aren't excessive. You post your work on the web (they provide web space if neccessary) where your instructor and others are able to see it and comment upon it. They offer two digital photography courses and two digital processing courses. I have taken neither, but based on other LVS courses that I have taken, my opinion is that the typical beginning to average shutterbug would likely benefit from these courses. Indeed, I hope to take them some day, even if they serve mostly as a refresher for things that I, supposedly, already know. (There are myriad websites out there, many of them beneficial, but, from much experience, I recommend LVS courses as generally being first rate. The next term begins in March, but registartion will open early in February.)

I believe that their digital processing class comes in two varieties: Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro. Photoshop Elements does most of the basic things that Photoshop does for a fraction of the cost, so it would not be a huge financial outlay if you don't already own the program. In fact, version two (Elements is now up to three) came bundled with my Digital Rebel. The advantage of taking the PS Elements version, as I see it, is that should you ever want to expand into full-blown Photoshop, you will already have a working knowledge of the parent program. That being said, I hear good things about Paint Shop Pro, and it certainly has its devotees.

Hopefully, that covers the basics. If I have missed anything that you want to ask about, go ahead and shoot (as it were).

Iona: you are much more knowledgeable than I. feel free to post whatever you like in the Comment section or even to direct people to anything that you might like to blog on this topic.


In Training

I guess you can't really accuse me of lying when I posted Final Bird Photo? because I did phrase it as a question rather than a pronouncement. Since then, I have sorted through a few more of The Boy's photos and find that they seem to demand publication. There are also several developments on the bird front that I feel inclined to share.

One observation is that the critters keep me guessing. Just yesterday morning I stood at the window, gazing on the activity in The Feeding Tree, and I observed that the squirrel was dominating the tree and bullying my poor, innocent chickadees. Not to worry: whenever we showed up, he departed although not without a administering a thorough scolding or two. However, we had always ended up alone with the birds: just them and us and no interferring, pesky squirrel. I mused that it was interesting to see that the birds feared him but that he feared us.

Apparently I was wrong, for at the very next feeding, red squirrel demanded attention first and foremost. Cuppa placated him with a generous dollop of peanut butter, and he just hunkered right down and began to lick the branch clean. He didn't budge an inch from his trove while we smeared peanut butter in other branches and the birds performed their usual and enthusiastic flitter and twitter.

photo credit to The Boy

The other observable trend is the increasing boldness of the chickadees, for almost as soon as we exit the back door, which is a large double driveway and more from The Feeding Tree, they begin to perform flyovers and hovering routines. It's almost as though they are escorting us to The Feeding Tree although we can now stop a long way from the tree, hold out some PB, and have them descend to feed. I have seen up to three birds feeding simultaneously from Cuppa's hand. Yesterday, to make the landing platform more commodious, I held my hand adjacent to Cuppa's. That worked too.

So, the training continues to go well: so well, that they buzz us as soon as we poke our heads out the door. I take it they are instructing us to never leave home without it — without the peanut butter that is. Yes, they've done a good job of training us.

photo credit to The Boy

Even when we were relatively far away on our river walk the other day, several chickadees landed nearby and regarded us rather expectantly. I doubt that we're that trainable, however: surely not trainable enough to be coerced into carrying a jar of peanut butter through wood, over field, and on water.

But if the little blighters keep at it, there's no telling what they may yet accomplish with these ponderously clumsy but beneficent bipeds.


Crabfont: Talented or Sour?

Crabfont: that's what the local major town is called. I lie; Crabfont is really an anagram. By major town, I mean that it has a population of about 3 000 (rough guesstimate only), which doesn't sound very major at all. However, because it is the biggest centre for many, many miles, and, because it serves as the central place of a large recreational area whose population can swell dramatically according to the season, Main Street can be a very busy place indeed. Even on a mid-January day like today, there was traffic aplenty.

Cuppa noticed a new sign hanging prominently and proudly for all to admire: Congratulations to the Most Talented Town in Ontario. We don't know its precise derivation, but one could speculate that some survey or other had concluded that Crabfont has more artists and artisans per capita than any other town in the province.

Even if we are correct about that dubious assumption, we don't know whether it has solely been measured against other legally-designated towns of similar size or whether the term has been used loosely and applies to any urban centre of any size. I cannot conceive that it could be the latter. Indeed, I find it hard to conceive that it could be the former, for I have passed through some fairly artsy little places in my various and sundry excursions, and Crabfont is not by any stretch of this man's imagination an artsy little place.

I suppose it would depend on how one might go about the business of classifying people as talented. Do you go by self-assessment? "Yes, I drew a tree once, and my kindergarten teacher told me that it was real good." Whatever: I rather doubt that a serious audit took place; surely talent-inspectors didn't really descend en masse to test the local populace holus bolus (whatever that means and however it's suppposed to be written).

To tell you the truth, I am rather vexed with Crabfont tonight — the astute reader possibly having already deduced such. I think I am vexed because we have thought, rather seriously in fact, of relocating to this general region. In fact my very first blog, Country Mouse, City Mouse was a sort of reflection about moving to the country, and I had this area in mind at the time. (Truth time: it was actually my second blog, but the first basically said: "I have a blog now everybody" and became a casualty of my late-summer purge of my stupider efforts, and something informs me that this blog may very well become a casualty of the next purge.)

Today, I am perturbed by Crabfont because, for the first time really, I took stock of the demeanour of the clerks that I encountered. We went to one coffee shop (Tim's, of course), two grocery stores, and one pharmacy — once upon a time known as a drugstore, and I find it a bloomin' pity that this usage has fallen by the wayside.

In total, I encountered six servers or cashiers today. One was quite pleasant and chirpy. Two saluted me with a customary words of greeting, but neither their hearts, voices, or facial muscles verified the truth of their words. Three didn't bother with any sort of greeting, and one of the three was positively sour. Maybe the sign should proclaim Congratulations to the Sourest Town in Ontario.

One out of six: that's not a a terribly meritorious track record. I'm sure there are friendly people in Crabfont and friendly clerks for that matter, but they were as scarce as hen's teeth today, which, as you know, are pretty darn scarce.

Then I got to thinking that things aren't much better at the grocery store in the nearby village Slyape (also an anagram.). The usual checkout guy is getting on in years and by rights should be enjoying that famous dance: The Retirement Rock. Perhaps, he is grumpy because economic realities force him to work in his golden years, and I can appreciate how that would tend to leave a fellow a trifle short of being deliriously happy. I can understand that, but I can also understand that today's percentages weren't good: the sourpusses won by a wide margin. Actually, it was a blowout.

The article which caused me to begin my blogging obsession by penning the immortal (yeah sure) City Mouse, Country Mouse had mentioned this small-town proclivity: to be rather cool and standoffish to outsiders. But give me a break. These are places that owe their existence to the recreational industry. If we stop coming, they stop working. However, we're forced to offer them our custom regardless because there is simply nowhere else to go.

To some degree I can understand that the locals may feel that they have good reason to dislike the various and sundry Mr and Mrs Cityslickers who have divested princely sums in their gobbling of all the precious, local lakeside property. Five hundred grand would not necessarily yield you a prince's mansion in these parts: not on a lakefront lot anyway.

I can understand that there might be a tad of resentment over this invasion of the well-heeled, but I have a mild propensity to become a trifle nettled when I am the victim of stereotyping. Heck! I can barely afford to holiday here rent free, so I resent being assumed a rich and obnoxious city slicker who desperately requires an attitude adjustment.

I don't think that I am doing the same thing in this blog. I don't think that I am stereotyping Crabfont or the people in it. It may simply have been a bad day. Even if it was a typical day, I know that there are friendly folk there too. I know because I met one in the coffee shop once.

I wonder if I would really be social pariah in a place such as this? I am not really sure that I care, for I'm sure that I could meet other pariahs. Perhaps we could even start a pariah club: No Local Insiders Welcome. However, when push comes to shove, I don't suppose that I need to feel welcomed by the checkout person. It's just that I've gotten kind of used to be treated nicely in stores and restaurants and a change from the norm tends to bring one up a bit short.

When I'm in this mood, I think that I may as well move here. I'd simply be just one more crab in Crabfont.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Walking on the Water

Yes, of course, it's winter in The Great White North, so the water is frozen.

Each winter, for the past four or five that we have been coming here, we eagerly look forward to snowshoeing on the frozen river. Last year, we got here a little late, and the weather warmed up a little early, so we only got out on the river once or twice during our first week or so of our vacation. This year, because we arrived somewhat early in the season, we have not ventured the river until yesterday. In a normal year, we would most likely feel safe earlier than we have this time around, but with several brief, but mild and rainy intervals, we haven't felt safe until now.

Cuppa from the river with an old barn in the background. See her blog for yet another picture from the river.

One of the great things about taking a winter retreat is that you can go places that are out of bounds in other seasons. In spring, the black flies and boggy areas limit one's explorations. In summer, it's the mosquitoes and the leafy undergrowth. But in winter, you can go anywhere; you don't have to stick to the paths because there are no bugs to make your life miserable or bogs to prevent access. Neither is there full-leaved undergrowth to prevent your path.

You can go anywhere in winter — just so long as you have snowshoes — even walk on the water (possibly without snowshoes).

In summer, it may get too hot to exert yourself much, but winter always allows you to stay warm, regardless of the frigidity of Arctic blasts. You simply don another layer and find yourself very comfortable out in the elements. In fact, although this may not seem intuitively obvious to many, the real trick for winter enthusiasts is actually to remain comfortably cool, for you may be tempted to wear too much. Subsequent exertion will then be followed by heat build-up, perspiration, and soaked undergarments.

Fortunately, modern, high tech, winter clothes perform yeoman service for the winter enthusiast. The proper underwear will wick away moisture and keep one pleasantly warm and dry. Both my liner and outer shell contain not only the standard front zipper but zippers on the sleeves as well. So, you see, you can do a lot to regulate and dissipate the heat that your body emanates. Try that on a hot summer day; you can peel down to the bare essentials if you so desire (and if you meet the right criteria I may request that you, indeed, do so), but you will not obtain genuine relief out-of-doors and sans AC. The occasional dip in a cool stream won't hurt, but by the time you towel off and get decently attired, you may as well not have bothered — to say nothing of extreme irritation of hobbling about with sand in your toes ... and perhaps in other bodily regions as well.

I know that this information doesn't, at first blush, seem to help you much if you are stuck in a winter-bound city and must contend with snow-slowed traffic and all sorts of weather-related inconveniences. Despite that undeniable reality, however, you may be encouraged to bundle up for a nightly stroll and/or for a weekend walk in a relatively proximate piece of recreational land. I mention not the winter sport options — for they may be price-prohibitive for many and beyond the physical capability and/or endurance of others (such as I) — but those options do exist and may be viable and exhilarating alternatives for some.

Have you considered going north and enjoying your own climate rather than yearning for that brief southern, mid-February escape? Good grief folks, summer is coming anyway, and you'll spend much of that season pleading for merciful relief from the heat. Why rush it? Why not consider going north for a brief mid-winter getaway be it only for a day or short weekend.

Of course, that's the additional benefit, for if you choose to embrace winter, the doors of opportunity fling wide for brief and sometimes spontaneous getaways. You don't have to shut yourself indoors and park yourself in front of mindless television drivel for months on end, putting your life on hold while awaiting that all-too-brief week in the south or even for summer if travelling to exotic resorts is beyond the scope of your time or budget.

You don't have to go very far. We are only about two hours away from Canada's largest city for goodness sake. Think of it this way. Would you rather spend two brief, leisurely hours driving to a pristine winter getaway, or do you really prefer to spend agonizing hours in busy airports followed by uncomfortable plane trips in an effort to enjoy an all too brief, mad-dash winter getaway to the southern climes where you may possibly experience imperfect weather regardless?

I know, and now you know, the option that makes most sense to me. That doesn't mean that I will never try the other option (or that you will ever be convinced to try this one, come to that), but I hope that I will never put my life on hold while I wait for that solitary, all-too-brief week in the sun when vitality awaits me around my own corner — as it were.

So, what are your weekend plans? Going to the blasted mall? Parking your carcass in front of the mind-numbing telly? Or might you consider an hour or two of outdoor invigoration? We both know which option would be best for both your mind and your spirit.

Try it. You'll like it.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Final Bird Photo?

Unless, the Bluejays decide to be more cooperative, this may be the final bird photo that I will inflict upon all ye dear readers

This is a White-breasted Nuthatch. Of course, I didn't know that until I looked it up. After being instructed about Red-breasted Nuthatches, we were able to guess that this was a Nuthatch of some description, which made it rather easier to locate in the book.

According to the book, the White-breasted Nuthatch is usually seen and photographed just like this — crawling down a tree trunk. Unlike it's red-breasted cousin, this guy is not at all interested in our peanut butter. We weren't even aware of his existence until The Boy happened upon him while taking two hundred pictures with my camera the other day. As you might gather, The Boy has some interest and background in photography and got quite a few wonderful shots.

Back to the bird: according to the map, he (or she) is at the outer limits of his range here, whereas the red-breast is not nearly as close to its habitat boundary. The red-breast rules. When he or she wants to feed, all of the chickadees must give ground (or branch ... or glove). There may be close to a dozen chickadees hovering about, but red-breast takes her time and consumes her fill. I have visually tracked red-breast back toward her lair, which seems quite far removed from the feeding tree.

I wonder, therefore, what alerts her to our presence. Is it sight or sound? I also wonder why the white-breast is so different in temperament. Do the differences have to do with the species or simply two unique and individual temperaments?

For those who wonder about such things The Boy is Butterfly's man. I have been asked, but I'm not totally sure why we call him The Boy; neither do I know why I italicize it sometimes but not always. Perhaps, we call him what we do because we had two girls. Who can understand nicknames anyway? The Boy certainly can't. He is French, and, apparently, they simply don't use nicknames the way we do. He can't quite fathom how Bob, Bobby, Rob, or Robbie are all really Robert. Then there's Ed, Ted, Teddy, Eddie: all from Edward. Crazy language this.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Putting Feet to Ideas

Yesterday Cuppa offered the following observation in Giving and Receiving. She is a wise woman, and I can't help but feel that this is a vital concept that requires me to explore a little more on my own.

"Something that started out as our little Christmas gift for the birds has turned into and absolutely fabulous gift to us instead. We give the wee birds apples and peanut butter, and they give us their trust and cheery little greetings in return. What a priceless gift from these fluffy, feathered wonders."

What Cuppa did was to act on an idea. The idea was to decorate an outdoor tree for Christmas. Given our temporary location here in the country, far from the indoor decorations that we have accumulated over the years, it seemed like an attractive alternative. We could still have a decorated tree of sorts, and it would also serve as a kind of special Christmas feast for the birds.

So it was that while I was otherwise occupied, she spent much time stringing garlands of popcorn and cranberries. They looked great! Not what I had pictured at all — not lonely pieces of popcorn sparsely strung along a string with gaps in between kernels. What she produced was a garland worthy of any indoor tree. (Click here if you remain unconvinced or have not followed our blogs in the past.)

At the time, we had no notion that we would soon be enthralled by wild birds feeding from our hands. One event simply led to another. When the chickadees descended on the tree, I began to take pictures. In the photos, we noticed a different bird, not a chickadee.

Bird manuals befuddle me completely. Both Cuppa and I thumbed through a whole book without spotting the bird in the photo. Of course, it was there, but when you are perusing photos of many hundreds of birds, it's pretty darn easy to overlook the specific object of your search.

So it was that I sent not the first email of this type to a birder friend. It was she who easily identified the red-breasted nuthatch, and it was she who planted the idea of inviting the birds to our hands by mentioning that a similar nuthatch had been known to visit and land on her sister's hand.

And, of course, that led to our experiments and to my excited posting of many photos. When Butterfly and The Boy visited, we were eager to share the thrill with them, and they too were enthralled by the feathered wonders. In fact, Butterfly had hardly been home for ten minutes before she posted pictures on her own blog.

Here's the point, that I make. I would not have thought of it in precisely this way had Cuppa not mentioned it first.

We all have ideas. Some have more and better ideas than others, but we all have them.

Much of the time, we find reasons to withhold action, and the ideas vanish into the ether. They might as well never been conceived in the first instance.

When we take the trouble to implement an idea, we probably have not the foggiest notion what will come of it. Perhaps nothing will eventuate; perhaps something will result that is quite beyond our original expectations.

In this little example, Cuppa had an idea and implemented it. Then it took its own course. Inadvertently, we learned that nuthatches had been known to land on at least one person's hand. We tried it; it worked; we were delighted; and, we have shared this delight with others, including (at least via photos and descriptions) bloggers from the western USA to western Europe.

The key to all of this is that Cuppa "put feet to her thoughts." She went to the considerable effort of turning her idea into effect. She took action. She could not have predicted the results, but had she not "put feet to her thoughts," none of this would have transpired.

We all of us have ideas. True: some have more and better ideas than others. Regardless: we all have them, and many if not most of us of are guilty of doing nothing to implement them. That is our loss, and, just perhaps, the loss of many others as well.

We're none of us too old or too young to learn from this little example. As I have noted in previous blogs, there are principles, like this one, that we all already know, but we need to be reminded of them. Once reminded, we need to take heed. What idea do you have that you have that remains buried at the back of the forgotten and dusty upper shelf? What might happen if you were to take that idea down from the shelf, dust it off, and do something with it?

You never know until you try. As in this case, it may result in something other than what you expected. It may, in fact, be well beyond your anticipations. Even if your idea doesn't bear immediate or even visible fruit, who knows what sort of chain of events that it might begin and what may be the end result? You may not even link some future event with some little decision that you make today, but the link may exist nonetheless.

Thanks for the idea Cuppa: both for the birds and the blog.

While I'm blogging anyway, I trust you don't mind terribly much if I post yet another chickadee photo.


Monday, January 17, 2005

My Turn

One in each hand, and one in the tree along with several others that you can't see.

Late last week, I advised my daughter to cancel her planned weekend visit to our Riverwood retreat. At the time, the snow was rapidly disappearing under the onslaught of the second consecutive day of rain, and I despaired of the outcome. I imagined that the impending cold would refreeze the laneway back into a skating rink, that there would be no snow remaining on the ground for snowshoeing, and that we four would be confined to this small farmhouse for two days. I confided my fears, but she replied that she was coming for the company and not the snowshoeing.

She was right, and I was wrong. Between the time my of great despair and the arrival of the weekend, some fresh snow fell; the driveway remained navigable; and, enough snow remained behind to make snowshoeing viable. So it was that that we were able to enjoy several pleasant but noisy tromps through the woods: noisy because four sets of snowshoes on thin and very crusty snow can produce one ponderous din.

We enjoyed our walks, our usual games of Trivial Pursuit, and, of course, our visits with the birds. (Fear not ye who grow weary of this topic and of these photos; I sometimes tend to overdo certain blog themes, but, eventually, I move on.)

On Saturday morning, Butterfly got her chance to hand-feed the birds. I see that she has already posted photos of both her and The Boy , and they almost begin to reveal the look of sheer delight and pleasure on her countenance as the feathery wonders began to take their turns at landing on her hand and feeding from it — the usual treat: peanut butter smeared to a slice of apple. Of course, Dad snapped pictures with his usual abandon, as Dads sometimes do of their daughters, even when they are all grown up.

We couldn't keep The Boy out of the act for long. He was soon standing right under (or in the tree — or amongst the branches really) the feeding tree (also shown on Butterfly's blog). They fed from his hand and then from his shoulder. What fun for all: the birds included.

But today, it was My Turn: my turn to feed the birds and someone else's turn to hold the camera. It was The Boy who got to use my camera; he did a great job, and I got to be the centre of attention. Having waited my turn for several days, I decided to double the pleasure and the fun holding forth treats in both hands. I stood in the tree as the boy had done and could soon hear whirring around my head and could soon see chickadees swooping onto nearby branches to peruse my offerings.

Apparently my oblation passed inspection, for I was soon enjoying visits aplenty. What a treat to have these weightless, featherballs trust me and themselves enough to land and nourish. As you can see from the photos (the top one taken by Cuppa on her camera and the bottom one taken by The Boy on my camera), the plan worked, and I sometimes had a bird in each hand. Two winged creatures in the hands were most definitely worth more to me than hosts of birds in the bush at that moment.

In the bottom photo, there is a chickadee perched on the thumb of my right hand. Can you tell that he is more comfortable than the bird on my left hand? He perched fearlessly, stayed and fed until he was completely satisfied. Others flitted as birds do, but he calmly and serenely went about his task until he had his fill.

Fears are both healthy and natural. We all of us have them, but sometimes it is best to let go of them for a bit and to place a little trust in both ourselves and others. Sometimes, an opportunity presents itself, and we may do ourselves a great favour by pouncing upon it rather than endlessly debating its pros and cons. You might make more mistakes that way, but you live, by god, you live.


I was impressed by the bravery and serenity of the chickadee on the right thumb.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Feeding Tree

The birds continue to descend ravenously on our offerings, which consist mainly of peanut butter. You have seen the photos of the woodpecker who continues to claim ownership of the suet ball. He seems to be on the ball (so to speak) for many hours a day.

The bluejays hover under the suet ball to claim the seeds that fall from the woodpecker's peckings. They also lay primary claim to the popcorn that we spread under the tree and to the peanuts in the shell that we distribute. Much to their annoyance, however, we aren't well stocked with peanuts. The jays aren't as prone to linger about when we are out; so it is unlikely that I will be posting any photos of them. I have a telephoto lens, but it isn't powerful enough to get me close enough to the skittery bluejays.

There is also a red squirrel who seems to be perpetually busy around the feeding tree. He'll do his best to gather the apple slices on which we spread peanut butter. Likewise, in addition to competing with the bluejays for popcorn, he has been absconding with the pine cones that we smear with that good, old peanut butter — good for man or beast.

It's the chickadees who are by far most plenteous, however. As soon as we get near the feeding tree, at least three or four will put in an immediate appearance. I'm not sure how many there are in all. Like the nuthatch, they are quite brave and bold. They will land only a few feet away from us on a tree branch, and, of course, as you see in these photos, they will also land right on the hand if there is food to be had. They are a little more hesitant than the nuthatch, but they get there eventually. As you can see, they are terribly cute little fellows.


Saturday, January 15, 2005

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

The two-day rain stopped on Friday; the temperatures went down; and, the sun came out. We were eager to seize the opportunity to try to take more bird-in-the-hand photos. It didn't take long for them to light on Cuppa's hand. We had numerous chickadee visits, and I'm sure that I will post plenty of those, but I thought I would begin by sharing two more photos of the wondrous, solitary nuthatch. She and Cuppa are each having a good, long look at each other in this photo.

I think the next picture is great too. The nuthatch was the only bird who was comfortable enough with the situation to turn her back on Cuppa. What a brave and great little bird!


Friday, January 14, 2005

Commenting About Commenting

For a long time, I resisted adding a site counter to this blog. Perhaps I resisted humiliation. More likely, I think that I want to write what I write, whether it is read by two, twenty, or two hundred. In point of fact, I am most pleasantly surprised by the fact that anyone at all chooses to read and follow this poor plod's ploddings; I knew that a few were reading along, and that was sufficient.

However, the sitemeter reveals that far more drop in than I thought. Some enter through odd searches and must be most disappointed by what they find. For example: someone arrived at my Bean American post by searching "Great Northern Beans"; he or she must have been terribly disappointed. Others seem to arrive by clicking Next Blog, and they are generally also quick to depart: about as quick as I am to click away from the plethora of pubescent twaddle that I find in spades when I give Next Blog a whirl. Having said that, I have been pleasantly surprised to note that quite a few people check in each day to see if there are new entries: many more than I had thought. (Fear not: I can't track who's who unless I want to pay for the privilege, and I don't.)

I am surprised by the number of visitors because this is not a blog which receives a plethora of comments. I think it's partly an age thing. Daughter has a highly commented blog. She will throw out a single line and receive five comments. It's almost like a chat line or instant messaging, with the instant aspect removed: more like delayed messaging. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's something practised more by the predominantly youthful bloggers than us older windbags.

Where I am heading with this post is to a big thank you for those who do make an effort to comment from time to time. I read the comments, but I am not terribly good at responding to them on my own blog. Generally, however, I get around to posting comments on the blogs of people who bother to post on mine.

I am not so terribly petty that I only comment by reciprocation, for I also comment on other blogs, whether they read mine or not. For the life of me, however, I cannot understand why a typical, small-time blogger with a typical, small audience would not bother track the occasional commenter and reciprocate — just once, as a polite acknowledgement would seem appropriate. It seems to be a sort of common decency, a matter of manners and social grace. I am not talking about the mega blogs such as Real Live Preacher or Rayne Today; they're too big for that. But why the authors of little blogs don't return comments either on their own blog or on mine is well beyond me.

I suspect that many of us scan quickly and move on. I know that I do for the most part. Nevertheless, I offer comments from time to time: mostly because I know that it is pleasant to receive some sort of feedback. It is a vindication of sorts. I really should offer more than I do both on other's blogs and in reply to comments on my own blog, but I'll likely change little.

My main point in going around the mulberry bush on this topic is to thank those who have commented and who will comment. You are noted and appreciated, even though you are not always directly acknowledged. I will definitely peruse your blog and may even post my own comment to you.


Compromise in Cobb County

Pity the citizens and school board of Cobb County. Just yesterday, a federal judge ruled that they could no longer place the following stickers on school science books: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.''

I propose a compromise. Allow these stickers to remain on the textbooks as long as the following stickers are placed on all bibles in Cobb County: "This ancient manuscript has been a source of spiritual solace and comfort for millions of people throughout millennia. Please note, however, that it is primarily a compendium of spiritual principles and not a scientific textbook. Please approach this material with an open mind and interpret its teachings with reference to other reputable and current sources of knowledge."

Doesn't that seem like a reasonable compromise to you?


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Endorsing Mimico Musings

Adding blogs to my blogroll is one of those little chores that I tend to procrastinate over. I attribute some of this to the fact that I think that I should really make some sort of proper introduction rather than just plop the link in the sidebar. However, life being what it is, I always find other things to do, and I also never seem to run short of blog topics.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Dale's Musings and Meanderings from Mimico.

Dale's blog is very much a personal journal; he writes to his muse, Ms J. While many of us author personal blogs, most of us don't approach the intimate intensity of Dale's posts. He writes with emotion about his life, family, and friends. These days for example, his son, Dan, is a major focus. Like many teens, Dan has had some involvement with drugs and some difficulty pulling his life together. Dale makes you care about Dan and the others about whom he chooses to write.

Although I am not innately drawn to blogs that are quite so diary-like, I make a clear and happy exception for Musings and Meanderings from Mimico. Dale absorbs the reader with his very lucid and intense writing style. He makes you care. I believe that most of you will be glad that you clicked.

PS: To get it to fit in the sidebar without wrapping, I took the liberty of abbreviating the title to Mimico Musings.


"Wrong Door" Anvilcloud

In 1938 Douglas Corrigan landed his small plane at Baldonnel Airport in Dublin. Supposedly, he had set out to fly to California from New York but got lost in the fog and the clouds and ended up in Ireland some twenty-eight hours later. Although he stuck to his story until the bitter end, most are sceptical since he had previously been denied a proposed flight plan from Newfoundland to England due to the questionable condition of his biplane.

However, rather than landing himself in the midst of an international brouhaha, Corrigan became somewhat of a hero for his audacity and daring. He was given a ticker-tape parade down Broadway and became quite famous as "Wrong Way" Corrigan. His popularity extended so far that they made a movie about his exploits, The Flying Irishman, and he was actually paid to play an advisory role in its making.

Perhaps you have never before heard the story. I only became aware as a young man while watching Cuppa's grandfather and great grandfather at their famous cribbage matches. Great grandfather was never short of expressions, one of which was "Wrong Way Corrigan." He uttered this every time the turn-up card revealed that he had chosen to discard the wrong one. This happened a lot.

However, my own penchant for walking through the wrong door is more likely to find me entombed in the hoosegow enduring the lot of a solitary pervert rather than being feted as the hero in a ticker-tape parade.

Yesterday, my wife and I entered a coffee shop and immediately, as is our custom, repaired to the washrooms. However, you must understand this about me: I am a daydreamer and woolgatherer by nature. I can't help it. My body might be on its way to the loo, but my head could be revisiting my grade five classroom and Miss McDonald whom I loved so dearly, or wondering if we left enough peanut butter to satisfy the chickadees, or contemplating whether the Palestinian election might result in Middle-East rapprochement. So it was, with thoughts such as these flitting through my cranium, that I dazedly followed Cuppa — followed her right in to the women's washroom!

Fortunately, it was a small and otherwise unoccupied washroom. However, both she and I immediately and simultaneously noted my faux pas, and I beat a hasty retreat into my own designated loo. We could hear one another enjoying a hearty laugh, each from our legally-designated stations.

I suppose that could happen to anyone — once. Somewhat embarrassingly, however, I am forced to confess that this is at least strike number three for "Wrong Door" Anvilcloud. On the other two occasions I was on my own: once in a large bookstore and once in a mall. In each case, the male and female lavatory doors lay adjacent to one another, one basically ending where the other began. With my penchant for mind-wandering, there was really no question that I was about to choose the wrong one.

Imagine my slow double take as I enter the room and peer about for urinals but see none. The light slowly begins to dawn but just a trifle too late. My emerging horror is confirmed by the appearance of a female person emerging from the stalls. I cannot begin to describe the look on her face, and somehow I'm sure that she would report exactly the same thing about the dazed and confused plod in the ladies' washroom.

The crowning achievement of "Wrong Door" Anvilcloud, however, has nought to do with lavatories. Nothing as simple as that: for I entered not the wrong washroom but the whole wrong dwelling.

You see, we had been visiting in-laws, and being the ever-helpful and animal-loving person that I indeed am, I volunteered to take the dog, Licorice, for a walk. Do I sense the dear reader already beginning to giggle?

In my defence, and heaven knows that I need one, my in-laws dwelt in one of those confounded subdivisions where all houses are pretty much identical. To compound the likelihood for error, they lived in a cul de sac. In point of fact, they lived in the culminating, circular part of the cul de sac, where the lots are somewhat pie-shaped with the narrow parts of the wedges abutting closely at the front so the driveways end at the street mere inches apart from one another.

So, you see, it was amazingly easy to miss the correct driveway by a paltry few inches and to proceed, head bowed in yet another daydream, up the wrong driveway, right through the wrong door, and right into the wrong house. The dog, which knew blamed-well where he was, was no help whatsoever. He gladly led or accompanied me (take your pick) and happily, with furiously-wagging tail, waited for me to bend down and remove his leash: which I did.

These following two things happened almost concurrently. I turned to hang the leash on the coat rack and was absolutely shocked to find none. The briefest instant of bewilderment was abruptly followed by a dazzling clarity — I was in the wrong house! Synchronically, the lady of the house ventured out of the kitchen asking perplexedly if she could be of some assistance.

With very hasty and profuse apologies, I hauled the dog (bad, bad dog) out of that house and over one dwelling to the appropriate domicile. Who can resist a good story, even at one's own expense? Just as I do now, I quickly recounted all, and much mirth ensued.

My hope is that the story is at least half as humorous in the writing as it was in the happening and the initial recounting. Have a great day, and pay very close attention to proximate doors.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Bird in the Hand

Yesterday I posted two photos of birds in the bushes — close enough to bushes anyway.

Today, we took a trip to the city, mainly to stock up on inkjet photo paper. One of my projects while here in the country is to catch up on the family photo album, and I have gone through the pack of thirty that I brought with me. The nearest city is almost an hour and a half away, but it has an Office Depot. I quite like their brand of photo paper, and the price is right, especially if you buy in bulk. I purchased a pack of 100 sheets for less than fifty cents a page, which is pretty decent. The output is pretty decent too. Although most printers will print slightly better if you use their own brand, I don't think that too many amateurs would be disappointed by the quality that the Office Depot brand affords.

Well, the point is that we didn't get back, unpacked, and out to feed the birds until 4:30, which is just about the gloaming hour these days and just about bedtime for the wee birdies. The usually plentiful chickadees were nowhere to be seen, but the singular but faithful nuthatch alighted bravely for what seemed like a good minute or so. She made sure she got what she wanted before saying goodnight. Don't you just love her?

Actually I have no idea of the sex of the bird, but it seems as though this one should be a she. We had two zebra finches once. I was sure that they were both boys — until one laid an egg. Tsk tsk: such goings-on.

I hope you enjoy the photo where she seems to be looking directly at Cuppa and imparting some sort of pertinent — or impertinent — wisdom. The light wasn't the best, and I hope to have another chance when it is both earlier and sunnier, but if I don't get another opportunity, I shall remain happy with this shot.


Monday, January 10, 2005

A Bird in the Bush

I took some wonderful photos of birds eating out of Cuppa's hand today. The nuthatches and chickadees have appeared so bold that we guessed that they might feed directly from the hand — the gloved (or mitted) hand at least. Sue held an apple with peanut butter in her outstretched mitt. Although the birds showed immediate interest, they were a little reluctant to alight. There were many chickadees excitedly hovering about, but it took the apparently lone nuthatch to lead the way. She made two separate visits, both long enough for Cuppa to enjoy thoroughly. Two chickadees eventually followed suit, or at least one visited twice. I took close ups of them on the and wider shots which included Cuppa who was registered great delight. It was quite a wonderful experience.

However, I lie; I didn't really take any photos at all. I didn't take any photos because, fool that I am, I forgot to install the memory card. Let's put it down to my recent illness and lack of sleep, shall we? Let's not attribute it to premature senility. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

However, when we got back from our walk we saw a woodpecker at the suet ball, and there was another in the tree. Back for the camera we went, remembering this time to insert the memory card. I shot many photos from various distances within a short period of time

I have chosen to share two with you. I hope that you enjoy them. I also hope that the nuthatches and chickadees will give us another chance on another day.


Sunday, January 09, 2005

My Crazy Body

I must be saddled with one of the looniest bodies in planetary history. For example: I always have to sleep with some sort of covering: even in the midst of an August heat wave.

Your initial reaction might be to think me bashful of body, but that's just not so. I can hang it out there with the best of them with nary a distant hint of immodesty. Most men are like that, or so I am given to understand. Not so with our wives who do their utmost to reveal as little of their pelts as possible. I am told that some women become so adept at this that they can change outfits, completely anonymously, in a crowded room full of randy voyeurs. Of course, I speak in broad generalities, and if you are of different bent, I offer my congratulations and appeal for you not to flame me with indignant comments.

Still speaking in broad generalities: how ironic it is that neither women nor men give a fig about male nudity. While we men are casual about letting it all hang out, our women are moved not unless perhaps it be by revulsion, for male nudity inflames not their passions. The irony is that male passions are easily inflamed by the least exposure to female skin, which the ladies in turn are quite modest about revealing. What a crazy world!

As is my habit, I have digressed from my topic, but sometimes I just can't help myself. Like jam on toast, it is the extras that add flavour and interest.

Back to the main narrative: I sleep covered-up, even when I'm hot, not because I am modest but because I have a cold shoulder. Note: I did not say that I am given the cold shoulder from my significant other although I likely will be able to say that after she reads this post.

No, the problem supposedly stems from the reality that degenerating spinal discs have some sort of effect on my nerves. In other words, some chain of bodily events gives me the sensation of having a cold shoulder even though it is not cold to the external touch. I suppose that it is something like experiencing numbness in my leg (due to yet another set of degenerating discs): one can't feel the numbness by touching my leg externally, but it exists nonetheless.

Another Aside: when I say that the problem supposedly stems from degenerating discs, this is my doctor's casual diagnosis. By that I mean that most of my little problems don't seem to arouse great concern in the man. I confided a few concerns on my recent checkup. For example: "Twice during the past year I have had dizzy spells to the point where my pupils actually dilated and I had to lie down until I could see properly again."

The Good Doctor: "Hmmm."

I'll spare you several of the other concerns which I confided to him that day, except to say that I believe that I was in my rights to expect more sympathy from a fellow male.

He's like that about everything. I really think he's a good doctor who does listen, but he masks his concerns very well indeed. After all, he did send me for X-rays when I told him all about my shoulder woes, and he did discover disc degeneration. "Yup, you have disc degeneration. See you again next year." How touchingly reassuring.

Where was I?

Oh yes, I say all of that to say this: last night was a most wretched night indeed. I haven't been sleeping well for the past two weeks because I have been under attack by viruses that cause me to hack and sputter and, therefore, greatly disturb my rest. That's not fun, but my body really entered the Twilight Zone last night.

To explain properly, permit me to back up one just one more time.

We like to keep the house cool at all times and especially so at night. For sleep, we have been keeping the thermostat at 60oF/15oC. I go to bed wearing both a T-shirt and sweatshirt. If I get warm, I generally find that removing the sweatshirt solves the problem. Last night, however, it didn't.

I awoke around three o'clock to do what middle-aged men tend to do at three o'clock in the morning, and then I couldn't get back to sleep. In plainspeak, I was hot boiling, and removal of my sweatshirt had no noticeable impact on my inner thermostatic malfunction.

Remember, however, that I have already described my weird, cold shoulder affliction. Spare some pity for my plight last night: my body was blasting heat like an over-worked boiler on a runaway locomotive while my shoulder was simultaneously, and most disconcertingly and uncomfortably, ice cold. It's not an especially pleasant combination. It keeps one awake. It keeps one awake in a state of monumental vexation.

Some people seem to be able to regulate their body temperature by exposing some body part or other. Cuppa, for example, has been known to dangle her leg out of the covers to regulate her body temperature. However, cold shoulder syndrome aside, that trick simply doesn't work for me. In fact it renders me even more miserable, giving my body yet another miserably cold spot while the rest of me continues to swelter. The result, oh wretched man that I am, is that one misery simply seems to exacerbate the other.

In the event, after several hours of this nonsense, I repaired from the bed to the couch where I could still cover myself, but with a thin blanket rather than the sensible, thick one that covers the bed. That seemed to do the trick. My body temperature slowly began to settle toward normality, but my shoulder persisted in being most vexatiously cold.

After an hour on the couch, I felt cool enough to venture crawling back into bed, cool enough to even don my sweatshirt, even under the luxuriously thick blanket. Unfortunately, as comfortable as the rest of me now was, my shoulder continued to aggravate me for yet another long hour. At that point, some four hours after my troubles had begun (but who's counting?), exhaustion must have overcome me, and I finally succumbed to a few hours of pleasant escape in dreamland.

I don't know what caused that occurrence of exceptional heat last night. It has happened before, but I had thought it linked to the consumption of salty and/or sugary, late night snacks. I have been curbing my more indulgent side rather well as of late; so, I have no explanation for last night's manifestation. Neither does the good doctor, who claims that there is no known condition such as the one that I describe. Although he doesn't come right out and say it, he may as well say: "Tough shit guy."

I have a partial remedy for the cold shoulder. It is to apply a heating pad. My supposition is that while it cures nothing, the external heat provides a counterpoint to the internal cold sensation and relieves the symptoms. Since the shoulder hadn't been bothering much lately however, the heating pad was packed away, and even should I have managed to locate it without waking Cuppa to plaintively beg her assistance, I would have had to awaken her to move the bed in order to reach the only available electrical outlet. My courage failed me; it was not worth my marriage to risk disturbing the lady at her slumbers, which she takes ever so seriously.

And so, I suffered in martyred silence: until now when I plead shamelessly for all of the sympathy that anyone can muster.

Seriously. Have you ever heard the like: hot body and cold body parts working in tandem in such a manner?

How crazy, this body of mine! Feel free to take this opportunity to rejoice in your own normality.


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Benefit Concert

CBC is organizing a benefit concert for Tsunami Relief: Canada for Asia. It will include big names such as Barenaked Ladies, Celine Dion, and Tragically Hip. According to this article, they are making it available for private broadcasters to pick up. I hope they accept. It's what you do in a crisis: band together (no pun originally intended).

The same article says that CTV is also planning their own benefit concert starring Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan and others.

As I said in yesterday's post, The Other Disaster, we really do a pretty good job at mobilizing for such disasters. They focus our attention and bring out the best in us.

It would be unrealistic of me to wish for the magnitude of this outpouring to continue on into The Other Disaster, but if we could even sustain a modicum of the care, energy, and commitment, the world would become a better place for countless millions.

Read more about Canada for Asia on the CBC website.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Other Disaster

Yesterday, as I was walking (snowshoeing) in the woods, my mind, as it is wont to do, wandered around the world. For a time, my thoughts landed on the Tsunami disaster. Unless you live in a dark place, say under a huge batholithic structure, you know all about, or at least a lot about this tragedy and of the great and genuine need that it has created. You have probably already given from your heart and pocketbook in some way, however small — as indeed you should. According to today's Toronto Star, forty-eight million dollars have been pledged to the Canadian Red Cross alone. Impressive and commendable!

I applaud this, and I applaud the great and generous spirit shown by people and governments everywhere. Critics are quick to point out that not enough was pledged early enough, and they may have a valid point. But give credit where credit is due — a lot is now being done.

However, as much as I think this outpouring indeed wonderful, whilst on my woodsy walk yesterday, I began to muse about how we are fairly good at stepping up to the plate in times of disaster but terribly inadequate at sustaining our care and concern beyond the crisis itself. To wit: we know that there is systemic global poverty, that hundreds of millions of people are undernourished, that there is a genuine AIDS epidemic in Africa. We know this and seem to be unmoved. In effect, whether we intend it or not, we close or eyes, ears, and hearts to the prolonged misery that is the lot of myriads of people: people no less deserving than the tsunami victims — and no more deserving may I add (in case you begin to misunderstand me).

This morning, synchronicity struck. I happen to catch a comment something like this on CBC radio: "The equivalent of a tsunami occurs every week in Africa." I wish that I could report on the whole interview. I wish that I could cite the speaker's name, but I was simply passing by the radio, and that is all that I heard, and the interview was just concluding. Like me, do you not find that information simply staggering? Because I have taught global issues and world disparity in times past, I have some awareness of such realities, but I had never considered it in this light. Have you?

Then, late this morning, we stopped at the tiny general store in Glen Alda (population rumoured to be eleven strong) to order an apple pie as dessert for tomorrow's company. Given his location, the owners can't be raking in money hand over fist, so I sometimes look for other items that I can purchase. Today, I chose The Toronto Star, even though I had perused it online this morning, just as I do on most mornings.

So it was that synchronicity struck yet again, for the political cartoon features a bloated-bellied, black-skinned child standing at the bottom of a map of Africa. Lying beside him on the ground is an empty bowl. Whizzing past are huge trucks stirring up clouds of dust. The words Tsunami Aid are writ large and bold on the sides of the trucks.

What of this child?

I have blogged about this before. Quite simply, I know not what to do: except to think about it on occasion, write a bit on occasion, and donate a bit on occasion.

Let's aid the tsunami victims to the best of our ability. Then, let's resolve to do a little better about remembering the Other Disaster. Let's do something tangible there too. Come February or March, perhaps you and I could donate the equivalent of our Tsunami gift to some appropriate NGO that is always there where it is always needed trying to do whatever it can.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Feeding Frenzy

Please permit me at least one more post about birds and birdfeeders. I submit the first picture to introduce you to another bird, other than the chickadee, who has been enjoying our gerry-rigged feeding station. I also submit the same photo to depict our homemade feeder.

Strange things occur up here at the cottage. Over the years, Sue and I have brought up many Gladware containers. To our dismay, they have all disappeared. Where they all went without their lids, I am not certain, but the lids chose to remain on the premises when the dishes opted to wander off. The ever-ingenious Cuppa decided to use of the idle lids as feeding platforms.

So, what you see in the photo is a Red-breasted Nuthatch perching on one of these, Cuppa-designed feeders. She smeared the base with peanut butter in order to stick the popcorn to it. What we didn't know at the time was that the birds would disdain the popcorn but devour the peanut butter. However, we have now attracted some bluejays who, I assume, are enjoying the popcorn. The red squirrels have also discovered the station and refuse to let our makeshift feeder hang in peace. No sooner do we now repair it than the squirrels knock it askew.

These red squirrels are not like the black or grey ones that we are more familiar with back home. They are smaller, faster, noisier, and terribly sassy. They scamper about with great alacrity and chatter vociferously. In summer, should they find you reclining on the hammock under their trees, they will screech their displeasure. If you remain immune to their scoldings, they will begin to hurl items such as pine cones at your recumbent form. They are feisty critters
but cute as the dickens, and I can't help but love them.

Back to the birds: red-breasted nuthatches are similar in size to chickadees, and they act much like chickadees in the sense that they show very little fear. Both species will perch and feed while you are standing very close by. They look at you looking at them and go about their business. Both types of birds flit about so quickly that I didn't even realize there were, indeed, two different species until I later saw the pictures. In fact, it was Cuppa who first spotted the difference.

My only regret is that the feeding tree isn't closer to the house. It's across the driveway where we can see the flitting forms but not nearly as closely as we would like. We also bought a genuine suet ball while in the city and will hang it some sunny day but from a different tree. Our thinking is that with only one item in the tree, I can train my camera right on it and not have to swivel it about frantically trying to focus on the whirling and darting critters in their feeding frenzy.

I trust you'll love the expressions on these two birds (actually a composite of the same bird) in the second photo. It depicts yet another Cuppa feeding method: stick some peanut butter to a piece of apple and lodge the slice into a crook or impale it on a branch. Except that the deer seem to have discovered the apples too. I don't mind that either, but I wish they would choose to dine when I am looking their way.

Of course, they could still be a little skittery after hunting season. Do you think?


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Some Smoke and Some Banality

I have decided to post this photo of smoke emanating from the chimney at night, but I must apologize about two things first. One: with all of the required scrunching and resizing required to post a photo that doesn't take an eon to load, most of the stars have been lost to sight. Should you choose to click, you will see some stars in the larger version, but it still pales compared to the original. Second: the following blog represents not my best effort; it's mainly a straight-ahead accounting, completely bereft of penetrating thought or analysis. I don't like to do that, but it seems to be all of which my slightly fevered brain is presently capable. For those who have been following along, it will possibly make some sense, but if you just landed here by coincidence, I won't blame you for clicking away.

As you will know from yesterday's (mostly photo) blog, after a week's hiatus, we are back in the country. Because there has been both rain and some mild weather in the interim, there is much less snow than before, but it was so plenteous to begin with, that the ground is still completely covered, though not nearly as deeply as it was before several days of rain and mild weather. In fact, for much of the trip from capital to cottage yesterday, there wasn't much snow at all, which caused us to fret mildly, but as we approached the cottage, the cover began to be more ubiquitous. The snow that remains is quite hard and crunchy, so it won't be great for snowshoeing. However, it remains deep enough that it will be better to wear the snowshoes than not. (Of course, you understand that I speak of walking the trails and fields and not the roads.)

After the freezing rain of Sunday, we were pleased to find the major highways clear and lightly-trafficked yesterday. For most of the journey, we perhaps enjoyed our best trip ever along old #7. It seems to be the type of road that encourages slow and erratic drivers: erratic in the sense of speed. Because I like to drive with cruise control, I prefer to drive behind someone who drives consistently slowly to someone who accelerates to 110 km/h (70 mph) one minute but decelerates to 80 km/h (50mph) the next. However, once we moved onto the lesser-travelled county roads, progress became problematic. Although these rural municipalities generally do an exemplary job of snow-clearing, I guess that it's a little harder to deal with ice; therefore, the surfaces were both rutted and slippery, which caused the last thirty minutes of the trip to be a little tense.

Once we got to the Riverwood driveway, which Cuppa calls Welcome Lane*, we were faced with a veritable skating rink extending from the gate to the house. After my literal run-in with a snowbank just before Christmas, I confess to navigating that stretch very carefully indeed. We keep salt in the house, enough to render the the short distance from the parked car to the house a little less treacherous, but one would require a truckload of salt to properly tend to the length and width of Welcome Lane. (See this previously posted photo and imagine the path to the gate to be all ice.)

*Cuppa names everything here; she has even produced detailed maps. However, nobody but she tends to recall most of the names. By dint of constant association with the lady, I probably recall more of them than most people, but even I have to ask occasionally. From now on I shall remember that the stretch of driveway from the gate to the house is officially (by Cuppa) called, Welcome Lane.

Some of you will recall that I wasn't well over Christmas and then posted that I was feeling better. After that bit of optimism, however, I relapsed. In round two, the throat is less sore, but there is much hacking and sputtering to accompany it. That's probably why I woke up at four o'clock last night.

Actually, I got up at four o'clock, but the truth is that I didn't sleep much after three and really gave up the attempt at four at which time I had some breakfast and did a little Net surfing. Nocturnal wanderings are not all that unusual for me, but they usually occur earlier in the night before I have been able to fall asleep in the first place. Another oddity of last night was that Cuppa got up too. She doesn't do that sort of thing as she is quite devout about her sleep, and when she's in bed for the night ... well she's in bed for the whole night. But after visiting the loo, I returned to find her sitting in the living room scribbling in one of her journals. Apparently, I had caused just enough commotion to awaken her, whereupon she decided to try to recall and commit to paper the contents of a dream.

In the event, we both fiddled at this and that until five o'clock, at which time we both felt tired enough to head back to bed where we remained until almost eleven o'clock this morning. We are not exactly early risers at the best of times, but we are usually up between eight and nine o'clock. However, the many late family nights at Butterfly's over the Christmas-NewYear week have wreaked havoc on our schedule, and we found ourselves sleeping ever later as the past week progressed. On top of that, the several hours of lost sleep caused by my hacking, sputtering and nocturnal wandering, made us exceptionally lazy layabouts today. I do hope that I get over this germ attack soon as it begins to wear thin.

I must wrap. Aren't you glad it's over?