Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fort Macleod and Head-smashed-in Buffalo Jump

Photo: The cliffs of the UNESCO heritage site, Head smashed in Buffalo Jump, courtesy of Pictures and Photos of Canada

Located in southern Alberta, Fort Macleod was established in by and for the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, the NWMP, after their long and arduous march from central Canada in the days before the railroad was built.

Here one of the first riding exhibitions took place in 1876. The Fort NWMP and First Nations Interpretive Centre was established in 1957. Its mandate is to "preserve, display and interpret" the history of Canada's police force and the local First Nations, as this relationship had a strong impact on the development of Western Canada.

The tradition of ceremonial horsemanship lives on at Fort Macleod, where regular historic NWMP musical rides take place each summer. This is distinct from the official RCMP musical ride of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, our national police force. Though the RCMP is an organization descended from the NWMP, they have their own Heritage Centre in Regina.

Near Fort Macleod is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site, Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump. Long ago, the plains people hunted buffalo by stampeding them over the cliff; hence the name.

Friday, April 29, 2011

SFU: the view from the hill is fine

Should I go? After a long tiring work day. But I had sent in my RSVP. Besides, this event was special.

I'd been invited to a Donor reception at the Diamond Alumni Centre at Simon Fraser University. I couldn't afford a lot, but I did promise to give a little every month, and SFU appreciated the commitment.

As I drove up the mountain around six, it poured rain. At the top the rain turned to hail. I parked where I'd been told to, pulled my coat around me and dashed through the freezing storm.

The speeches were already underway. The new President, Andrew Petter, spoke, as did the Vice President and others. After that a letter was read from a donor who has remembered SFU in her will, and then two scholarship students spoke.

It was inspiring to hear their enthusiasm and accomplishments. After the speeches, we mingled and conversed. The three students I met were full of razor sharp intelligence, hope and plans.

It was an uplifting evening in more ways than one. Remembering the scholarships that helped me through school, I was reminded by one speaker that such awards represent not only welcome material help, but moral support: a vote of confidence in the recipient.

As I was leaving, the sun came out and flooded the trees and the university buildings with strong warm light. Education, I thought, is never wasted. The view from the mountain has never looked so good.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fort Victoria

Left: Bastion Square today, photo courtesy of Donna's Chasing Clean AirRight: Bastion at Fort Victoria about 1860 (courtesy of Beacon Hill Park History, by Janis Ringuette)

Victoria, the capital city of BC, also began its life as a Hudson's Bay Company trading fort. Today's Bastion Square is where the old fort was built in 1843 and enlarged in 1846.

In 1849, the Colony of Vancouver Island was created by the British government. Richard Blanshard was the first governor, and was replaced in 1851 by James Douglas. Britain gave the Hudson's Bay company a contract to manage the colony for ten years.

When gold was discovered in the Fraser and Thompson Rivers in 1858, the Gold Rush began. According to John Adams, about 25,000 miners from all over the world flooded in to Victoria for supplies and created a huge boom.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The town of Fort Langley

Photo: CNR caboose stands at the old Fort Langley train station.

The town of Fort Langley, in some ways the birthplace of British Columbia, has lovely old buildings and amazing spring gardens. I'd be willing to bet that Fort Langley properties have more magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas per square metre than any other municipality in BC, except possibly Victoria.

The now disused train station is visible from the windows and balcony of Wendell's, the Fort's popular bookstore-cum-restaurant. Built in the typical CNR/CPR style, it is one of numerous similar station buildings along the rail lines that across Canada. Like the wooden grain elevators, these souvenirs of our history are going.

In the beginning, it was the railroad that made the great sprawling nation of Canada possible. The rails tied the early provinces and territories together and made it feasible to ship the wheat and other farm products of the prairies to the the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic on one coast, and the Pacific on the other.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Hudson's Bay Company fort on our doorstep

Photos: Left, the door in the palisade wall. The picture on the right was taken through the small hole that can be seen in the left  picture.

Each spring, I like to visit Fort Langley. It reminds me of various aspects of the nation's history.

The old town still has the historic railroad station, and of course, the fort itself, which overlooks the Fraser river.

Before the railroad, the river was the trade route. The wooden palisade surrounds what was a small village back in the day. There's a kitchen garden, a smithy, the Factor's house and simpler homes of those lesser mortals, the traders.

The old tools are still in evidence, as are the trade goods. Barrels of dried fish and cranberries, and white woolen Hudson's Bay blankets with their distinctive red, green and yellow stripes and the matching threads that indicate the weight of the wool.

The fur press is a simple device. A wooden lever turns a screw that was used to squash the beaver furs into flat bales that could be packed easily and wouldn't take too much space on the ships that carried them back to Europe, where they were made into fashionable felt hats for wealthy men.

The Bay is no longer a Canadian company, though it was once the oldest in the country, and predated the nation by a couple of hundred years. It came into existence over 300 years ago when the British government granted it a charter with fur trading rights over all the land drained by the rivers that flowed into Hudson's Bay.

After Confederation, the new nation bought a huge tract of land from the Company.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Buskers keeping on

The other day when I rode the escalator down to the concourse in Commercial Broadway Station, I heard the rich music of a saxophone. It was great to see a busker; I hadn't seen one in a train station for a long time.

True, I haven't been riding the train much lately, but I don't think that's the reason. The 2010 Olympics put a bit of a damper on the local street music scene when the authorities hit buskers with some new bureaucracy. They were asked to audition and pay licensing fees if they wanted to play in train stations during the games.

I ranted about that in this blog at the time, and got an immediate response from Saw Lady, a fabulous musician who plays the subway in New York City and also was being hassled by bureaucracy. Her name is Natalia Paruz and she is still going strong.

In view of all that history, I was glad to see another street musician taking his chances at the bottom of the Broadway escalator.

Buskers are a breed apart. Willing to stand out in all weather and play music for anyone who comes by, they deserve whatever breaks society can give them. They shouldn't have to pay for licenses and they shouldn't be taxed on their tips.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The cure for missing Mexico

Life has a way of evolving into regular routines, and we miss the usual patterns when they change.

Our family has been fortunate to enjoy regular vacation visits to Puerto Vallarta in winter or early spring. This year we didn't go, and I found myself missing the beach, the atmosphere and the tropical fruits we so enjoy.

A few days ago, I saw some of the huge papayas that are common there but rare here. These were imported from Central America and had been shipped green.

I bought one and before it ripened, I found Mexican key limes. Yesterday, I cut into the creamy orange flesh of the fruit and squeezed lime juice over it. All I had to do then was close my eyes, and I was back on a shady balcony in Puerto Vallarta, gazing down at the palm-fringed blue Pacific.

Wildflowers grace East Vancouver sidewalks

At the foot of a garden wall on East Broadway, these dandelions -- weeds -- bloom among the authorized plants that gardeners have placed there.

Though gardeners may vilify them, these are cheerful and lovely at the peak of their spring bloom.

When contemporary urban people look at dandelions, they see lawn invaders. But these tough, thick-rooted plants are very useful.

People in earlier times and more rural societies recognized the value of the spring leaves as vitamin-rich greens, and used the roots to make a drink resembling coffee. They also made Dandelion wine.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cavalia exploits bond between horse and human

Last night our family witnessed Cavalia, an astonishing spectacle celebrating the ancient connection between human and horse.

The cast of horses includes a number of well-known breeds: Arabian, Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, and Paint.

Some of the more obscure ones are the Iberian Lusitano, the Oldenburg from Friesia, and the Comtois from Eastern France.

The show, which originated in Shawinigan, Quebec, also displays the skills of a breed I had not previously heard of: the Canadian.

Each breed brings its special skills to the tasks it must perform, from Dressage to Team work in harness to Trick riding.

The spectacle was conceived by Montrealer Normand Latourelle. One of the original visionaries who brought Cirque du Soleil to the world, he has assembled a veritable army of acrobats, artists, craftspeople and horses to inspire as well as entertain.

Indeed, this show had everything including its own orchestra and solo musicians. The moods kept changing as the performers presented a hint of fairy tale romance, a wealth of astonishingly athletic trick riding and a soupcon of that unmistakeable Cirque-style fun.

The skill and showmanship of the performers, human and equine, was superb. The audience kept bursting into spontaneous applause.

The backdrops portrayed a variety of scenes including ancient cave paintings of horses, terracotta warrior horses from Xian, the Roman Coliseum. One of my favourites was an arrangement of sheer curtains and projected scenes that gave the illusion of watching a string of riders on a forest trail.

We left the show knowing that no matter how urban and high-tech our lives have become, the ancient bond between human and horse is decidedly intact. The popularity of Latourelle's show reveals that many -- nearly two million in North America and Europe -- have made a profound connection to this travelling spectacle.

In his own words, he has brought forward his vision as "An ode to beauty, a freedom fantasy, a hymn to harmony, one step toward a new complicity."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Evolution of car amenities follows social norms

Photo courtesy of

I once had a 1954 Austen A40 Coupe de Ville like this one. No cup holder, seat belts, lighter or cell phone charger. Just grey leather seats and a leaky soft top.

To drop the top, I'd just reach back and pull one chrome handle. Then at a traffic light, I'd reach across the back seat and pull the other chrome handle. The top dropped by itself.

Early cars had few comforts. At first, the windshield, if there was one, was about the size of a rolled-up newspaper. Roofs and doors were for sissies. For car trips, travellers wore motoring gear: caps, mufflers (scarves) and goggles.

Then car makers noticed that many drivers were smoking and cars got ashtrays, then cigarette lighters. In the new Mazda 3, the built-in space that would formerly have housed the ashtray has a No Smoking sign and the former "lighter" socket is a place to plug in a cell phone charger.

Of course the first cars had no radios. But soon car radios became the norm, followed by tape decks, then cd players. Now automobiles also have i-pod plug-ins and programmable devices that make it possible to talk hands free on your cell phone while driving.

Cup holders are also standard equipment in today's cars. But back in the days when laws and society were more lenient about drinking and driving, respectable people would never be seen drinking from bottles in cars; they drank from water fountains, or from the tap at home. When disreputable people or rebellious teens openly brandished beer bottles in cars (no drink cans yet), the police pulled them over.

Fifty years ago, nobody drank coffee while driving. Coffee, like food, meant enjoying a break. Even those who went to the new drive-in restaurants like Vancouver's White Spot paused long enough to finish the food and drink that was served on long trays fitted between car windows.

Now cars are ubiquitous, traffic is heavy and commutes are long. Accordingly, cars today are more comfortable and well-equipped than the summer cottages at the lake enjoyed by people of the past. For some, a car is now like a second home.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I Remember -- Enver Creek School

I remember Enver Creek School:
the parking lot completely quiet when I drove in,
the polite girl student I met at the front
who walked me to the main entrance.

I remember the comings and goings in the office,
where a student sat on a chair waiting for someone
as I checked in and got my Visitor badge from someone else.

I remember the busy atmosphere in the cafeteria space
where students were selling pink anti-bullying t-shirts.

I remember young faces looking at me with curiosity
or looking away with distraction or boredom
as I read my poetry, wondered if I had chosen good samples.

I remember the evidence of memory revealed on young faces
and their simple but beautiful words about basketball, family,
places nostalgically remembered as they wrote.

I remember Mr. Eberle eliciting examples of poetic technique.
and the parking lot when I left, busy and chaotic
as cars lined up to get out to the street.

I recall the sweet serious face of a girl in a lavender hoodie,
lighting up the cloudy afternoon as she waved through the car window,
recognizing me from my recent visit.

These things I have placed in my box of treasures
so that I can look at them and remember.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The annual nursery run -- fresh air and fragrance

My neighbour Pinky and I like to celebrate spring with a plant pilgrimage.

A few days ago we set out early. First we enjoyed a leisurely look around the huge property of Art's Nursery in Surrey, for which they kindly lent us an electric golf cart.

It was great fun to tool around and see the plants -- though the azaleas and rhodies weren't out yet -- it's been a late spring.

Our next stop was Cedar Rim Nursery in Langley. There we looked into various greenhouses where we admired the shape, colour and scent of a plethora of plants.

For me, the most memorable greenhouse was the one containing nothing but daphnes. What a wonderful fragrance.

We finished our outing with a nice lunch and a catch-up chat.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Arts Club's 500th production brings something new

The Philanderer, by George Bernard Shaw, was written and first produced a hundred twenty years ago. As witnessed in the recent Arts Club production at the Stanley, it has weathered well.

The director, Rachel Ditor, did something remarkable. She used Shaw's original final act, which was replaced in the original and all earlier productions by a re-written Act Three that was less provocative.

The scandalous bits seem fairly tame to us today. Yet the play has survived remarkably well. It still has relevance and poignancy, along with the laughs. As the director suggests, it is an invitation to consider how the domestic affairs of society have changed and how they have not.

In this final scene, the doctor's office seems a singularly suitable place to dissect the marriage between the egotistical and driven Dr. Paramore (Scott Bellis) and the statuesque, capricious and confused Sylvia (Amber Lewis).

The final scene throws into relief the social mores that have caused it originally to take place and ultimately to fail. A hundred twenty years of history has made less difference than we may expect.

Bernard Cuffling was brilliant as usual, as was Tom Scholte, the casual, logical, cool-headed philanderer his very self. This was the 500th production launched by the Arts Club, and it was a great one.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring comes to Steveston

The parks in Steveston are in full spring regalia, and so are the back gardens.

A brisk walk with a friend revealed some curious sights as well as a wealth of flowers.

The end of the railroad was one.

The magnolias here were a little ahead of the ones downtown.

In the park, squills and daffodils decorate the base of a tree.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Glorious spring

Photo left: Cherry blossoms in downtown Vancouver last week

Below: Magnolias opening in front of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

In our area, spring is the most beautiful season for plants. We have a mild climate and the acidic soil that promotes a breathtaking spring display of magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons.

We also have a festival of cherry blossoms. All the old neighbourhoods are lined with well-established flowering cherries, now laden with spring bloom. To maximize the pleasure of the flowers, smart city planners alternated the plantings on many streets so that as the early blossoms fade, the later ones are just coming into bloom.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Local writers read work

TWS, the Writers' Studio at Simon Fraser University, hosts a monthly reading series for local writers. Yesterday an interesting group gathered at Take Five Cafe on Granville Street to read a wide variety of pieces.

Included in the lineup were current and past members of TWS as well as members of the Thursdays Writing Collective. Instituted by TWS alumni, this second group meets weekly at the Carnegie Community Centre at Hastings and Main to provide a writing forum for people on the Downtown Eastside.

An interesting part of the evening involved an audience participation segment. The moderators, Fiona Scott and Elee Kraljii Gardiner, noted down certain lines from the performing readers and then had someone choose one randomly to use as a writing prompt.

"Push the button" was the topic and writers leaned into their task for six minutes. The prompt generated humour, drama, and cultural commentary, some of which was shared by volunteers who read their impromptu work.

The next reading in the series is Friday May 13, at the Rhizome Cafe on East Broadway.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Drive-by dogs

In this photo, a wrinkle dog looks out the window of a pickup truck with sincere doggy curiosity and wonder.

I took this picture with my cell phone at a stop light on 88th Avenue in Surrey.

In this position, the dog looks for all the world like a human. Maybe even a human driving. If so, the truck must be right hand drive.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Skipping to rhyming and repetitive songs

Rhyming is of course a very common feature of skipping songs. Songs that rhyme are easy to remember. These lyrics seemed governed more by rhyme than logic or imagery:

I went downtown to meet Miss Brown
She gave me a nickel, I bought a pickle
The pickle was sour, I bought a flower
The flower was dead, I bought some thread
The thread was thin, I bought a pin
The pin was sharp, I bought a harp
The harp sang (now we're speeding up to skip pepper)
Johnny over the ocean, Johnny over the sea
Johnny broke a milk bottle and blamed it onto me
I told Ma, Ma told Pa and Johnny got a lickin' so ha-ha-ha!
(those were the old days of glass milk bottles and spankings)

Repetition is much favoured when complex actions are involved. In these songs the repeated phrase is followed by the instructions:

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground

Spanish Dancer, do the splits
Spanish Dancer, give a high kick
Spanish Dancer, turn around
Spanish Dancer, touch the ground.

Spelling can be involved too, as in this contribution recalled by Marianna:

(Name) and (Name) sitting in a tree

Tomorrow I move to a new topic. Still, I'd love to hear some of the songs you skipped to -- from anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Skipping, counting and ABCs

Another feature of skipping songs is the common presence of letters and numbers, which are often used as cues for the skipper to begin and end a skipping turn while two others turn the rope.

Children are instinctively aware that they learn by using their senses. This could be one reason why numbers and crop up in rhymes like the following:

Cinderella dressed in yellow
Went upstairs to kiss her fellow
By mistake she kissed a snake
How many doctors did it take? 1,2,3...

Here's one that involves jumping in and out of the ropes while reciting the months of the year.

Two little birdies sitting on a wall
One named Peter, the other named Paul
Fly away Peter (first child jumps out)
Fly away Paul (other child jumps out)
Come back Peter
Come back Paul
But don't come in till your birthday's called:
January, February, March, etc.

Other songs involve ABCs and days of the week.

As well as being good exercise, skipping helps children consolidate basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Skipping song lyrics cause motherly bias

Photo: Skipping Workshops

Skipping songs varied from one prairie town to another. One day we went from Ryley to nearby Tofield. While we waited for Dad, I watched some kids skipping in the street, and told my mother I wanted to play with them.

Very unfairly, I thought, Mom made me stay in the car. These kids, she judged, were "saucy."

Meanwhile, I admired a girl with pretty curls and a very dirty face. Wistful, I watched from the open car window while she shrieked with laughter as she jumped in while the others sang:

Help! Murder! Police!
Melody fell in the grease.
She laughed so hard she fell in the lard.
Help! Murder! Police!

Melody, I thought. What a lovely name. And like my own name, it meant music. But the first lines of the skipping song were not nice. Perhaps that's what set Mom against the kids.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Polar bears in skipping song

Photo: BBC news photo, 2005

Skipping songs reflect changing history and social norms. In these days of global warming and threatened species, this skipping rhyme from the fifties takes on a tragic air.

Hello, hello, hello, sir,
Are you coming out, sir?

No sir,
Why sir?
Because I've got a cold, sir.
Where did you get the cold sir?
From the North Pole, sir.
What were you doing there sir?
Catching polar bear, sir.
How many did you catch, sir?
One, two, three, sir,
That's enough for me, sir.
If this song is still used, it must be a different version. I very much doubt the same words would be used by today's children.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sociology of skipping songs

As a child I loved skipping. Classic examples of traditional rhymes that get passed down and altered over generations, skipping songs and chants hooked my imagination.

I've often wondered where they came from originally. One English friend of my mother's generation skipped to some of the same songs I did, with minor variations. That's one clue.

This popular classic was used in the sixties; there were no tinkers.

Mississippi lives by the shore;
She has children 2 and 4.
The oldest one is twenty-four so who shall she marry?
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor?
Rich man, poor man, beggar, thief?
Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief?
Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

We skipped slowly to the first four lines. Then the pace accelerated to "pepper." Only the most nimble footed could avoid tripping long enough to marry an Indian chief or Mountie.

This was a common feature of these interactive songs. At the moment you tripped up, you got some prediction about your grown-up self. Children in unsupervised play seem to spontaneously come up with such things.

The world of childhood changes with the generations. Do children still skip and chant these traditional rhymes? Do children in other countries sing similar ones? I'd love to know.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The bliss of outdoor play

We're born to be connected to the earth below us and the cosmos above, and that sense of connection begins with outdoor play.

A generation or so ago, when society was less urbanized, children had a lot more space and freedom for play. They walked to school and home, and most kids played outside before and after supper.

In more northern latitudes, darkness came late and the summers brought the freedom to play later, usually until dusk fell. All we had to do was go home when our mothers called us.

With only each other and our dog for company, we walked in the woods by the river and built rafts on the creek. We walked along the railroad tracks and went fishing and climbed the local hills and mountains. We rode horses at the lake, and as our house had two wood stoves, we also chopped and carried a lot of firewood.

Though the high school was over a mile away, walking there was the norm. In the higher grades, a few kids with licenses drove to school.

Past generations of kids had fewer indoor distractions. We had no TV when I was growing up, and computers hadn't been invented. Our indoor toys were paper, pencils, crayons, paints and books. Winter was difficult not because we couldn't play outside, because we did, but because outdoor play was limited by early darkness.

Today's children live very different lives. Yet outdoor play can still provide a kind of bliss that no indoor activity ever can. It's beneficial for the brain, too.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The blue-crowned Stellar's Jay announces spring

Photo: Alan D. Wilson, Wikimedia

The cold winter continued all through March, even as the crocus and daffodils came out on schedule. April's been a bit warmer.

I experienced a sign of spring when I opened the back door and saw a flash of blue as a Stellar's Jay landed in a cedar tree. Staying very still I waited for the bird to ruffle its brilliant plumage and flaunt the proud crown of feathers.

The birds out here in the suburbs are different from urban birds. Years ago, when we moved from East Vancouver to Surrey, I saw the first jay I'd seen in ages. At the time, I was piggybacking my five-year-old through a stretch of unaltered native vegetation. Seeing the blue jay made me feel we were in the country, or a small town.

The blue bird of happiness flew by today, and he was a Stellar's Jay, only a few feet away.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The rough charm of the oil change man

I roll the old Miata into the lube shop. It seems I'm the first customer this morning. The young man brings me The Province, and offers me a cup of coffee. This paper has a good crossword, and the coffee is unexpectedly delicious.

He thinks he has me where he wants me. "Would you like..." But I've already worked out my strategy. I'm one step ahead of him.

"No," I answer firmly. "This is my daughter's car, and she instructed me. Only change the oil."

I dig out a pen, settle my newspaper on the steering wheel and have a sip of coffee. I'm filling in the first clue when he pipes up again.

"Ma'am, would you like..." He doesn't give up easily.

"Does it cost extra?" He admits it does, and I firmly tell him, "In that case, no, thanks," and turn back to my paper. I sip my coffee, then a violent sneeze erupts. Lucky I set the cup down in time.

"Bless you!" says the young man, and I thank him.

"Thanks. I can always use a blessing." I sip the coffee again, fill in another clue or two.

"Excuse me..." I look up to see him smiling at me, all charm. "Sorry, but we're required to ask..." I shake my head no and turn back to my coffee and puzzle, only to hear him address me again.

"Your brake light is burned out. Would you like us to change that?"

I agree to this and he tells me the price. Then I turn the tables on him. "Can you give me a coupon?" I ask him. "My daughter brings the car here all the time."

He will indulge me. "I can give you a five-dollar coupon from the book," he says, "if you're on our email list." I thank him. That will reduce the cost of having the light bulb replaced to a mere nine dollars. Can't drive around with a burnt-out brake light.

He opens the trunk and I feel the little car shake. Then he comes round with a can of lubricant and greases both door hinges. "Do you like driving this car?" I tell him I do.

His smile is fetching. "I bet your car is bigger than this." I admit this, but tell him how I love driving this car, especially with the top down.

"You're a good mother," he says. "Changing your daughter's oil. Tell her to come in if she wants the washer fluid topped up. It's free."

He brings the bill and we go over it. "I didn't wash the windows," he admits. "It's raining."

"No problem," I say and we exchange goodbyes. These guys are programmed to sell, but they love cars. This fellow's rough charm is unique, and I smile and wave as I drive away.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How introverts and extroverts ride on transit

Photo: Getty [Commuter reads a book from the Choose What You Read scheme. See "The Telegraph" story here.]

The introvert stands at the end of the platform, right where he knows the train doors will open. He doesn't push past other commuters, but moves with decision. This last car is less busy than the others.

Aha, a single seat that backs on a bulkhead. Great. He tucks his briefcase in beside his feet, pulls out his book and begins to read.

For a moment of blissful silence, our solitary commuter is absorbed in the drama of his novel, oblivious as more riders flow onto the train. Someone takes the single ahead of him.

Then across the aisle all hell breaks loose. Extroverts. They slap each other's backs and raise their voices in snatches of song. The car fills with a chorus of loud laughter.

Should he move? Surreptitiously, the introvert looks around. Nowhere to go. He glances at his watch. How can people be so noisy this early in the morning? Incredible.

More people are piling in. Crammed together, they sway as the train rocks into motion. They brace themselves, cling to the straps, buffering the noise across the way. Saved, thinks the introvert. Hey, this book is really quite interesting.

In the single seat ahead of him, a cell phone rings. A teenage girl with a high voice speaks into it, giggles loudly. He sighs. Closes his eyes briefly, then opens them, stares out the window. Breathes deeply, returns to his book.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How introverts and extroverts park their cars

The introvert drives her small car to the very last parking space (small cars only) at the edge of the fence at Two EEs Farm. Bliss, she thinks. Nobody can block my view and I can easily escape out the gate onto the Fraser Highway. It's early morning and there are few shoppers. She'll just grab a couple of things.

Alas, no. When she returns to the vehicle with her lettuce and lemons, she finds that someone has parked a huge pickup truck beside her little car, though the rest of the lot is empty. Now she cannot see to extricate herself.

Why do people do this? She simply doesn't understand. Carefully and with trepidation, she backs out past the huge obstacle, breathes a sigh of relief when she finally rejoins the traffic on the busy road.


The extrovert rolls into the parking lot, alarmed to find there are no other cars. He can't expose his truck all alone out here in this desert of silence and space. No sign of life. He looks over his shoulder with apprehension. Where are the other humans?

Then he spies it. A little white car is parked way up at the front, by the fence. Relieved, he makes a beeline for it, slides in right alongside. At least he has only one side exposed now.

Next time he'd better shop later, when there are more people. This place looks like a morgue.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Clooney's Cage -- the next generation

Photo: Pierrotsomepeopleon Flickr

Over Sunday breakfast I was telling my adult daughter about writing a post on Cluny's Cage. It's a scene in R.L. Stephenson's Kidnapped, but also a real  historic place.

"Does the phrase 'Cluny's Cage' suggest anything to you?" I asked.

"Doesn't that refer to George Clooney?"

I waited, watching her face. She didn't miss a beat. "You know," she continued, "his refusal to get down and dirty in acting."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, he plays only roles like the austere pilot, the suave, crisp lawyer or the handsome doctor who never messes up his clothes. He's like Devon Cream, all smooth and slippery."

I grinned as she amplified. "He wants to be the modern day Cary Grant or Clark Gable. He refuses to lower himself to the dirty mud of acting. It's a kind of mental prison, Clooney's cage."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cluny's Cage

Building forts was a favourite childhood activity after we moved to our home in Terrace with it's forested lot at the back.

One of my favourites was one we called Cluny's cage. The name was based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped, which features the Jacobite Highlander Alan Breck fleeing across Scotland from his enemies, moving from one safe house to another.

One of these hidden sanctuaries was Cluny's cage and we decided to build our own. My brother was handy with an axe, and he felled a few small trees. We formed these into a square, log cabin style, piling one on top of another and hewing the corners to fit. But the business required a lot of logs. Though originally we wanted it to be high enough to stand up in, we didn't get that far.

As we didn't know how to make a door, we built a stile as an entrance. At the door, we gave the password before entering, just like at Cluny's Cage in the story.

Like the original that inspired it, the fort was small and plain. The lack of windows wasn't a problem. It helped us feel suitably hidden inside. We could see out well enough through the wide cracks between the logs. We built a plank roof over half the fort and left the rest open. That summer, we were rebel Highlanders in flight. Cluny's Cage meant safety.

My mother had an electric wringer washer by then, and I remember it sounding out another name from the book: Colin Roy, Colin Roy, sang the agitator as it washed our clothes.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reading mother

As children we lived on a farm and had only an old-fashioned battery radio for entertainment. We had to amuse ourselves, and much of that centered around reading.

It was during Mom's early bedtime reading on the farm that the ancient poetry of the King James Bible seeped into my bones.

Later, with Dad was away working, we lived in town and Mom started reading us books. I remember plucking at the chenille on her apricot bedspread when the suspense became too much.

In Terrace, we rented at first while my parents house-hunted. When we were snug in a wee house on an acre of land and accustomed to riding the bus to our new school, Mom celebrated by reading us Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Robin Hood.

When Mom stopped reading to us, my elder sister, then entering her teens, took up the task. She began with The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. When she stopped at the climax to ask us to predict what was going to happen, I internalized the structure of story.

In summer, we read outdoors, sitting on the trunk of an uprooted jack pine. The vertical root ball formed the wall of our hidden reading fort. Whenever I think of Holmes and Watson, I smell again the fresh air and soil of our backyard jack pine forest.

My parents married on April 2, 1945. Today I celebrate them for reading and instilling in their children an abiding love of books. As books morph into surprising new forms, reading lives on.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reading with Dad

When I was a kid we lived on the small Alberta farm the DVA (later called Veterans Affairs Canada) settled on my father at the end of the war. He had volunteered for the navy and spent the war on convoy duty in the North Atlantic.

A quarter section of land was not a living, and my father was often away working. After the big oil strike in Leduc in 1947, he worked on the gas line. He also built grain elevators in towns around Alberta.

When I was six or so, he came out to Kitimat to find work while Alcan was building the smelter. The farm in winter, with its coal and wood stoves, the unfinished house and the prairie wind, was too much for my mother and three small kids. Dad rented us a house in town.

Dad worked in Kitimat for nearly two years before we left Ryley. Then my parents sold the farm and bought a little house in Terrace.

There, when he was not working, he would lie on his bed reading Bertrand Russell and the ancient philosophers -- the old Greeks -- Mom used to call them. Periodically he would call Mom or one of us in to read a particularly interesting passage.

He also liked to write out brief quotations from these works and pin them to his wall. I do the same, but with my computer. Instead of pinning the quotations to the wall, I add them to my file.

Thanks, Dad, for demonstrating for us the mystery and value of the written word.