Month: January 2017

In Memoriam, Zeke the Cat

Zeke, The World’s* Best Cat

September 25, 1997-January 24, 2017

After struggling with late-stage kidney disease for several months, today Zeke slipped quietly out of life, but not out of our memories.

2010-08-30

2011-09-12

2015-09-04

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*my world’s.

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Shower Thoughts

I actually remembered a thought that floated into my brain when I was in the shower this morning. Usually, these random ideas vanish by the time I’ve dried myself off, leaving behind at most a frustrating husk — now what was that great idea again? Lost forever, the thought is inevitably a priceless evidence of genius.

This time, I bustled out of the bathroom, grabbed a pen, flipped open a notebook and wrote this: psychopomp & psychopath. Puns, etc.

Not exactly a pearl of wisdom, eh? Let’s see…

I started by thinking (as I often do) about the piece of writing I’m working on now, which is set in Egypt. I was mulling over the concept of the soul in ancient Egypt — a rather complex composite of the ka, the ba, the akh and some other bits and pieces. At this point, the brain skipped to psychopomp, which is not Egyptian but Greek, meaning “one who conducts the souls of the dead to the afterlife.” Then I got to thinking that “psychopomp” is a rather unwieldy word. (I see the spell-checker thinks it’s not a word at all). Someone unacquainted with it would probably focus on the “psycho” part and think of serial killers. But what’s a “pomp?” Pomp and circumstance? Or pompous? A serial killer who thinks he knows best?

The main character of the 4-book series I have published becomes a psychopomp. Unfamiliar and weird, it’s useless as a keyword for book discovery. “Conductor of souls” is less mystifying, but may suggest a “soul train,” which would be totally misleading.

In a short story I published recently, the psychopomp recognizes a psychopath — two, actually — which takes him onto a difficult path, indeed. A psycho-path? I could say more, but I won’t, in case anyone wants to read the story.

To capture other, possibly more valuable shower thoughts, I think I’ll stash a notebook and a writing implement of some sort in the bathroom. That way I’ll have to hold the thought only until I finish toweling off. And if I get a notebook and pen designed to work in wet conditions, maybe not even that long.

It will be interesting to see if the thoughts captured are of more significance than these.

 

 

 

Sawdust In My Eyes

Pruning time again. This year I have a Master Pruning Plan. In the front garden: magnolia, barberry, cotoneaster, photinia, snowberry, Oregon grape. Those last two are the most challenging, being ferocious suckerers. It’s not so much a matter of pruning as of deciding how much to cut down and dig up.

I’ve already done the easier ones, if one can describe as “easy” sawing a 2-inch thick magnolia limb at an awkward angle with sawdust blowing into one’s eyes, or balancing on one leg while zubbing away at an old barberry trunk, with spines poking into one’s scalp. And who would have guessed that barberry wood — and therefore its sawdust — is bright yellow?

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Pruning saw blade with barberry sawdust

The cotoneaster received the harshest treatment. It had grown amazingly the past decade or so, until it was obscuring a good deal of the house, including the number. I removed two major stems (2 inches diameter) that had lots of branches shooting off at weird angles, entangled with several seasons’ worth of clematis “Polish Spirit.” This is one of the C. viticella cultivars, reputed to be tough and vigorous, best managed by cutting down every year. I used to cut mine quite high, so as to encourage growth through the cotoneaster, and the last couple of years I didn’t cut it down at all. The lowest parts of the stems (a huge mass of them) were half an inch in diameter. I whacked the whole works back to less than a foot from the ground. Really hoping that “tough and vigorous” description is true, and new shoots will emerge in spring.

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Old Clematis stems

There is still a lot to do — shaping a tall Rosa glauca that had been bullied by the cotoneaster into an unbecoming lean, and, of course, doing battle with the snowberry and Oregon grape. Then there’s the back garden — trimming overgrown hollies and getting dead wood out from under the vigorous new canes of a huge climbing rose. Must acquire Kevlar suit.

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Post-pruning scene — stonework visible again!

Free Lunch!

Since December, this usually balmy part of the world has been experiencing spasms of cold weather — cold and windy, cold and frosty, even a bit snowy. Being at home during the day now, I’ve been observing bird activity on the premises. I’m not a “birder,” but I can’t help but notice the birds that hang around the place, and what they’re up to. Given the weather, I decided to provide some sustenance for the little dudes.

After a bit of internet research, I supplied the following: black oil sunflower seeds in a hanging tube-shaped feeder with little perches, a block of suet with embedded seeds of some sort, white millet seeds scattered on the ground and a hummingbird feeder with a correctly prepared sugar solution. (Before anyone objects to this as out of season, I’ll just point out that Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents here). The hummingbird feeder is close to a kitchen window.

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Anna’s hummingbird

 

Observations so far: even though black-oil sunflower seeds are recommended as suitable  for a large variety of birds, the only ones I’ve seen partaking of them here have been chestnut-backed chickadees, who show up now and then. I figure I have enough sunflower seeds for the next 20 years.

The suet is preferred by gangs of bushtits and a couple of Bewick’s wrens, as well as some sort of tiny, yellowish green bird I haven’t managed to identify. I’m especially fond of Bewick’s wrens, because of the pair that nested in a shoe on the back porch a couple of summers ago.

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Towhee and junco

 

Seeds on the ground, which may include spills from the hanging feeder, and suet crumbs, are popular with juncos (winter residents here) and what may be golden-crowned sparrows, as well as a solitary towhee. Strangely, the resident house sparrows don’t bother with any of this largesse. I have no idea where they get their food.

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Male hummingbird?

Hummingbirds have started visiting their feeder. I’ve noticed one hanging out in the apple tree and coming over to sip the sugar solution at intervals. I’ve also seen him chasing another bird away, which I gather is typical of hummingbirds. Later, what appears to be a different bird turned up — possibly a female?

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Female hummingbird?

All this is rewarding for everyone concerned, a win-win, but there is some responsibility involved on my part: replenishment of feed when needed, and cleaning of feeders to prevent fungi and other nasties. At night I haul the clothesline from which the seed tube and suet are suspended close to the house, to keep everything out of any rain or snow. Then there’s fretting about the temperature at which the sugar solution might freeze… Always something to figure out and “manage.”

 

 

 

Local Author Book Review #12: Hunter’s Daughter by Nowick Gray

This book is part of the 2016 Emerging Local Authors Collection at the Greater Victoria Public Library.

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From the back cover:

Northern Quebec, 1964: Mountie Jack McLain, baffled by a series of unsolved murders, knows the latest case will make or break his career. Eighteen-year-old Nilliq, chafing under the sullen power of her father in a remote hunting camp, risks flight with a headstrong shaman bent on a mission of his own. Their paths intersect in this tense mystery charting a journey of personal and cultural transformation.

Despite the reference to murder and a Mountie, and the word “mystery” above, this book is not a conventional “murder mystery.” Instead, it’s a character-driven, in-depth examination of cultural and personal change in Canada’s arctic. While the murders propel the plot, the substance of this book is a complicated dance of the principal characters, examining relationships and events from different points of view.

Sections narrated in first person by Jack McLain alternate with third-person chapters related from the point of view of Nilliq. This is entirely appropriate, since the author is a white man whose experience of the North was several years of teaching in Quebec Inuit villages. He does not presume to speak with the voice of an Inuit woman, but makes a great effort to represent her culture accurately. All other characters are seen through the eyes of these two; in some cases the same events and people. Rather than repetitious, I found these reiterations helpful in solidifying my understanding of events and relationships.

McLain and Nilliq are people in transition. He knows his term of service is coming to an end, due to imminent bureaucratic changes. Disillusioned with trying to administer justice in a rapidly changing and idiosyncratic cultural situation, but without any solid prospects elsewhere, McLain is a somewhat sad figure, an intelligent and well-meaning individual who too easily sees the dark side of things, but with a fundamental love for the northern way of life. Nilliq teeters on the edge of womanhood, increasingly aware of the exploitation of women by the men around them, and longing for wider horizons. Opposing them and one another are the enigmatic hunter and shaman who calls himself Wallin, although he also has other names, and the menacing figure of Nilliq’s father Sandlak.

The prose is spare and direct, tracing the narrative in a linear way, but permitting the characters to show background complexities in their interactions and conversations, finally taking the reader to a point where the issue of the murders is largely resolved, allowing the main characters to move on to new situations.

Hunter’s Daughter is a tale well told, with special relevance and interest at this time when many Canadians are trying to learn more about their country’s native peoples.

My rating: 9/10 stars.

One Way Mirror

We took down our Christmas lights today. No more blue glow from the porch this evening.

A day or two after Christmas, the world changes — completely. Christmas trees and decorations are still up, but seem less relevant with every passing minute. Shame on anyone who dares to play (or hum or whistle) a Christmas tune. The excitement that started building in November has reached a climax and dissipated. The deadline of Christmas Day is dead, and new ones appear on the horizon. Valentine’s Day. Birthdays. Spring break. School holidays. The wheel of the year must trace an entire revolution, through budding, blooming and fading, before those coloured lights of the winter solstice look right again. The only way to get there is forward, through the raw brightness of the new year.

For some reason this abrupt shift was especially acute this year. It may be because on New Year’s Day a strong northeast wind came up, bringing a week of cold, dry weather. OK, it wasn’t true Canadian cold, but cold enough for us West Coast types — minus 5 degrees C (23 F) at the nadir, which came last night after the wind finally dropped. But air hovering around the freezing point feels murderously cold when propelled by a 30 or 40 knot wind. That wind seemed to blow Christmas and its trappings right out of town, intensifying the effect of the annual post-holiday shift.

Another slightly disconcerting thing was a feeling that I should be going back to work, as though the nine months since I retired on March 31st were just an extended holiday, now over. I have to say I’m happy to reassure myself that it’s not so, emphasized by the fact that the first new items of clothing and footwear I’ve acquired since then are without question “loafing clothes.”

Cozy lounging sweater (with hood) and purple felt slippers.

Cozy lounging sweater (with hood) and purple felt slippers.

Remember those geraniums (pelargoniums) I resolved to pull through the first episode of cold weather several weeks ago? Well, I added extra insulating materials and covered everything with a tarp. When I unveiled them today they looked alive, but I’m wondering if they’re actually green zombies that will eventually show their true deadness by turning brown.

Pelargoniums tucked in against the cold.

Pelargoniums tucked in against the cold.