Through the Miasma of Time

And the filtered mist of memory, I recall the one-room country school I attended. Today, a Sunday drive took us back to the area where I grew up. Dad farmed and for the first 12 years of my life and the first six of school, this was home.

Some landmarks are recognizable but the farmhouse and buildings were bull-dozed and cleared. The land was broken and cropped to the edge of the road. It’s impossible for me to identify the location of our yard; it’s somewhere in a stubbled, snow-covered field. North down the road, then east, and around the ‘deviation’ and there it is. The original Giles school. It’s white paint is fading but a sign still identifies it. This was the site of the annual Christmas concert. By the time I was in school, a different building had been pulled just to the east, in the same yard. The white school was now the hall and because it had a stage, was ‘perfect’ for our performances. That’s where I began and ended by singing career. In some years, community talent was thin.

The Original 1911 Giles School- the outhouses to the right.

“Everything is so small.” A cliched observation but cliches exist because they are so apt. The hall is so close to the road, the trees which seemed like a magical copse are small, and the school is gone. So is the barn for students’ horses. The outhouses are still standing. The school I attended was purchased by my Uncle to convert to a house. All that remains is a plaque that identifies the original school, now the hall.

The Plaque- a bit of a tramp through snow to get to it.

I looked forward to school each and every day. I couldn’t wait to get there in the morning; first in was first to get the swings. There were just two, the girls’ and the boys’. The backstop and ball diamond are gone. Perhaps I should stick with the bright memories, the recalled excitement, and the good times.

Sunday Quest

During the last few months, the bar for fun has been drastically lowered. Today was a good day and passed the mark. The dog walk is routine and the route seldom varies but today, this cheeky little guy caught my eye. Not the dogs, though. Good thing they don’t have to hunt for food.

Cheeky squirrel.

Then there was the weather. It got to maybe -8 today and when we started out, it was pretty dull. Halfway home the sun came out. And so did the sun dogs.

It’s not the greatest photo but you can see that there’s a whole circle around the sun…And then we were home.

But the fun didn’t stop there. Gary wanted to look for the first school he attended in Ribstone (now practically a ghost town.) It’s about an hour drive and with the sun out, it was beautiful. The pictures don’t do the hoar frost justice and the driver didn’t plan to stop for photo ops so this is the best I could do.

Winter can be beautiful.

And lastly, we did have success and found the rather humble building where Gary started his education. It’s boarded up, weather beaten, and abandoned. It suffered the fate of many such schools on the prairie. This one was moved to a nearby town, Chauvin, and may have served as a meeting centre or residence. If you look at the front, you can see the address, 320 Main Street.

By the time we got home, the sun was starting to set. It was a simple day of “fun” but the quest was a success. And simple outings make a welcome winter break. Happy Sunday.

2021- More of the same and worse…

This morning I noticed that the 2020 calendar was still hanging on my wall. I am old, and old school. I still mark appointments, coffee dates, and meetings on the wall calendar. That way, I keep reminded of what’s coming up every time I glance at it.

I didn’t celebrate the debut of the New Year because my dogs got too tired to stay awake until midnight to ring it in. COVID rules meant no gatherings. Provincial members of Parliament, even one minister, thought a Hawaiian vacation, or a trip to Mexico was a fine idea. It is- except for the new COVID mutations which they could bring back. We, the little people, had been advised not to travel. Hell, we weren’t even to gather with family. Many of us followed the rules because we’d like to see the end of the pandemic.

All this means I have no “events” to mark on the calendar and I forgot to hang it. I wish I could say the same for the United States. Home grown terrorists stormed the Capitol and made it right into the Senate Chamber where they interrupted the vote to certify Joe Biden as the 46th president. To date, 5 people have died, two from gunshots and three from “medical events.”

I celebrated the advent of 2020 and it didn’t turn out so well. Here’s hoping this very rocky start to 2021 means we’ll end on a high note. Everyone will have been vaccinated and it’ll be safe to see family and friends, to gather, to have public entertainments. Time will tell. Hang in and stay safe.

And in 2021- resolutions

As the new year looms, and 2020 has been a tough one for many people, it’s time to make resolutions. Early records suggest that the first to promise improvements in the new year were the Babylonians 4,000 years ago. When Julius Caesar in 46 BC altered the calendar, January 1st was designated the beginning of the New Year. The God Janus is associated with doorways and aches and has two faces, one looking back and one to the future. Early Christians held special services to consider past sins and make promises to do better in the new year. Clergy wanted to provide a spiritual alternative to raucous celebrations.

The roots of the New Year’s resolution are in religion but in modern times the tradition has become secular. It’s just a convenient time to mark one’s determined vow to do better. Success at making actual progress is spotty. Deciding to improve and stick with it, is harder than making the resolution and it’s easy to backslide. Ask the gyms (pre-COVID) why they have such great deals for annual memberships in January.

Most resolutions are made in good faith but new routines don’t “take.” Personally, I have thought of, and even made promises to myself for the new year. Like the majority of people, I’ve been an abject failure. My house is not cleaner, I haven’t written every day, I haven’t conquered my habit of procrastinating.

That isn’t to say one shouldn’t make resolutions. The one time that I kept mine, was New Year’s Eve 46 years ago. I quit smoking. Quit and haven’t looked back. It wasn’t easy and my dearest beloved, walked by as I was writhing in the throes of withdrawal and blew Cigarello smoke in my face. Fortunately, for me, once I became a non-smoker, I soon didn’t feel the craving. I know that’s not true for everyone but I haven’t thought of cigarettes for years. Now the smoke bothers me; my eyes itch and redden.

As luck would have it, smoking has made some people pariahs, relegated to dingy corners outside to indulge their habit. The health concerns associated with the tars, nicotine, and other chemicals are much better researched. I quit before my children were born. I am very grateful for that; retroactive guilt is a nasty thing.

New Year’s resolutions? Sometimes, they do invoke change. 2020 has taught us all a bit about hardship, induced odd behaviour in others. Here’s to 2021. Happy New Year, Everyone.

Dog Boot Dilemma

My dogs are small (the little guy, only 10 pounds) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy all the canine pursuits- sniffing, marking, and going on walks. Best of all are the walks and even though he’s small, he likes a nice long stroll. My other dog is a Jack Russell. She’s three years old and the her breed tells you all you need to know about her energy level.

The annual winter dilemma revolves around keeping them warm while we enjoy the walking trails in our small town. The dogs each have a warm coat so they are fairly tough. It’s their feet that create a problem so we have a rule- when the temperature is lower than -10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) we stay home. If there’s no wind, we might manage a shorter walk when it’s colder.

Winter walk

The bigger issue is keeping Scruffy’s (the little guy’s) feet warm. In this picture, he’s wearing the pull-on rubber boots. They were awfully tight around his “ankles” but seemed to work. Then after a couple of walks, when I noticed a little blood on his paws when I took them off. He would lick and lick his front toes and legs. Obviously, the rubber wasn’t doing the job any more. I bought expensive boots from the pet store but they were stiff and I saw a little blood.

The solution wasn’t to leave him behind so that Taz, the Jack Russell would get enough exercise to keep her semi-sane. He cried pitifully, at high volume, and an ear-piercing pitch. I didn’t know what we could do. On warm days (and without new snow), he can forget the boots but there are times he needs them.

In the end, I used Google and found a crocheted pattern for small dog boots. Some old yarn and a little patience (not something I generally have an abundance of) resulted in sock-like boots that he can wear. They aren’t without their problems (yesterday he blew first one on his front paw and then one on a back paw) but once I get them on properly, he hardly notices them. He has one pair so now I have to make my furry friend a second set.

Taz isn’t immune to cold (or sidewalk de-icer) but she’s tougher. If it isn’t too cold, we can make winter work. The fresh air, sights like winter hoar frost, and people skating or sledding make the wait for spring tolerable.

Winter is the Time to

read. Outdoor activities notwithstanding, winter offers long evening hours and more time to read. This year there’s more opportunities than ever to seek out and enjoy books you haven’t had time for earlier. Perhaps because the media is inundated with stories of COVID hardship or maybe because I’ve been thinking about my mum and dad in World War 11, I have been watching documentaries and movies that feature Churchill.

The Splendid and the Vile recounts Churchill and his family’s experience during the Blitz. Larson has consulted many diary entries, official documents, and letters. Some of the sources haven’t been used in other accounts of Churchill’s first year in power. The story of the Blitz is well known but this book not only looks into the dramatic events, but as also explores the lives and feelings of the people directly involved, either in making decisions or as family supporting Churchill.

Diary entries of Goering, WW1 ace, and then Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe look at how the Blitz was conducted from the German viewpoint. Similarly, we are shown how Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda, spun the story for the German public and how he attempted to mislead the British.

Churchill had to maintain a fine balance between revealing Britain’s desperate situation and gaining real help from the United States. During that first year (1940-41), American support in any form was unpredictable. Roosevelt did manage to have the Lend Lease Bill approved and some relief was afforded Great Britain which was nearing the limit of its resources. Churchill knew that although this aid was welcome, defeat was inevitable unless America joined the war.

Since it is nonfiction, The Splendid and the Vile is not a fast read but for me, it made the Blitz very real and carried me back to a time when the future of Europe and Great Britain was very much at stake. The People of Great Britain suffered huge casualties, saw cities destroyed, and yet they did not give in. The December 7th attack on Pearl Harbour forced American entry to the war. After that, victory was likely although it took four more years of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Churchill inspired the British people to keep fighting when it seemed hopeless. He was an amazing personality, just the man for the time.

Winter Fun – Part Two

Cross-country skiing is a fine exercise and can be a lot of fun. At one time, we’d get together with friends for an afternoon of the great outdoors on skies. I confess to buying (and wearing because it was expensive) a blazing yellow outfit. Chances are I would never be lost; like a winter dandelion, I stood out.

The outfit isn’t quite bright enough.

Once at the “creek”, we started off with one of the gentlemen in the lead. After a bit of what I considered bossy competition, I decided to venture out on my own. How can you get lost in a small area where the choices of trails are limited? You can’t because you can see into the valley to your destination but there was no route down. Trees, shrubs, and bush blocked my descent. By the time I determined that I was going to have to make my way through this uncharted territory, the other skiers had already gathered by the bonfire.

I pushed off and sank into the snow past my knees. Still it had to be faster to continue on skis. Undergrowth tangled around my feet and interrupted my downward progress. A couple of times I fell but by this time I was committed and climbing back up the steep slope wasn’t an option. I more or less tumbled and stumbled my way back to the others. And I was right about my visibility. Everyone watched my awkward descent and on arrival at the bonfire, I was greeted by unsympathetic laughter.

I paid for my stubbornness but those who followed the leader encountered their own challenges. They skied along the top of the hills before heading into the valley. Then they skimmed along the smooth snow-covered surface of the frozen creek until their route was interrupted by fallen trees. Once they managed to navigate those obstacles, a beaver dam blocked their way. The creek continued 10 feet below the pond created and everyone had to clamour down.

By the time we gathered around the bonfire, the fresh air and exercise had stoked appetites. Anecdotes were exchanged while smokies and wieners cooked over the fire. That simple fare never tasted so good. Winter can be fun.

Winter Fun

It’s been too easy for me to denigrate our winter weather, finding fault, complaining, and dreading it. How fickle memory is. Some of our best times have been outdoors in winter. Not every day is good for sledding or skiing but it’s not every summer day that you want to dive into the lake or lie on the beach taking in the rays.

Not the creek but still the great outdoors.

Every Canadian kid can narrate a tale of misadventure sledding, tobogganing, or sliding headlong on some other device to the bottom of a snow-covered slope. Near-death experiences aren’t uncommon but it isn’t every time that a parent witnesses the close call.

Friends used to invite us out to the “creek” to sled and cross-country ski on the hills. The country is quite rugged and the route the kids were to slide down provided a long, fast ride. My son was 8 years old and his vehicle of choice was the “Sno Nut.” It was similar in shape to the tube from a tire but the material it was made from meant it was a racer.

I was standing on my skis, halfway down the hill on a natural plateau before the final run. C—- left from the top and gaining admirable speed hit a bump as he approached me and was airborne. He flew past at eye level and careened down the hill, at an incredible rate. All I could do (all anyone could do) was watch in horror. I thought I was going to see my son race to a horrible end. Just before he hit the willows at the edge of the creek, C—- bailed. The “Sno Nut” carried on into the bushes and my son wasn’t even bruised.

There was no more riding the “Sno Nut” from the crest of the hill. It was the only sled that went so fast so the other sliders were safer. The adults cross-country skied and at the end of the day of winter fun, there was the bonfire. Flames leaped into the darkness as we consumed the food we’d brought. When is was time to go, everyone pitched in. A great winter day.

A Better Christmas 2020

Hollywood winter which is depicted in movies as gentle snow with no need to wear gloves, toques, and winter boots is over. Even blizzards have bare-headed heroes in film and that’s the kind of weather we’ve had for the last couple of weeks. Today was different. Old Man Winter crept in with fog and painted the landscape with hoar frost. It was chillier and it’s going to get cold. Real winter is on the way.

Hoar frost today.

Alberta has entered a period of new COVID restrictions that coincide with the change in weather. No more indoor visitors; only the people you reside with. No outdoor visitors. Outdoor activities are permitted if you do them with the people of your household. You can skate, toboggan, sled, walk, skate. But you aren’t supposed to meet family or friends to do it. There are rules for retail outlets as well. Christmas gatherings are limited to, you guessed it, your household. this means me, Gary and the dogs. I guess it’ll be a little quieter. Am I happy about not seeing my grandkids and kids? NO. But I understand the reasons. Alberta has high infections levels and unless we isolate, they will continue to rise so Christmas is different.

A friend and I were bemoaning via text message the fact that we wouldn’t be seeing anyone this holiday. She said, “This year it will be just me and N___. But we’re going to have Christmas in July. We’ll meet our son and his girlfriend at a campsite and celebrate then.” What a revelation! The family part of Christmas can be postponed and the spiritual part can be observed by reading scriptures, meditating, praying by yourself or attending online services. Christmas get-togethers are postponed until summer. Retailers have been observing Christmas in July for a long time. Now we’ll be doing that, too. Barbecued steak, potato salad, and beverages around the campfire. I can hardly wait.