Archive for July, 2008

If I grow up I think I will try archaeology
July 31, 2008

I’ve spent the day working in the sandbox again. Those of you who are wondering what a senior citizen is doing playing in a sandbox, rest assured I am not experiencing my second childhood. Yet! The truth be known, I have not yet left my first childhood. But, I digress. The sandbox is the whole of my backyard and it is part of an ancient raised beach of Lake Superior.

My current project is to reshape the beach so that there is no grass to bother with. I don’t want to water, fertilize or cut backyard grass again. To that end, my wife, Joy, and I have been hand digging out the roots of crabgrass, poplar trees, and sundry other forms of plant life. And ants! Big ants! Big red ants! We have chosen to hand dig for a variety of reasons. A few years ago, (Did I mention this was a big project? Yeah! Really big!) We tried using a gas driven cultivator to clear the vegetable garden. It worked!

The next spring the grasses and other plants came back with a vengeance–especially the crabgrass. It seems that when one uses a cultivator, the big crabgrass roots get chopped into thousands and thousands of little crabgrass roots. Given time, water and sunlight those chopped roots become–you guessed it–more crabgrass. So we dug the whole of the garden with a twisty thing to loosen the soil and roots and a garden fork to separate the roots from the sand. It worked. I now have a crabgrass free garden and the soil is very easy to dig and turn for the next year’s planting. This proven method of root extraction, while labour intensive, is effective. It is also green, quiet (I get to commune with the birds and the wind in the trees, the buzzing of mosquitoes the roar of the motorbikes practicing motocross in the easement) and it is great exercise.

So the project expanded and now we are removing all the grasses one root at a time from the backyard. That’s what led me to thinking about being an archaeologist. This digging is a nostalgia trip. WE are digging up things not only from the ancient past but, we are finding things from our past. Things that became lost in the sands since we built our home thirty years ago.

Today I dug up an aluminium tent peg. It came to be there from the night we had a company of Girl Guides camping in our backyard. My wife was a guide leader and the girls wanted a camping badge. At that time our home was backed by boreal forest and the backyard was the perfect place to practice camping skills in relative safety. The Guides set the tent, built a campfire and cooked their dinner. Later in the evening we joined them around the campfire and sang songs, told stories and ate somemores and drank hot chocolate and watched the stars. It was a great evening.

At lights out, I made certain that the girls and Joy were settled into their sleeping bags assuring them that if they needed me, the doors to the house were not locked and they could come in and waske me. You know the kind of things to which I refer–the tent fell down,; it is raining and everyone is wet;… Sure enough, in the wee hours of the morning I was awakened by a passel of girls running into the house more than a bit distraught and squealing loudly. They heard gunshots in the woods behind the house.

Guess who was sent to check this story out. Just guess. I got up and dressed and headed outside while the girls huddled in our room with Joy. No sooner had I stepped round the corner of the house when I heard the distinct sound of a firearm being discharged in short bursts. In short order I, too, was hunkered down with Joy and the guides wondering if we were under attack.

All that from an old tent peg buried in the back yard. Some of the details are blurred and no doubt I have done some embellishing. But that’s OK. It is my story and my memory. I don’t quite remember the outcome of it all other than it was a young man who had purchased a firearm through a magazine. He was out trying it out!

I wonder if archaeologists feel the same kind of rush when they find a tent peg or a musket ball or a… Yes, I think I will try archaeology when I grow up.                           GRB

For the love of music…
July 30, 2008

Tonight was the fifth in the series of Concerts in the Park(ing Lot) and featured “Outside the Lines” with local singer songwriter Bonnie Couchie warming up the crowd.

We truly are a dedicated crowd with a passion for music regardless of the venue or the climate. Tonight was a classic example of the devotion we have for supporting Canadian musicians.

At 6:30 pm the fog pulled back to the lake and the sun shone. A glorious evening for an outdoor concert. We gathered our chairs, picked up our granddaughter and off we went. Chairs were set close to and centered on the performers. We helped set the barricades to keeep traffic out of the concert area of the parking lot and hunkered down to enjoy a few hours of live music with a hot coffee for company.

At the second warmup song the sun disappeared and the fog rolled in and still Bonnie sang, drowning out the freight train rolling by not more than 30 metres away. The crowd cheered her on. Mid-way throught the third warmup song an occasional raindrop splashed into my coffee cooling it to a more drinkable temperature. Still the bulk of the crowd of 50 or so stayed glued to their seats. A few of the less hardy took shelter under the awnings of the store fronts at the mall.

“Test. Test. More volume on the monitor. OK. OK.”

Outside the Lines took over from Bonnie and began to belt out what I call folk/rock songs with great harmonies from guitar, harmonica, mandolin and voice. They were great! Mother Nature welcomed them too by adding a steady rain that changed to a downpour. And still there were some hardy folk who stayed in their chairs under umbrellas. Most, though, took refuge under the awnings. But we stayed the course. It wasn’t until the rainwater began to pool in our chair seats that we reluctantly broke for the car to wait it out. The musicians never missed a beat.

The reward was a breathtaking rainbow to add visual emphasis to the music.

Picture this being introduced with music.

Picture this being introduced with music.

What a perfect evening. Great music with many friends punctuated with a rainbow. Not one person melted from the rain. All-in-all, a grand evening.                       GRB

The Cellular world is warped…
July 30, 2008

My cell phone bill arrived today.  I examined each of the three pages carefully, as I do each month, to see what exactly the charges cover. And here is what I have concluded. Cellular companies are strictly in the business of making money. There is precious little of what I consider value for service.

My bill breaks down something like this:

  • Monthly contract fee: $19.95
  • System access charge:$ 7.50
  • 2 calls:                        $   .50
  • Fed/Prov Sales taxes   $ 4.90
  • Total                           $32.85

By my calculations, that works out to $16.475 per call. Am I wrong or does that seem a trifle excessive for 2 phone calls? I called Customer Service to see if there was a better option than my current service. I don’t mind paying for something I use but…

It seems that the cell service provider offers a Prepaid Mobility service–only it is not in my area. The company is planning to introduce that service in the future although no timeline is forthcoming. Anyway, I wouldn’t be eligible for that service until my current contract runs out in another year and a half. It appears I am stuck with a service that I use rarely and pay greatly for. Hmmmm! I’m thinking that I didn’t really think this through before I got involved. It strikes me as extravigant for emergency use only.

I did ask about the Prepaid Mobility service though in anticipation that I might switch to it when and if the service comes to my area and my current contract is done. It works like this. I buy XX minutes of call time. There are no other fees. Now that sounds more like it! Right? Not! I have to use up the time in 30 days. I have to be certain to call someone I don’t want to talk to just so I can get the value of the money I spent on the minutes.

“Can I carry the unused portion of my calling time to the next month?” I asked. The response may as well have been something like, “Are you daft?” Apparently one cannot on pain of … well, suffice to say, I cannot carry forward unused minutes. My understanding is this: I buy X minutes of call time. If I don’t use that time in 30 days the company gets to keep my money and I get… What exactly is it that I get? Hmmmmmmm?

Am I the only one who finds this somewhat strange?                    GRB

Superior views …
July 23, 2008

I’m on the road again heading east along the north shore of Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie with a truck load of gently used clothing to drop at Value Village and six dive tanks needing annual inspection. More importantly, I am off to visit my sister and brother-in-law for a few days. I haven’t seen them since last December. That time hardly counts as a visit. On that trip it was dark and cold and very late at night  and Dave and I stayed only long enough to get a few hour sleep as we began a diving adventure to Bonne Terre, MO. But I am excited at the opportunity to see family again.

It is a drive I have made many times and is one of my most favourite places in Canada to travel. At Wawa the highway picks up the shoreline of Lake Superior again and provides spectacular views of the lake. Wawa is a good place to stop for a bit of a break from driving; a chance to stretch muscles stifened from sitting too long in one position. It was a great place for a lunch stop with a view and some delightful conversation with a lady from Trinidad who now calls the north shore home.

I have some favoutie spots where I frequently linger on this journey.

Old Woman Bay is the first of the breath-taking sights. The approach to the bay is a long hill one drives down and the highway appears to change from pavement into a wide light sand beach curving off to the right and backed by a massive wall of granite. I’ve never been able to find the perfect vantage point from which to photograph this marvel and capture the awesomeness of this approach to the Lake. It is more an experience than a fixed image. But it is just the first of the ‘aha’ moments in the drive.

I’m tempted to stop and linger awhile at Montreal River Harbour. It is more typical of many of the beaches on the north shoreline. No sand here! Just large, rounded bowls created by the power of the waves on the lake that force chunks of granite to rub against one another with such force that over time rounded stone are formed. It is difficult beach to walk along. It does, though, speak to the power of the lake.

Montreal River Harbour at Trails End

Montreal River Harbour at Trails End

The beach covering ranges from pebbles to rocks the size of a human head all shaped by wave action.  This site is even more wondrous when a storm is raging on the lake and you get the chance to watch the creation process in action–rocks moving against rock. The roar of the waves and the wind are reminiscent of a great factory churning out rounded bowls.

And so a simple drive always turns into a longer drive because there is still Katharine Cove, Alona Bay, Pancake Bay, Agawa, Batchewana and on and on. I always marvel that I reach my destination. This trip was no different than all the ones before; it took much longer to get to the Sault only because of dallying along the way. I’m smiling as I write that phrase because it carries me back to a time when I was small and my father would frequently find me dallying and have to call me back to reality.

The sun shone. The traffic was light. The sights were marvellous as always. I did actually arrive at my destination only 3.5 hours later than planned. Sigh!                     GRB

Prayers of hope…
July 21, 2008

Today my friend Ken begins his first bout of chemotherapy. He has been in the forefront of my thoughts as we edge closer to today. I am reminded, too, that I haven’t checked in with Katja since her last cancer surgery. Today’s prayer is for them and for all who are troubled with illness. This Prayer for Healing is from our First Nation’s Tradition.

Mother, sing me a song
That will ease my pain,
Mend broken bones,
Bring wholeness again.
Catch my babies
When they are born,
Sing my death song,
Teach me how to mourn.

Show me the Medicine
Of the healing herbs,
The value of spirit,
The way I can serve.

Mother, heal my heart
So that I can see
The gifts of yours
That can live through me.


Migwetch                               GRB

Sacred Spaces…
July 21, 2008

Storm sky over Pebble Beach

Storm sky over Pebble Beach

Since my childhood Lake Superior has been a sacred space for my family; more specifically, Pebble Beach. My parents and sister and I worshiped here frequently when I was growing up. It is still a sacred space and my wife and children also recoginze the spirituality of the place. Our children still make pilgrimage to this spot when they return home for visits. Throughout the years when I feel troubled or need a place to think I go to the water at Pebble Beach. It is a quiet spot to commune with the Creator. It is  a cleansing place and I always feel refreshed and at peace following a visit here.

Some years ago my youngest son asked me to learn to scuba dive with him. Since then we have been diving buddies and one of our favourite places to dive is in the cold waters of Lake Superior. It has allowed me to experience my awe and wonder of creation in a whole new light; to experinece Superior from above and as part of it. I feel incredibly safe when suspended in her waters. This is the time iwhen all my physical aches and pains disappear. Cradled! It deepens my relationship with my understanding of God and my faith.

Saturday morning Dave and I went diving; our first for this season. It was glorious! I felt refreshed. Mostly, I felt at peace suspended in the water, laying on my back watching my air bubbles travel upward to break on the surface. I can hardly wait for the next dive.

Greetings from inside Lake Superior

Greetings from inside Lake Superior


On days like this, life is perfect. Thanks, David. Love, Dad.                                               GRB

The past returns to haunt…
July 20, 2008

I received a call on Friday last asking me if I could edit a photograph and take a person out of the picture. I agreed and the caller dropped the photograph off to be reworked. They want it ready for an up-coming school reunion.

Many years ago I taught with a man who was charged with and convicted on  many counts of sexual assault against children in our community. I haven’t thought about him or the children for some time. The perpetrator died many years ago following his conviction. The healing process has been a long one and I suspect there are some who may never heal. I am reminded of this time in our past when we hear stories of pedophilia in the news.

It was the image of the perpetrator I was asked to remove from a school group photograph. Easily done! But while erasing the image I began to think about what exactly I was doing. Does erasing his image change anything at all? We cannot erase or undo history regardless of how we feel about the content. The man did exist. He still did the terrible things. Erasing his image doesn’t change that at all.

All of this happened about thirty years ago and the message I am discerning is that the wounds are still very deep for some. Perhaps not having this individual’s image in the class photograph of 19xx may allow those who were abused to feel more comfortable with their peers. The abused children are now adults in their 40s with childen of their own and I wonder how they reconcile their lost innocence in relationship with their own children.

I wonder if the abused will ever be free of the stigma attached to this time in their history. Perhaps the electronic eraser I am using will allow them to enjoy their weekend with old classmates without the memories of the bad times. I hope so. How does one heal from something such as this? Is it possible to forgive someone who has perpetrated such wrong on others?

Today I prayed for their healing.                  GRB

Strawberry Fields
July 17, 2008

Dessert in the backyard

Dessert in the backyard

While working in the backyard yesterday and today I discovered these ripe wild strawberries begging to be picked and eaten with my morning cereal or as a treat in the evening with ice cream. They are late this year. More often than not they are ready for picking in June. The wait is worth it though. The aroma of strawberry surrounds us as we pick, heightening the anticipation of devouring these tiny flavour bombs. It is hard to believe that they are the parent of the cultivated strawberry we expect to find, year round, at our grocers. This is the beginning on my annual 100 Km diet. First the strawberries, then raspberries, saskatoons, pin cherries, cranberries and blueberries. Come! The fruit market has just opened and the price is right. They only cost the time it takes to pick your fill.  GRB

July 16, 2008

Today the sun shone. I know that’s not terribly remarkable for most people but it is significant for the north shore of Lake Superior this year. We haven’t had much sun this summer. Mostly we have had rain–buckets of rain. Large buckets of rain. So when I say the sun shone today, know that it is a meaningful event.

We spent the day digging in the back yard redesigning the lay of the land. Our home (sanctuary) is built on an ancient raised beach of Lake Superior and the soil is 99% fine beach sand. The remaining 1% is what passes for topsoil in these parts. The Lake is currently about a kilometre away from the house and is significantly lower than the old beach in which we toiled.

While digging crabgrass roots out of the sand and marvelling at the fine hairy roots other plants put down to eek sustanance from the beach, I retold myself the story of “Paddle to the Sea” and wondered if perhaps the canoe stopped on my beach in its journey to the ocean. Then I replayed, in the theatre of my mind, the old NFB film “The Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes”. I can see the waves pounding against these ancient sands doing as I am doing–reshaping the landscape.

As always time marched on and we accomplished the task we set out to do. Just another reshaping of the shoreline of Lake Superior. I feel good!  GRB

Tugging at the heart strings…
July 16, 2008

Today I received one of those e-mails that get forwarded many times that are designed to tug at one’s heart strings to cause something to happen in support of an idea or an issue or an action. I don’t often read them because they cater to emotion rather than logic and reality. But this one was forwarded by a person whom I trust and respect–so I read the message.

It was a heart warming and good story of a Sargent in the Canadian Armed Forces who was accompanying a fallen comrade, killed in Afghanistan, home to his family. The person telling the story in the first person is moved by the whole idea and is requesting that we, the general public, participate in a movement to show support for the Canadian Forces personnel stationed in Afghanistan by wearing something red every Friday. Hence the title “Red Friday”. The intent is for a ground-swell of support for the military across Canada. It is attributed to an employee of the Workers’ Compensation Board.

It was a good story! It succeeded in its intent–to involve the reader in the emotional turmoil surrounding the Canadian Forces presence in Afghanistan. But there was something about the whole thing that bothered me then and is still bothering me. Let me explain.

  1. The language of the story wasn’t Canadian. I am not aware of fallen soldier’s bodies being returned home on commercial airlines by a single NCO. There is considerably more flag waving and attention given to the return of our dead.
  2. The phrase “…and are voicing our love for God, country and home… ” is not a Canadian phrase. While I am not a linguist and have nothing other than instinct on which to base my comment, it is a phrase more commonly associated with American politics: e.g. …God country and the American way… Canadian’s don’t normally talk of God and country in this manner. Although I do note that Prime Minister Harper is using that phrase more often in his public appearances.
  3. The whole of the message was attributed to an emloyee of title with the Workers’ Compensation Board thus lending an air of authenticity to the whole thing. The message has been sent by an individual, in authority, in a Government institution. It must have weight. I checked! The person who apparently originated the message does exist in all the details reported in the email.
  4. But the message goes on to request the recipient to pass the message on to all and sundry; to help create a movement, aground swell of support for our members of the Armed Forces deployed in Afghanistan. To not forward the message lays the guilt trip–“IF YOU COULDN’T CARE LESS — THEN HIT THE DELETE BUTTON”. So what is one to do if you don’t agree with the message but sympathise with the loss of a life?

I did some checking and the message originated in the United States in 2005 and has gone through a number of iterations until its present form today relating to the Canadian Armed Forces. You can find the details at . So here we have a rehash of a movement that started in the States in 2005 to involve the American public in supporting the involvement of the American Military in Afghanistan. Surely we don’t have to borrow ideas to show support for the Canadian Military. Are there ways we can show support that is more meaningful than wearing a red piece of cloth once a week or hanging a ribbon-shaped ‘fridge magnet’ on our cars.  How about writing a letter to some of the soldiers you know currently serving at home and abroad. Afghanistan is not the only place in the world where Canadian Armed Forces are currently serving. Whereever our military serve there is danger. Many of the youth I taught are currently serving in areas of conflict and I pray for their safety frequently.

But sometimes I wonder what all the “To Do” is about. Here we have a group of Canadian citizens who have chosen a particular career–the Armed Forces. It is a career choice that involves a high degree of risk and the possibility of death. One choosing a military carer has to consider those options when serving for it is the nature of the military to be involved in conflict. Governments have a military to be deployed in actions that are hazardous to one’s health. I deliberately emphasize the verb ‘to choose’ because we do not have the draft in Canada.

Our government has chosen to place our Armed Forces into Afghanistan where there is increased risk of death for those serving. But that is the nature of military and govennments and soldiers. So, we have a group of people who have chosen this work and now that they are doing their jobs there is a movement to have all Canadians acknowledge the action in some way. The reality is not all Canadians agree with the action of the government. But I digress. There have been 85 Canadian military deaths in Afghanistan specifically in the 5 years Canada has been involved in this action. On average 17 deaths per year is the count to date. Each one of those deaths is a tragedy for the families and friends of the fallen.

I look at that number and other numbers come to mind. According to the World Health Organization’s Mortality database there were 1,034 deaths in Canada in 1997 and 30,49 deaths in the US attributed to firearms. The Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics for 2001 from Transport Canada report 2,778 vehicle related deaths. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports 43,000 motor vehicle deaths in the US in 2005.

Each of these deaths is a tragedy and yet little is done to curb the root causes here at home. The dead don’t get flag draped coffins or parades or people lining overpasses as the funeral cars travel the route. In fact the practice of pulling to the right and stopping when a funeral procession approaches is mostly ignored these days. These numbers make me wonder why Canadians are not equally upset by the annual figures of equally senseless deaths here at home; particularly when the numbers are significantly higher than the deaths attributed to a military action in Afghanistan.

Back to my dilemma! With all these thoughts stirring in my mind along with my own political views about the Canadian Armed Forces presence in areas of conflict, how shall I respond to the e-mail? I think I will make time tomorrow to write a letter to each of the men and women from my community currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. I think I’ll go and visit my friend Jack, one of the few remaining WWII veterans still alive in our community. I think I’ll send a donation to MADD while I’m at it.  I’ll have to see what is can be done to make a statement about the sale of firearms in Canada. As for the e-mail–well, I don’t think I’ll wear red this Friday.                            GRB