Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Here's The (Current) Plan (Issue #157)

The first winter storm of the season greets us as we step out the door. Sleet, rain, freezing rain and snow have been, and still are, tag teaming - slapping hands and changing every few minutes. The first half of our walk is northerly, into the teeth of the storm. I am wearing my warmest winter coat. Pre-Benny, it was only worn when engaged in some unavoidable, outdoor wintertime task like snow shoveling. And since my Stupid Heart Attack, I’ve managed to fob those tasks off on the lads more often than not.

It is too bulky for slipping into and out of the car easily, so entire winters have gone by without me wearing it. But this morning, as I heard the wind howl and the sleet patter on the windows, I had a hunch it would be a good choice.

The coat has a hood - a nice, warm hood. Unfortunately, it’s enormous. When I wear it, my world view is about the same as if I was peering through a toilet paper tube, which, for the record, I hardly ever do. Unless I have to.

Anyway, I don’t wear the hood. A toque keeps my head warm enough but my glasses are soon speckled with sleet. This adds a not-unpleasant extra layer of blurriness to the soft-focus beauty of a snowy day.

I am reminded that it also adds a wee element of danger when, a little later, I get hip-checked by an unnoticed tree on my left.

Ben accepts the white-covered sidewalk with equanimity but seems a bit nonplussed when we get to the field and his Favourite Pooping Place. It appears that nothing in his previous seven months of existence has prepared him for grass that crunches.

He tippy-toes tentatively, here and there and back again, before finally finding a spot worthy of his gift.


The above is an excerpt from today's entry of a journal I've begun keeping. Be still your beating hearts - it's not gonna be a daily diary of Benny's poops. The journal, along with some backstory and research, has occupied much of my time recently. I'm beginning to think there just might be a book in the making. But it's early days yet.

However, time spent on this project (along with it being my favourite time of the year to fish) means the column/blog will be appearing (more) sporadically for a while. I'm debating running more excerpts from time to time. It's a bit sticky, copyright-wise, especially if they appear on the blog. I may restrict further excerpts to my email subscribers. Jury's still out on that one.


I mentioned fishing....

I've been out four times in the last couple of weeks. Got skunked the first time, with only one tentative nibble. Caught three the next time - two the time after that and three again on Tuesday. Each time, I was only fishing for two or three hours so there's no complaints from this corner about my luck. (Of course, we all know it's not solely luck don't we? Just mostly....)

I kept four of the fish and had decent success smoking two of them in my nearly-new electric smoker. I'll continue to experiment with brines and wood chips and smoking times until I feel I have a couple of foolproof formulas for great-tasting fish. Naturally, as mentioned above, if I'm going to develop a great recipe, I'm going to have to catch more steelhead (rainbow trout).

Sigh. Such sacrifice in the furtherance of the culinary arts....

I'm quite encouraged by the last batch. Kinda wish now though, that I'd written down what I did. My mental notes keep getting misplaced.

I'll wrap this up with pics of a nice, 8-lb. male I released after a spirited tussle and a smaller female that became destined for my smoker.

I meant, and forgot, to wish my many American friends a Happy Thanksgiving in the emailed version of this column/post. Consider yourselves wished!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Tyranny of Positive Thinking & Other Stuff (Issue #156)

Recently, I was surprised to hear one of tv’s talking heads say that a positive attitude didn’t appear to have any effect on the survival rate of cancer patients. I checked around and he wasn’t fibbing. The conclusion was based on a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the results are to appear in the December issue of the American Cancer Society journal Cancer.

Initially I thought, “well that sucks.” Then I read further and was surprised to find that many doctors were relieved by the study’s findings, none more so than Dr. Jimmie Holland, a psychiatrist who wrote the book The Human Side of Cancer: Living with Hope, Coping with Uncertainty.

Dr. Holland coined the term “the tyranny of positive thinking” to describe the approach of those who preach the mind-over-cancer mantra. She believes it puts tremendous pressure and unreasonable expectations on people struggling with this disease. She thinks no one should believe they’re dying because they weren’t being positive enough.

Now that makes perfect sense to me.

Dr. Holland believes there certainly are benefits to staying positive during treatment. It’s just that positive thinking alone doesn’t appear to extend a cancer patient’s life.

That makes sense to me too.

I worry that too many people, like me initially, won’t read or listen past the headline - Upbeat Attitude No Match For Cancer* - and succumb to negativity and depression if they or a loved one are stricken with a terminal illness.

Certainly, negativity and depression are way stations on the road towards acceptance but I’d sure try to keep my visits brief at the former and hurry towards the latter. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating a rush to accept a death sentence but rather a rush to accept that what will be, will be. Once you’ve accepted where you’re at - accepted that some things are just beyond your power to affect - peace descends, time slows down and suddenly everywhere you look there’s a rose to stop beside and smell.

Naturally, treatment is focused on the body but the mind and spirit need tending as well. They’ve all got a stake in the outcome. Do what needs doing for all the parts of you that are ailing.

And I'm convinced having a positive outlook on life, whether that life is measured in weeks or years, is part of a good, overall health package.

What I think it boils down to is this: If given a few months to live, would it be better to spend them depressed or optimistic?

I can’t imagine a lengthy debate.

I wouldn’t want to go to sleep every night fearful it may be my last.

I’d rather open my eyes in the morning and be pleasantly surprised I was still here.

Simplistic perhaps but complicated makes me dizzy.

*Probably made that up.

Other Stuff I

There have been significant changes in my life this year which I'll detail eventually. Not the least of them was inheriting Benny, the Jack Russell Terror. Suddenly, at 56 years of age, I had a toddler in the house again - a toddler that could run like the wind - while chewing shoes.

I’ve had to carve out at least a couple of hours a day to deal with him. Walks are mornings and evenings and many of you know that most of the time we explore the territory across the road from my house. It’s a field/woods combination that borders a creek that runs through my town. Recently, a paved walking/biking path was built that intersected and paralleled the ones created over the years by fishermen and kids taking shortcuts to school.

I’ve found that nearly every day something happens on one or both of our walks - small things usually - but things of interest to me and perhaps some others; things that arouse a sense of wonder or that might add bits of lore to the collection rattling around in my cranial attic.

I’ve found myself wanting to write about them but didn’t think all that many of you would be interested in reading it. So that leaves me considering starting another blog, among other possibilities. Which leaves me wondering where the time is going to come from - which means I need to consider making even more changes.

Which makes me want to lie down.

Stay tuned.

Other Stuff II

A week or so ago I saw a singer on the David Letterman show who knocked my socks off. I haven’t been able to get her song out of my head since. Thanks to YouTube I can share her performance with you folks.

I showed both sons and they were less than enthusiastic.

But what do kids know anyway?

She reminds me of an old-style chanteuse. She’s got a wicked set of pipes, a fine band and, I think, talent oozing from every pore. Her name is Nicole Atkins and I think she could become a Very Big Star.

Am I alone on this one?

You can check her out by clicking here.

Other Stuff III

I rarely plug another blog and I know there’s going to be some eye-rolling from the peanut gallery when I plug this one....

But if you’re a parent, or may become one - or enjoy kids, or were one yourself - check out Hilary’s recent post at The Smitten Image.

It’s warm and amusing and as a bonus, you’ll see some spiffy pics.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Three Things That Happened Yesterday (Issue #155)

Thing #1.

Benny and I were on our morning walk, following our usual a.m. route which is northwards from the house, along the creek. You old-timers have seen pics from time to time.

On the homeward part of the journey, I often veer off the main path and take another, slightly less-traveled one through a wooded area. There’s a mammoth old willow tree in there I like to pay homage to. I don’t think it’s going to be standing a whole lot longer. Ben likes this detour too because there’s usually a squirrel or three he can startle.

Now, I forget whether or not I’ve told you folks that in the last few months I’ve taken something of an interest in birds. I’ve gone so far as to buy a field guide and Son #1 treated me to a pair of pretty decent binoculars. Thing is, I’m normally outside these days - you know, where the birds are - when I’m out walking with Benny.

Benny, being a hyperactive Jack Russell Terror pup, takes at least one hand to control. That leaves me one hand with which I can do other stuff, like untangle him. You may recall, a few posts ago, how using my free hand to wield a camera worked out. In any event, I don’t usually take either my binoculars or my field guide out with me when I know my attention is often going to be focused on unwrapping Benny’s leash from a tree trunk. Or my legs.

I didn’t miss the field guide or binocs along the wooded path yesterday. I wished I had my camera though, when a Downy woodpecker picked a tree only a few feet away to drill for bugs. I managed to watch her for a minute and memorized her peeping call before Benny had to be extricated from nearby brush.

A few minutes later, back on the stream-side path, I saw a large, somewhat hunched silhouette on a tall tree branch overhanging the creek. It was facing southeast and although cloudy out, the morning sun was still bright enough to make me squint and shield my eyes. At first I thought maybe it was a raven. It was much too big to be a crow.

I slowed as I got closer. Ben seemed to understand that stealth was called for and actually slowed with me. As we neared it, I got increasingly excited. Even seen from behind and in silhouette, it was very large.

We got within 50 or 60 feet of it before it noticed us and took off - straight into the weakened sun’s glare. I’m knowledgeable enough to know it was a raptor - the wingtips told me that - and it was bigger than any hawk I’d ever seen. I’m pretty sure it was a juvenile eagle, probably a bald eagle, like the one that was born near our cottage this summer.

I don’t think in this particular instance, because of the glare, that binocs would have helped me identify the bird. But again, I wished I’d taken the camera. Even a silhouetted photo might have told an experienced birder (Hi cousin Karl!) what it was.

Yep, am packing my camera in my pocket from now on.

Thing #2.

A few minutes later, only a hundred yards from home, Benny began to act strangely. Normally, because I use one of those retractable leashes, he’s at its limit, about 15 feet ahead, straining to get to two places at once.

We were on back on the street again at this point and he’d been doing his usual ranging from side to side, snuffling.

Suddenly, I realized my arm was not perpendicular to the ground and doing its impression of a divining rod gone berserk. It was hanging down at my side. Benny was trotting along beside me, like one of those trained dogs, head and tail proudly erect, beige tongue protruding slightly.

Hmmm. Pretty sure his tongue used to be pink.

Uh-huh. He’d found a rib bone that some scavenger had left behind. I think he didn’t want me to notice so he was being well-behaved. Ha! And he thinks he’s so smart! I’m smarter! So far.

Thing #3.

On our evening walk, we take the southward path along the creek. At roughly the mid-point, the creek angles away from the path and to reconnect with it, one needs to walk through a small wooded glen. We usually do so because that bend of the creek offers a nice trough-like run in which I’ve often watched salmon and trout working their way upstream.

The salmon run is pretty much done, has been for about 10 days, and there hasn’t been enough recent rain to call up many steelhead. So I didn’t really expect to see any fish. It’s just a pleasant place to be. I was standing at the top of the bank while Ben explored below, drinking at the water’s edge and snapping at drifting leaves.

A slight surface disturbance a few yards upstream caught my eye and I wandered closer.

It was a dying salmon, on its side, feebly trying to right himself against the weak current, and failing.

Three or four weeks ago, this fish was 20 pounds of bronzed muscle, sleek and healthy from three-plus years of gorging on Lake Ontario’s forage fish. He would have fairly stampeded upstream, eager to spawn.

Now he was a blackened hulk of perhaps 13-14 pounds, too weak to fight a current that wouldn’t tumble a toddler.

I watched as he was slowly tugged downstream. He got caught up on some shallow rocks below me for a moment and I studied him. He was too far gone to even gape. I don’t think it was my imagination that glazed that fierce, predator’s eye.

I felt sad but privileged, for being allowed to bear witness to a noble warrior’s death.

I thought I’d have to clamber down and get wet in order to ease him back into the main current. But he found enough energy to twitch his tail feebly, once. It was just enough. The current took him back into its arms and gently bore him away.