Emily Carr was born 150 years ago on 13 December. Her legacy will be discussed in some of the media. Prominent, no doubt, will be the present price of her paintings. Her life was not easily understood by her contemporaries. Today’s social media audience will find her attitude toward life as being too familiar to current sensibilities to be considered an “icon”. Jealous influencers will dismiss her.
For creative folks, Emily was a writer as well as an artist. To the 3-4 people who read this Writers Blog, which part of her life sticks out?
Emily’s Wikipedia entry comments about her writing: “Some of these books are autobiographical and reveal Carr as an accomplished writer. Criticisms have been made of her dramatized short stories as many readers expect them to be historically accurate.”
After 150 years, Emily’s status as an “icon” will be dusted off, briefly displayed in public by those who wish to show their erudition, then forgotten again until another milestone comes along. Such is the lot of those who, in general, succumb to the urge to be creative.
It seems that public accreditation of creativity requires more than the achievement of a published manuscript or displayed canvas. A significant monetary value must be assigned. Influencers must spin their digital webs for some period of time beyond 12 seconds. Gatekeepers at the boundary between the consuming public and their corporate purveyors of that which is called “entertainment” must accept the product as being saleable.
With that weight of those public approbation factors, little old creativity matters for naught.
I do not believe that, despite being so far ahead of her time, Emily would be comfortable in 2021.
This time of the year is when you might want to make “bee dumplings”. Also known as garden bombs or earth dumplings, this a fun project for young and old.
Thank you to the Yorkshire Post’s Hannah Stephenson for this.
Bees will love you and your garden will blossom into a delightfully wild and colourful habitat.
The Yorkshire recipe can use a mix of 11 wildflowers, including cowslips, musk mallow, cornflowers, poppies, chamomile and cranesbill geraniums, which will help provide a treasure trove of nectar rich sources for pollinating insects. You may wish to use local plant seeds. Last year there was a Dr. Henry Wildflower assortment that worked well in front of our abode on Vancouver Island. Of interest to gardeners in our area is that these are not liked by deer.
Definitely not in the old English Garden style.
The wildflowers featured will all grow at different times, providing a dazzling display of colour throughout the summer.
Get ingredients together
You will need five handfuls of peat-free compost, four handfuls of air-dry red clay, one handful of native wildflower seeds and a splash of water.
Also gather a mixing bowl, a baking tray and greaseproof paper.
Place the ingredients in a bowl and mix them together
Place the compost, clay and seeds in a large bowl, ready to mix. Use your hands to combine all of the ingredients together, adding a splash of water if needed. You’re aiming for a thick but mouldable consistency. The earth dumplings need to hold their shape, so try to avoid adding too much water at once.
Roll them into balls
“Once you’ve combined all your ingredients, roll the mixture into little balls. The size is up to you – these ones are slightly larger, but you can make them smaller, similar to the size of a golf ball, if you’d prefer to scatter them over a larger area.”
Leave them to dry
Place your earth dumplings on greaseproof paper, ready to dry. Use a baking tray if you plan to move them elsewhere. Leave for four to five days, or until they’ve completely hardened (check for soggy bottoms). Placing them out in the sun, or near a source of warmth, will speed up the drying process.
Sow, sow, sow
Now it’s time to sow your earth dumplings. Wildflowers will bloom well in containers, window boxes and borders – anywhere with a splash of sunshine. Place them just below the surface of the soil for best results. Then let nature do its thing.
Like daffodils, wildflower seeds are best sown in autumn, while the soil is still soft and warm. This gives them time to develop strong roots before the frost kicks in, resulting in bigger, healthier plants. By spring, and throughout the summer, you’ll be treated to a sumptuous display of wildflowers, including cornflowers, chamomile and common poppies to name a few.
In the dusk, Gorman could have become lost. The gullies of the mountain’s higher slope conceal hidden dangers. Gorman, however, strides confidently. This was where he had spent most of the previous year as a recluse. He is making his way quietly along a familiar gully toward a plateau on the only part of the mountain that connects to the formidable range of snow-topped peaks behind.
Pinpoint lights above shine steadily. Gorman glances periodically to his right to confirm the location of the One Constant Star.
From the distance, a clinking sound carries in the breeze that comes down the gully. He stops. Another sound – a thunk. Then hoarse whispers, “Damn! Thought my robe was on the ground.” “It is, dummy. And so are the rocks.” “Quiet!”
Gorman stays still for several minutes, listening. Hearing no more noises, he carefully steps up the side of the gully toward his hidden cave. The moon shows a three-quarter face as he steps around an outcropping of the mountain. In a flash, an animal rips past him. Being too low for the moonlight to see at his feet, all he knows of the animal is that it is the size of a smaller dog and that it slashed at his legs as it ran past.
Alert to any other animals that may be in his hidden cave, Gorman lets his eyes adjust to the darkness inside while standing to the side of the low opening. He slowly slips a hand down to his calf. The leather front is tough but past the lower strap that holds the leather to his leg, the skin is moist. Sooner than he wants, Gorman reaches for where his candle should be on a ledge. It is not there. He pushes around at the base of the stony wall and feels what is likely the remains of the candle. He tries to place it back on its shelf. It flops over.
Gorman feels around the shelf for the flint and its frizzen. “Still here. Whatever that animal was, it gnawed into the candle.” He feels for the hole higher up where he had kept a ball of kindling. “Drier than ever. Good.” Placing the kindling into a small depression on the shelf, Gorman prepares the candle by rubbing down its base against the wall to be flatter, then readies the flint and frizzen to make sparks. A few hard, practiced knocks against the flint by the steel chunk produces bright sparks that fall into the kindling. The dry material catches fire quickly. Gorman sees that the candle has been eaten at both ends but the wick still pokes out. He lights the wick and, once started, he quickly puts out the small knot of fire in the kindling by pressing down with the frizzen.
Satisfied with his light, Gorman scans the cave for eyes that may be glaring him. None do. Then he slips down to lean against the cave’s inside wall. Undoing the strap that holds the leather piece to his leg, he sees blood dribbling from cuts made by the animal to the side of his leg.
“Damn. Have to use Auntie’s medicine.” He places the candle onto a boulder, first dripping some melted wax onto the top of the boulder, then quickly sticking the candle onto it. He awkwardly pulls off his personal bag from his back. The arm movement sends the candle into a quiver, shaking, and sending shadows around the cave and outside. Staying still with his arms raised, holding the bag, Gorman waits for the nervous flame to calm down. He watches its smoke rise in a straight line. Satisfied, he moves carefully to remove the bag and place it next to his uncut leg. He sorts through wrapped packages, pulling out a still-green leaf and a salve. Gorman finds a ribbon of scrap cloth that will reach around his leg twice. He uses the front side of the leaf to rub down the wound, cleaning off the still-leaking blood. He uses the clean side of the leaf to hold a small amount of salve then daubs it delicately against the scratches. Finished with the medicine, he wraps it with the cloth ribbon.
All this is being witnessed by Leeloo, hiding as still as a mouse from behind a shrub to where she had crawled from nearby after noticing the flint flashes.
Gorman leans back to relax. He knows he should raise his leg to reduce the blood flow. He knows this because it is one of the many things Auntie taught him. He mumbles, “I do love Auntie.”
Before Gorman can lift the leg over the other, the bush outside speaks to him. “I love my mother.”
Staying still, Gorman uses his calm voice. “Yes. Who are you?”
A shuffle gives Gorman a general direction of the voice. “I’m Leeloo. Who are you?” She half-rises, staying behind the bush.
He smiles. “I am Gorman. From the village down there.” He nods down the ravine.
“Are you the shepherd?” Leeloo rises to stand beside the bush.
Gorman shakes his head slowly, trying to make out who Leeloo is with the moonlight shining from behind her.
“My mother and the others want to thank him for the sheep. We want to help him with the herd.”
He shifts uncomfortably on the hard rock of the cave floor. “Leeloo, can you help me?” She takes a step forward. “I was scratched by an animal…”
“A marmot. It was probably frightened when you came to its cave.”
“Well, actually, this is my cave. I was going to let it sleep here if it played nice. I guess you are right, Leeloo. I must have frightened it.” He slowly shuffles to his feet, checking that the girl has not run away. “The candle is pretty frightened, too. Do you mind pulling it off that boulder and putting on its shelf, here?”
Leeloo steps to the cave entrance.
“Does your mother have candles?”
She shakes her head. “The light? No. We had to leave everything when we were chased into the mountains by those horrible monsters.” She starts to pout.
“Well, a candle is a really frightened little thing. If you breath in its direction, or wave at it at all, it will die.”
Leeloo’s eyes grow wide. “Die?”
“More frightened than any marmot.” Gorman nods emphatically. “It wants to stick to a rock and just while away its short life in peace.”
“Poor thing.” Leeloo takes short steps toward the candle.
“Remember, Leeloo. Don’t breath at it.”
She averts her head quickly. Stepping to the boulder, she is about to reach up a hand. “Will it die if I touch it?”
Smiling, “No, it enjoys your warm hand. Carefully snap it out of the wax at its feet. Yes, that’s good.”
Leeloo chances a face-on look at the candle in her hand. Breath from her nose causes the candle to quiver. “Oh!” The candles stretches away from her exclamation then settles down as Leeloo stays still.
“Good. Now let some of the wet wax on top drip onto the shelf and quickly place the candle’s feet into the wax. It will cool right away.”
She obeys, keeping the candle’s flame from too much disturbance. It is stuck, though not fully vertical.
“Should it be straighter? Will it fall over? Should I fix it better?”
Gorman has shuffled to the soft sand where he had slept for many months. Smiling, “No, that will be fine, Leeloo. Now…” He slips down and arranges himself so that his wounded leg can be elevated. “Tell me all about who you are and about your mother and the others.”
Morbrent and Tommy are late comers to the group around Auntie’s cottage. Hearing scraps of the news about Sebesh’s “attackers”, Morbrent jumps to the conclusion that real monsters are stomping their way to the village at this time. He grabs his friend’s arm in fear as he tries to make sense of what is being said.
Tommy notices Gorman emerging from the cottage door. “Why is he always in the middle of things?”
Bending his head down to avoid the low door opening, Gorman half-turns to answer Auntie’s anxious question. “I am only going to see how many there are, Auntie. Don’t worry. I will get to the mountain slope before the moon rises past the peaks.”
Gorman is taller than most of the other villagers. However, it is not his stature that quickly opens his way through the crowd. His status is firmly as the lowly mucker, so villagers are reluctant to be close to him.
Gorman was always fastidious in cleaning up his outerwear after morning rounds. Nevertheless, several of the women, young and old, turn up the noses as he passes.
The original hamlet was an accidental decision by two families who had made the dangerous trek across the mountains to the east. They were too tired to go further so they stayed in the meadow that became the Commons. One of those founding families was Grandfather Gorman’s great/great grandparents. The other family petered out over the generations. Different families were welcomed as they made their way there, either fleeing violence or searching for peace. Every new arrival was welcomed by the Gorman clan. They didn’t do so with any fanfare. They merely gave the newcomers beds and food for the night, then helped them start their own gardens and abode. The Gormans neither wanted thanks nor did they receive it for very long. Outsiders somehow found it intimidating and even suspicious that help should be so freely given. There must be something they wanted.
So, when Morbrent’s family was chased away from a town beyond the other side of the nearby lake, Grandfather Gorman’s quiet welcome was greeted with more ill feeling rather than gratitude.
As the village grew larger and some newer families did not know how to behave in a self-reliant community, disputes occurred and certain conventions fell apart. Reluctantly, village meetings were held to settle disagreements between established residents and newcomers. It was decided to begin certain village services for the benefit of all, even though these things had been taken care of by individual families in the past. The village’s growth produced previously unnecessary group actions. Conventions transformed into rules.
The Gorman family’s main contribution to the village in his grandfather’s time had been to help the community by taking on the one task that everyone avoided – keeping the packed-clay street clean of the nightly accumulation of muck. Newcomers simply tossed the contents of their chamber pots out the bedroom window as they arose. With bedrooms being on the second floor of most of the houses, a wide spray pattern was created. Telling them it was rude to do so fell on deaf ears. “Well, this is what they do in the big towns. Since we don’t have a gutter, walk on the Commons side of the street if you must be out in the early morning.”
Grandfather Gorman decided that his commitment to the welfare of the village had to be scraping the muck every morning from the street in front of the houses and pile it for use, after a year’s aging, in the far side of the Commons. This was, wisely, placed downwind of the village houses.
What was at first considered a blessing by the other villagers became the curse of Grandfather Gorman’s family. When the old man grew too ill to do his morning rounds, villagers grew upset, then angry. The elder Gorman had no son. His two daughters were forced by the constant, acrimonious blather in the village to take over from their father. When the older daughter was to be married to the new family that later produced Morbrent, her suitor renounced his troth, saying he could not live in a house which smelled all day of muck. He told this to Grandfather Gorman’s other daughter, Yolotli, not wanting to face the young woman whom he knew was now with child. Grandfather Gorman lived only another few summers. He said to his dying days that he was proud of his family’s hard work and contribution to the village. His daughters were not so sure.
As the years flowed by, young Gorman accompanied his mother and aunt on their dreary morning duty to the village. By the time he had seen twelve summers, Gorman showed intelligence in suggestions to ease their burden, and strength with his growing height and doggedness to get the work done.
Auntie Yolotli once took a break to apply a soothing salve to her sister’s hands. “Father always said that our family’s mission is to help others. Laka, your lovely son follows in that tradition. Is that his destiny? To serve others?”
“Your voice carries a hint of questioning spite, dear Yolotli. And yet, here you are, always searching for healing herbs to ease the suffering of others.”
Yolotli dropped her head. “Appreciation. Merely the hint of appreciation is all I desire. Not from you, dear sister. We understand each other.” Still holding the hand she was caressing, they leaned against each other’s cheek.
Another four summers was all the love that Laka could give to her son. Then her heart gave up.
A few days after the village funeral Gorman disappeared.
He returned the next spring. Would not speak of where he had been. Was angered when he learned that Yolotli had been left to muck the street on her own for all that time.
In their one-storey cottage, Gorman tearfully apologized to his aunt. “Dear Auntie, what has our family done to deserve this punishment?”
He was in a deep depression and decided that the only way to break the circle of torment was to leave the village for good.
Yolotli sighed. “My dear Gorman. I do understand where you are. I, too, was there after… after Laka left us. In my anger at the ignorant misery inflicted on us by the village I spent my anger on the clay pots scattered about our home. When nothing was left to smash, and our good neighbours came to see what the noise was all about, I ran off into the woods on the far side of the lake. In my mind I could only see myself slipping under the lake’s soothing water. Then, sitting on a rotting log to get up my courage, I saw mushrooms poking up under the log. Thinking they were poisonous, I resolved to ease my pain by taking a handful, wade into the water, down the mouthful and slip away, to no longer be a bother to anyone.”
Gorman was horrified. “Auntie! You can’t!”
She smiled. “I didn’t. I did wade out, but when I stuffed the mushrooms into my mouth and stood there waiting for it all to end, the mushrooms spoke to me. The ripples on the water spoke to me. The kestrel yelled at me. Butterflies gathered around my shoulders and lifted me back to the log. When they dropped me onto the nearby grass, I looked down to see my body bounce slowly as waves of colour spread out and I lay on the pillows of the meadow, and the music of nature sang to me from everywhere.” Yolotli took a breath.
“The music spoke to me in ways I had never heard before. I could not understand it, at first. Then many meanings rose in my mind. Floating above my sleeping body, I started to understand. How nature connected every living thing in ways that people could not know. They fought so hard from knowing. I saw that the harder they fought against nature’s songs, the more monstrous they became. They changed from loving the life in which they participated, to loving not-life. They lived in rooms above life. They changed to loving not-nature. Too many went on a savage quest to surround themselves with not-life. Absolutely straight lines. Square boxes. Rules that constrained creativity rather than celebrating it.”
Yolotli sat silently, remembering her time of change.
Gorman was intrigued. He wondered if something like that could happen to him. “Auntie…”
She looked up at his questioning face. “You wonder if the same reshaping might happen to you?’
Yolotli shook her head slowly. “This is not like a salve I apply to your wound, dear Gorman. It may burn through your arm. It may take you down into the depths of a black spiral from which you cannot climb out… It is dangerous. You must be prepared.”
He was confused. “How can I be prepared for something with such unknown dominion over my mind? Were you prepared?”
She shook her head. “I have always been possessed by the power of nature, so perhaps, yes, that was my meagre preparation… Perhaps I was guided by a few tendrils of nature.” She took his hands into hers. “First, dear Gorman, you must open your eyes to the many appearances that nature presents. They are not what you wish them to be. They may be terrible to your eyes, as one animal eats another. But seeing it all from the eyes of a soaring kestrel, you will see that every thing eats every other thing. A wolf pack will devour a deer, and at the end of its life the wolf’s body will be devoured by the soil, feeding the plants above it. Nature wishes only to maintain life. It passes no judgment as to which life will hold the stage at any time. There is only life, or not-life.”
Gorman nodded. “And, as you have taught me, people seem to have the power to create more not-life than has existed before.”
She smiled. “You have begun your journey to enlightenment.”
The game is simple – use a wooden-tipped spear you made yourself to hit a target, which is a tightly woven ring of tough reeds set against a stoop of straw. The loser then goes to gather the spears and they take another five paces further away. Despite being only a lowly mucker, Gorman usually wins, particularly as they get to distances beyond twenty paces.
This time, as Morbrent angrily stomps to retrieve the spears, he deliberately yanks Gorman’s spear sideways, cracking it. When he tosses the broken spear to Gorman, Morbrent yells, “You better find stronger wood to make your spears, Mucker. This one almost left a long splinter in my hand!”
They nearly come to blows, but a friend of Morbrent trips Gorman from behind. The young man finds himself lying flat on his back, breathing heavily as they stand over him, daring him to get up to fight. He doesn’t, wisely knowing what he can do and what he should do. His tormentors laugh and call him a coward, then stomp off, but still looking back to see if Gorman is going to come after them.
Jumping to his feet as Morbrent walks away in the distance, he glares at them. Gorman hefts his broken spear, wondering how far it would fly. Then he stares at the way it broke, leaving an arm’s length from the tip to hang by a sliver of wood. In his mind, Gorman imagines the short piece in his hand, lengthening his arm length by twice. He mumbles absently, “I wonder if I could control the spear as I threw it with something like that? It would go much farther…”
Next morning on his early rounds, Gorman gets caught twice. Morbrent and his cohort from next door, Tommy, toss the full contents of their families’ chamber pots over Gorman as he walks warily between their houses. Not warily enough.
The two pranksters laugh loudly from their bedroom lofts as Gorman the hapless mucker shakes the night’s residue off his broad-brimmed hat and leather cloak.
Life carries on the village. Food is gathered, prepared for the day and for the future. Things are repaired, built or ignored. People speak of trivialities and matters of import.
That afternoon the village shepherd is seen running across the fields from the mountain slope. He runs to the edge of the village, at the blacksmithy, completely exhausted. Panting hoarsely, he is unable to get out what he wants to say. He collapses against the blacksmith’s fence, gasping and groaning. A small crowd gathers around him. The blacksmith, Elaina, holds his shoulders up from behind the fence and helps the shepherd clutch at the top rail.
Finally, looking furtively at the crowd, he takes a deep breath to say, “Monsters! Monsters killed all the sheep! They knocked every one on the head!” He pants hard, dramatically. “And they’re coming here!” The shepherd lifts a quavering hand to point up to the green slope of the nearest mountain. “I took the short-cut ravine to warn you.”
At that he slips backwards against Elaina. She gently lowers him along the fence to the ground.
On pulling her hand away from his shoulder Elaina sees that her hand is covered with blood. Jumping around the fence, she lifts him back up. “Help me carry Sebesh to Auntie Yolotli! He’s bleeding.”
Elaina thinks, Sebesh is one for making up wild stories as he sits alone with his sheep. But he is bleeding.
Sebesh lets the group carry him to Auntie Yolotli’s cottage near the centre of the small village. All the while he weakly protests. “Have to prepare. We need to, to gather weapons. The monsters are coming to kill us all…”
At Auntie’s door, her nephew, Vasu, has heard the commotion and opens the door to let the group in. They are greeted inside by wafting smells of healing herbs coming from an array of pots sitting randomly on makeshift shelves and tables. Auntie Yolotli shuffles from the hearth, mumbling to herself, carrying an overfilled iron kettle of hot water. She indicates for the group holding Sebesh to place him on a pile of straw under the only open window. One of the group, Gorman, gently lowers Sebesh’s leg he was carrying then steps quickly to take the steaming, heavy iron kettle from Auntie. “Here, let me…”
She reluctantly lets him take the round, blackened handle from her wrinkled hands. “Careful, dear Gorman. It is too full to carry. I did not intend to have guests this morning.” She flashes him a kind smile.
Soon most of the village is gathered outside around Auntie’s cottage. The few who had heard what Sebesh had said passed it on excitedly. The crowd quickly becomes agitated. “Monsters? What can we do?” “What can we do? We’re only villagers.”
The “monsters” finish off their meal of a sheep, eating the hastily barbecued meat more slowly than when they had started. Some seat themselves next to a large boulder to crush the larger bones with a carefully chosen rock. Each uses a long bone sliver to scoop out the marrow.
A few of the younger ones feed their small pack of dogs the remaining bones. Even after having gobbled up the innards that had been tossed to them earlier, the dogs now fight over the choicest bones, yelping and growling with sinister teeth bared. In his excitement, one of the dogs nips at the hand of a young teenage girl who feeds him. A protective boy kicks the dog strongly in the ribs, sending it flying into a quarrelling pair, both of whom whip their teeth into a shoulder and rump. The unfortunate dog yelps and jumps away to lick his wounds.
That entertainment brings loud guffaws from the four men. The girl who had been nipped stands in the midst of the canine melee, holding in her tears. Her mother shakes her head as she rushes to scoop her child away to a safer location. “Leeloo! You have to be more careful around these beasts when they are eating! Yes?… Give me a hug.”
As she reaches to hold her daughter, the girl lets out a single sob. “I’m not afraid of them. They’re just dogs.”
Pulling her tight to her bosom, they twirl away from the campfire and her small clan.
Standing beyond the now contented group, with their noses touching, Mother kisses her child and smiles. “Has it started ye…”
Trying to push away, the girl interrupts petulantly, “No!”
Mother continues to hold her gently. “Ok, fine, my dear. Just tell me when it does. I only want to help you.” She kisses her again. “Please?” Mother pats her child’s bum then lets her slip out of her grasp.
Half turned away, Leeloo composes herself. She relents. “I will, Mother. It’s just… it sounds yucky. And… I want to stay with you, Mother. Not go with those, those ruffians.” She smooths down her well-worn cloth shawl over her leather skirt.
Leeloo’s sad face brings a tear to Mother’s eyes. “And so you shall, my lovely one. So you shall.”
Placing a hand on Leeloo’s shoulder, Mother turns to gaze back at her ragged clan around the campfire. “We are a poor clan. Half of us – our elders mostly – were not able to keep up when we crossed the terrible, cold mountains.” They both shake their heads sadly.
Leeloo mumbles, “Grandma…” Tears slide down both their cheeks.
Needing to change her attitude, Mother grins broadly. “But here we are! In a land of plenty! We took only the one sheep we needed and when we see the shepherd again, we will repay him with joyful work. The rest of his flock will be gathered up and herded to another pasture, then we will bring him back and help him with the herd. We used to be very good shepherds. Far away.” Mother turns to stare at the mountains through which they were forced to flee.
Leeloo nods, “Meelo said she saw the shepherd running along a ravine toward the distant village. She says he fell against a rock and hurt himself but then stumbled away.”
One of the clan pulls a flute from his personal bag. Feeling its smooth bone contours and the holes he had lovingly crafted along the shaft, he dreams of notes he used to coax out of the instrument. A woman nearby says softly, “Arash, maybe it is time. Your music has been silent since we, since the monsters burned our lovely village… Here, maybe we are going to be safe.”
Arash strokes his flute delicately, hearing the music in his mind. He nods, then places the flue to his mouth. The first sound that escapes is a hoarse bleat followed by discordant bawls. Arash coughs, then starts again. The flute moans, a long painful appeal to the darkening sky. Then his fingers slip from hole to hole producing a cold plodding beat so that in each of their minds the clan sees the terrible trek they made across barren mountains. The flute then turns warmly to a frolicking beat of lambs jumping as sheep munch through green fields. Arash ends with a single long questioning note, pointing down the slope toward the distant village.
In the hamlet, now grown into a village, there was a carpenter who specialized in making furniture, and there was a farmer who harvested grain to grind into flour for bread.
The village was so distant from other towns that no bank would consider locating in the village, so everyone bartered for goods. When needed, two solid chairs were usually exchanged for one bag of stone-ground flour.
When the blacksmith was asked for tools or hardware needed by the carpenter or the farmer, he had to travel a long way to buy flat-iron or bars, and coal with which to fashion things. On some of the journeys he spoke proudly to people about the pleasant life in his remote village.
One day a remarkable event occurred. Strangers came to the village from opposite directions.
From the north came a salesman whose only product was paper. It was a catalogue of goods for sale, and a wad of paper currency with which to pay for the goods.
This Northerner said that he would stop by again in two weeks to take orders from his colourful catalogue. He also said he would buy local produce at this time in exchange for his paper currency, and he would pay twice the value of the produce as listed in his catalogue. That way some people would be able to start out right away to order enticing products from the catalogue. However, he said, this special offer was only good for the few days he was to be in the village this time.
The Southern visitor told the villagers that she would leave the community the names of people in the barter network which already operated among the other villages and towns of the region.
Explaining the simple procedure, the Southerner said that when a villager needed something not found in their own village, all they had to do was put in a request and it would be sent along from where it could be found.
And, when a villager wanted to offer any of their excess products, they could place that availability onto one of the lists, and someone, somewhere would order it. There were certain trusted people who were Keepers of the Lists. After several weeks of activity, at least one person in this village would likely be asked to become a Keeper of the Lists.
With products moving into and out of the village, there would always be a traveler who could carry requests and the goods either way for the fee of a nightly room-and-board and maybe an extra slice of bread.
At the end of a year, the Southerner explained, the flow of goods into and out of the village would be totaled and any excess would be left in the ledger, while any deficit would be noted and applied against future outside requests for village products or services.
That would provide incentive for all villagers to work together a bit harder to place more desirable products into the outgoing goods, and to restrict some of the inclination to bring in unneeded outside goods to the village, thus keeping their barter account closely in balance over the long term.
Meanwhile, the Northerner saw that he had to respond. He set up a bank in the village anyway, hiring a local who was good with arithmetic to operate the bank along with the store. The Northerner secretly planned to convert the bank at a later date into a currency-lending store, which would have a much higher profit than would any simple bank.
The Northerner stocked the bank and next-door store with products made by the villagers but instead of paying with barter, he gave them pieces of paper he called “bank notes”. He explained that the bank notes could be used by anyone in the village to pay for goods amongst themselves instead of doing “old fashioned bartering”.
The bank also offered to take any amount of each villager’s bank notes and put them into a safe place to be used later, held safely for a small administration fee.
The people talked amongst themselves. There were heated arguments between family and friends such as the village had not seen in generations. Some villagers preferred to carry on with the newly modified barter system that they were getting used to, while others decided to jump onto the bank note scheme.
Gorman and Elaina pondered the issue. They agreed that one system automatically placed an arbitrary paper value on everything, creating hard categories and divisions. This made it easier to sort the different things, but it left no room for grey areas. Elaina wondered, “If I take longer to put in more love into the shirt I am making, will that be worth more than the shirt made by someone who has no skill?”
Gorman nodded. “I would prefer the shirt made by a sincere and honest craftswoman, and I would gladly offer the best of what I can make in return.”
They agreed that the older system created personal connections and more community-minded actions.
Before the Northerner came with his bank notes and flimsy paper pictures, discussions between villagers were sometimes extended, but they had been conducted in a civil fashion while working toward a consensus. Now, positions became hardened. It grew worse as one side, though they were a small group, clung to their new-found and segregated “wealth” of paper in the form of bank notes. The people on this side firmly believed that if they had control of the largest pile of bank notes, their power would increase as the years passed.
It did not take long for this village to become like all the other villages. Crafts were no longer made. Inferior goods came from far away. Some people became hoarders of bank-notes. Those who did not have the opportunity to obtain enough bank notes starved.
If you lived in that village, which system would you chose?
This is the basic difference between banks and bitcoins, versus the possibilities of Blockchain technology.
In a village of industrious craftspeople there lived a young woman who could not cook.
When still a child, her mother had asked her to watch as the soup was made. Mother collected garden-fresh potatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms and tomatoes, along with parsley, pepper, basil and salt from the pantry. The kitchen air blossomed with the small basket of garden produce she had just gathered. The daughter added more wood to the fire to heat the water, ready on the stove in their iron soup cauldron. Mother showed her daughter how to peel and chop the vegetables, how long to boil the root vegetables and then add the rest of the ingredients each at their own times. When the soup was ready, Mother served it to her family and proudly announced that their daughter would have soup for them the next day.
In preparation for that coming meal, the daughter went out next morning. Mother told her to take along a basket so she could carry home any produce she might want to collect, but the daughter said, “I have a different idea, mother.”
Later that morning the daughter came back with a strong boy who was carrying a heavy cauldron.
Mother was surprised. “Daughter, you do not have any vegetables under your arm and why is Tommy carrying that cauldron?”
Pleased to show her initiative the daughter replied, “Tommy is carrying the vegetables in the soup and it was all prepared by his mother. All I have to do is heat it up in time for supper.”
Sure enough, when Mother looked into the cauldron, it was full of prepared vegetables, spices and even water. “Tommy, why did you carry that heavy cauldron all the way from your house to here? Are you not going to have the soup yourself?”
Tommy looked a bit embarrassed. “Why, no, ma’am. Your daughter bought the soup all prepared and my mother only asks that you have the cauldron cleaned when I come for it tomorrow.”
Now it was Mother’s turn to be confused. “Bought? What do you mean bought?”
Placing his heavy load on the floor inside the door, Tommy explained. “Well, Susan, here, said she’d give my mother a coin if she would prepare the cauldron of soup. And here it is… Do you want it?”
Mother politely thanked Tommy for delivering the soup and promised that the clean cauldron would be ready for him in the morning.
When Tommy left, Mother turned sternly to her daughter. “Susan! What a complete waste of valuable coins! And where did you ever get those coins to throw away with such carelessness?”
Susan was not deterred by her mother’s attitude. “Mother, when you sent me last week to work for old Mrs. Harlow, she agreed to pay me five small coins for my work. So you see, I still have four coins left.”
“WHAT?” Mother was furious. “Mrs. Harlow is old and stiff with her joint pains and she can hardly get out of bed anymore. I sent you there out of charity, to help the poor woman! Not for you to rob her of her last possessions!”
Standing firm in the face of her mother’s wrath, Susan replied. “I did not ask Mrs. Harlow for the coins. She offered them because, as she said, she does not have much time left and she wanted to do some good with her coins before she passed on.”
Mother thought about that. “But still, Susan, I showed you how easy it is to make your soup. How will it look if Tommy goes about telling everyone in the village that you don’t know how to cook? There wouldn’t be a boy around here who would have you!”
“Have me as what, Mother?”
“Why, as a wife, of course!”
Susan thought for minute. “I have to say, Mother, that I cannot think of having any of these boys as my husband.”
Seeing that her mother was about to become apoplectic, Susan scurried away to the stove with her cauldron of soup.
And so it was that Susan grew into a strong-willed young woman who made up her own mind as to what should be done in her life. She never did learn the craft of making her own food. But Susan did not go hungry while her mother was around.
And, apparently, her lack of skill in the kitchen did not deter the young men of the village from constantly asking her to accompany them for a walk in the meadow by the nearby lake. It was during the second of those invitations that Susan found herself in a compromising situation.
Charles was the eldest son of the village blacksmith. He followed in his father’s profession, of course, and was becoming a competent smith with bulging muscles.
One day, Susan was speaking to a group of young ladies about what she had learned when visiting the other village. Her stories were about the people from the great and mysterious and exciting city where the King lived.
Susan had been sent by her mother to the village on the other side of the lake to visit their relatives. Mother thought that Susan would settle down after having a bit of an adventure. Mother was wrong.
The neighbouring village was close to the highway that was used by the King’s men to travel to the sea coast, so the village had grown larger around the original travelers hotel. Now there were three hotels to serve the travelers, not all of whom were in the service of the King.
Susan had stayed for eight days with different relatives. Each night after the big supper, she was regaled with stories of the many travelers and the stories that they brought from the sea coast and from the King’s city. Susan’s mother had allowed her to take one of her small coins along and, on her third day in the bustling village she determined to spend her coin. Accompanied by a cousin who was delegated to keep her safe, Susan walked into the public house that comprised the lower level of the newest and grandest hotel in the village.
She had no idea what to expect. Whatever she may have dreamed about the public house, it was so delightfully foreign from any other experience she had, that Susan stumbled and then danced about from table to group in a trance. She had long conversations with people she had never met before and they spoke of silky clothing styles and jeweled buggy whips and food from the sea that tickled the tongue and curious relationships using words she had never heard before but which she just knew would horrify her mother if she ever heard them.
Hours later, her cousin finally managed to drag Susan outside. It was dark. It was well past supper time but Susan’s head was so filled with the wonders she experienced inside the public house that her head was spinning with colourful visions. Or maybe it was the drink that she bought with her coin.
Back in her own village, everything seemed grey and dull and so boringly quiet that Susan felt the urgent need to tell others about her adventures in the outside world. So, one evening, when Susan was asked by some acquaintances what she had seen and heard in the village across the lake, Susan was more than ready to tell them. She did add a few things, elaborating somewhat on the experiences that travelers had recounted in the public house. As Susan spoke, more young ladies crowded round, eager to hear. The larger the crowd became, the more fantastic Susan’s stories became, and the stories changed from happening to others, to happening to her.
Charles and a few other boys wandered by to see why a crowd was collecting. When they saw that it was Susan telling everyone about her adventures beyond the lake, the boys stayed. Charles was as interested as the others at first. However, he, too, had been to the other village while accompanying his father to bring back supplies of iron and coal. He finally could not contain himself as Susan told of how she had fought off a ruffian from the coast. Charles let out a loud guffaw. “You fought him off? I’d have trouble with some of those devils!”
Susan saw that she was on the verge of losing her rapturous audience. “Yes, Charles, you might have, but this old seaman had lost a leg, which is why they called him Pegleg. As he reached out for me I kicked his wooden leg and he fell headfirst onto a stout chair.”
With delighted chuckles, the audience was back on her side.
Susan learned from her first night’s story-telling to keep closer to reality.
Despite himself, Charles was intrigued with Susan. One day when Charles delivered a packet of new nails for Susan’s father to use on a project, Susan took the lead in bartering for payment. Her father backed away with a knowing smile. Normally, the packet of nails would have been worth two bushels of fresh vegetables from their garden. Susan’s father had been prepared to offer one-and-a-half bushels then perhaps bargain up to the two.
Susan opened the packet to inspect the nails. “Two of these are beginning to rust, Charles. Were they all made this week?” She smiled coyly up at his bushy-bearded face.
He grinned down at her. “I should be careful you don’t kick my pegleg. Yes, Susan. All these nails were hammered out by me, personally, this week. I will take the standard two bushels…”
Susan interrupted him, “Why Charles…” She surprised Charles and her father with her suggestive pose, “…I am disappointed that you should be so forward.” She combed a slithering hand through her light brown curls.
Charles was speechless. He stared at Susan’s hair, then his eyes started wandering, then he suddenly glanced at Susan’s father. At a distinct disadvantage under this feminine onslaught Charles cleared his throat. “Ah, well, like, we normally exchange this many nails for, ah, two bushels, but if, well, like, under the circumstances, with those two very slightly rusty nails in the packet, I will offer my apologies and accept a single bushel of your garden vegetables.” He heard what he had just said and quickly added, “Like, if you wouldn’t mind packing it tightly and having a few good-sized potatoes on the bottom.” He had glanced over at Susan’s father with a pleading look. “If you don’t mind, sir?”
Susan nodded in satisfaction. “That will be fine, Charles. Perhaps you’d care to accompany me to our garden. I can allow you to choose your own potatoes while I collect the rest of the basket.”
Susan’s father had to suppress a laugh. As the two young folk walked back to the garden, Father couldn’t wait to go inside to tell Mother what he had witnessed. Inside, he laughed out loud while she tittered in amusement, and some wonder.
That was when Charles had asked Susan if she’d like to go with him to the meadow by the lake.
That meadow was a favourite place for young folks to meet. Some sat on the slope leading to the lake, gazing at the ripples taken by a breeze across the calm water and made plans. Some gazed at each other, saying nothing, doing much. Some didn’t know what to do and sat stiffly wishing the other person with them would do something. Anything.
Susan was excited to be in the meadow once more. The last time, with Tommy, she was in the category of wishing that something would happen.
As they found a quiet location hidden from the village by shrubs and trees, Susan unfurled her blanket with the intent of sitting down. Charles could not contain himself. He exploded into a runting maelstrom, jumping at Susan and shoving her back onto the blanket, immediately covering her with his sweating body.
As Charles was pulling his pants down, Susan twisted sideways and, in doing so, elbowed him in the side of the head. Stunned, he was easier to push off her. Susan rolled away to jump to her feet. She yelled at Charles as he scrambled to pull his punts up. “What do you think you’re doing, you stupid brute! If you ever touch me again I will scratched your eyes out! One at a time! Believe me!”
Then Susan spun around and ran across the fields back to her house, her heart racing. Before she got to their garden in the Commons, Susan found herself smiling.
Charles could get only as far as kneeling on this pants. They would not go further, the legs having been half-knotted as he yanked them while on his back. He spitted and growled and swore in animal frustration. On his knees.
Once upon a time there lived a shepherd who served his master faithfully and honestly. One day whilst keeping the sheep in the forest, he heard a hissing, and wondered what the noise could be. So he went farther into the wood to try and find out. There he saw that the forest was on fire, and a snake was hissing in the midst of the flames. The shepherd watched to see what the snake would do, for it was quite surrounded by the fire, which approached it nearer and nearer.
Then the snake cried out, “For God’s sake, good shepherd, save me from the fire!”
So the shepherd stretched his crook across the flames and the snake glided rapidly over the staff and up his arm onto his shoulder, till at last it wound itself round his neck. Then the shepherd was terrified and exclaimed, “What shall I do? What an unlucky wretch I am! I saved you, and now your are about to kill me!”
The snake answered, “Do not be afraid. Only take me to the house of my father. My father is the king of snakes.”
But the shepherd, being already in great fear, began to excuse himself, saying he must not leave his sheep. Then the snake said, “Nothing will happen to your sheep. Do not be anxious about them. But let us hurry home.”
So the shepherd went on with the snake through the forest, until they came to a gate made entirely of snakes. Then the snake on the neck of the shepherd hissed, and instantly the snakes untwined themselves, so that the man could pass through. As soon as they had gone through, the snake said to him, “When you reach my father’s house he will offer to give you whatever you like — gold, silver, or precious stones. Do not, however, take any of these things. Choose, instead, the language of animals. He will hesitate at first, but at last he will give it you.”
Meanwhile they arrived at the palace, and the king of snakes said, weeping, “For God’s sake, my child, where were you?” Thereupon the snake told him all that had happened, how he had been surrounded by fire, and the shepherd had saved him. Then the snake king said to the shepherd, “What do you wish that I should give you for saving my son?”
The shepherd answered, “I desire nothing but the language of animals.”
The snake king, however, said, “That is not good for you, for if I give it you, and you tell anyone about it, you will instantly die. Therefore it is better that you ask me for something else.”
“If you wish to give me anything,” replied the shepherd, “give me the language of animals. If you will not give me that, I want nothing — so good-bye,” and he turned to go away.
Then the snake king called him back, saying, “If you indeed wish it so much, take it. Open your mouth.” The shepherd did so, and the snake king blew into his mouth, and said, “Now blow once yourself in my mouth.” The Shepherd did so, and then the snake king blew again into his mouth, and this they did three times. After that the snake said, “Now you possess the language of animals. Go, in God’s name, but do not for the world tell anyone about it. If you tell anyone you will instantly die.”
The shepherd returned across the forest, and, passing through it, he understood everything the birds and animals, and even the plants were saying to each other. When he came to his sheep he found them all there, safe and sound, so he laid himself down to rest a little.
Hardly had he done so before two or three ravens settled on a tree near him, and began to converse together, saying, “If that shepherd only knew that just on the spot where the black sheep is lying there is, deep in the earth, a cave full of gold and silver!”
When the shepherd heard that he went off to his master and told him. The master brought a cart, and dug down to the cave, and carried the treasure away home. But the master was honest, so he gave up the whole of the treasure to the shepherd, saying, “Here my son, all this wealth belongs to you. For to you God gave it. Build a house, marry, and live upon the treasure.”
So the shepherd took the money, built a house, and married, and by and by he became the richest man in the whole neighborhood. He kept his own shepherd, and cattle driver, and swineherd. In short, he had great property and made much money.
Once, just at Christmas, he said to his wife, “Get ready some wine and other food, and tomorrow we will feast the shepherds.”
The wife did so, and in the morning they went to their farm. Towards evening the master said to the shepherds, “Come here, all of you. You shall eat, drink, and make merry together, and I will go myself this night to watch the sheep.”
So the master went to watch his sheep, and, about midnight, the wolves began to howl and the dogs to bark. The wolves spoke, in wolf language, “May we come and take something? You also, shall get a part of the prey.”
And the dogs answered, in dog language, “Come! We also are ready to eat something.”
But there was one old dog there who had only two teeth left. This old dog shouted furiously, “Come on, you miserable wretches, if you dare. So long as I have these two teeth left you shall not do any damage to my master’s property.”
All this the master heard and understood. Next day he ordered all the dogs to be killed except that old one. The servants began to remonstrate, saying, “For God’s sake, master, it is a pity to do this.”
But the master answered, “Do as I have ordered you,” and started with his wife to go home. They rode on horseback, he on a fine horse and his wife on a handsome mare. But the master’s horse went so fast that the wife remained a little behind.
Then the master’s horse neighed, and said to the mare, “Come on, why do you stay behind?”
And the mare answered, “Ah, to you it is easy — you are carrying only one weight, and I am carrying three.”
Thereupon the man turned his head and laughed. The wife saw him laughing, and urged the mare on quicker till she came up to her husband, and asked him, “Why were you laughing?”
He said merely, “I had good reason to laugh!”
But the wife was not satisfied, and again begged he would tell her why he laughed. He excused himself, exclaiming, “Give up questioning me. What has come to you, my wife? I forget now why it was I laughed.”
But the more he refused to tell her, the more she wished to know. At last the man said, “If I tell you I shall die immediately!”
That, however, did not quiet her, and she kept on asking, saying to him, “You must tell me.”
In the meantime they reached their house. When they had done so the man ordered a coffin to be made, and, when it was ready, had it placed in front of the house, and laid himself down in it. Then he said to his wife, “Now I will tell you why I laughed, but the moment I tell you I shall die.”
So he looked around once more, and saw that the old dog had come from the field, and had taken his stand over his head, and was howling. When the man noticed this he said to his wife, “Bring a piece of bread for this poor dog.”
The wife brought a piece and threw it to the dog, but the dog did not even look at it, and a cock came near and began to peck at it.
Then the dog said to the cock, “You think only about eating. Do you know that our master is going to die?”
And the cock answered, “Well, let him die, since he is so stupid. I have a hundred wives, and often at nights I gather them all round a grain of corn, and, when they are all there, I pick it up myself. If any of them are angry, I peck them. That is my way of keeping them quiet. Only look at the master, however. He is not able to rule one single wife!”
The man, hearing that, got out of the coffin, took a stick, and called his wife to him, saying slyly, “Come now, and I will tell you what you want to know.”
The wife, seeing she was in danger of getting a beating, left him in peace, and never asked him again why it was he laughed.
The man nodded to himself. Learning to be smarter than the animals is hard. I am learning.
Source: Csedomille Mijatovies, Serbian Folk-Lore (London: W. Isbister and Company, 1874), pp. 37-42. (With the addition of one line by G. Opacic)
In the mega-increasingly fraught discourse people are having on websites, blogs and social media, distractions form endless pathways away from topics that matter. We are easily distracted away from matters that could be solved, as we did do when faced with the existential threat of our current pandemic. A laser-focused response created remarkable scientific and technical achievements within a previously unimaginable timeframe.
When not laser-focused, distractions take us off into the boonies. For instance, asking an acquaintance, “Are you well?” is often taken as either a “scotch-egging” query, or one which may be viewed through the tinted glasses of tribalism. Tim Harford recently explained the concept where your acquaintance was “…treating a scotch egg as a ‘substantial meal’ with your drink in a pub”, thereby, in the mind of the listener, placing such an assertion into the column of self-delusion: https://timharford.com/2021/02/were-living-in-a-golden-age-of-ignorance/. The distraction of scotch-egging equals self-delusion.
Harford adds that our general ignorance is also made worse by political tribalism: “In a polarised environment, every factual claim becomes a weapon in an argument. When people encounter a claim that challenges their cultural identity, don’t be surprised if they disbelieve it.” Or storm the Capitol.
A further component of our “golden age of ignorance” is the acceptance of epithets that quickly lose real meaning. Media writers and mouthers of endless breathless BREAKING NEWS blithely pronounce things such as, “The overdose crisis claims a record number of lives this month…” Such a statement places the blame of each death on the very victims themselves. Meanwhile, the neutered epithet becomes a convenient way of washing one’s hands of any action that might be done. We ignore the very complicated set of circumstances that are different for each tragic death.
Were we to parse out some of the complications, however, we might find that meaningful actions could be accomplished. The victim was not a “drug addict”. The victim was somebody’s son or daughter with a personal history. Further, there was, in most cases, no “overdose”. The street drug was deliberately poisoned with something that the drug dealer found to be cheaper and yet more addictive. The BC Coroners Service correctly terms this as Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths. And so on.
Another issue with a lack of specificity in general discourse is “the social media”. A globally recognized expert stated, “…that the internet, especially social media, is having an increasingly toxic influence on our lives.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=006GMXEtoHI
In asking for specificity, in this case, I am not looking to atomize all the types of social media, then join the rants against Placebook or Flitter.
My focus would be on the use of this epithet for a complex collection of disparate actors. If a commentator uses the term “social media”, then proceeds with a wide brush to attribute nasty actions to the whole field, what is the point?
Saying that “social media” exerts a toxic influence is, in effect, throwing up one’s hands and walking away from any action. If we were to outline a cause-and-effect situation, then the discussion could come back to the possibility of control and change.
Limbaugh’s success allowed Breitbart News and Steve Bannon’s success, along with Fox News. All of which led to Trump.
Specifically, one can trace the odious and toxic elements found in a portion of “social media” to these and other roots. That finding can lead to actions that would offer a path to mitigation of said odious toxicity. Admittedly, once Pandora’s Box is flung open, the task becomes infinitely more difficult.
Lastly, there is The Virus. We lay at the feet of covid-19/20/21 an array of negative situations. Knowing people who have been seriously and even fatally infected during this pandemic, I would be among the last to minimize it. But, may I politely point out that h. sapiens can be found to have treated its elders better, before, than they have been treated in “long term care” facilities, in a few instances. If we dig deeply. Over the past 200,000 years.
Blaming the disproportionate number of seniors’ deaths solely on covid-19 is like blaming deaths of (hypothetical) babies to cars, if the babies were left in rows along the shoulder of busy highways. We would never do that to babies.
So why do we cram our elders into the least costly facilities, cared for by the least-paid workers? And when the pandemic comes along, why do we callously remove from our elders the only thing that might contribute some joy to their last days on this planet: seeing their children and grandchildren?
Of course, we do not want them to be given covid-19! But what accommodation was done to allow such visits? What lengths have been gone to, to allow sports teams to continue playing during the pandemic? May I ask which sports team built our country through lifetimes of effort?
The Virus did not kill all those seniors, with or without comorbidities. Not all these deaths were in for-profit facilities.
If better, specific questions are asked, perhaps we could take effective mitigation measures. As a society.
(Sorry. Feeling burn-out with the breathless newscasters all bringing us announcements of BREAKING news – or more often, the OLDS. Followed by ever longer streams of commercials and further teasers about the upcoming BREAKING NEWS item…)
This is an extract from my new book, Albert Quimby.
In the station’s small coffee shop, drinks in hand, they make like a loving couple, sitting on the same side of one of the few tables.
After a while, Cloe notices a rack of road maps for sale. It reminds her of their mission. “Where you taking me, Albert?” She peers coyly at him, “And, do you mind if I call you Bert?”
He chuckles, “As long as I can call you Ernie.”
She gives him a solid love-tap on his shoulder. “Oohh!…” Thinks about it. “Well, why the hell not? Call me Ernie. My new persona.” The thought brightens up her face even more.
He enjoys her much improved composure, then ploughs ahead, “Ok, Ernie. So where we going? I assume someplace away from Oscar the Grouch?”
“Far away…” She stares dreamily out the window.
“How about the South Sea Islands?”
Cloe-Ernie nearly jumps off her chair. “Can we? Can we?”
“Well, yeah. Like, Pender or Hornby Island, or Galiano. I always kinda liked that na…”
She clobbers his arm; hard, this time.
“Hey!…” He grins. “Was that a lover’s swat?”
“Whadya mean Hornby Island? When you said South Seas…”
“They qualify,” he pleads. “They’re in the Salish Sea and they’re south of us. Like, I…”
She is about to clobber him again. He flinches. She grabs him and drags him closer for a long kiss. The server working behind the counter enjoys a few glances at them as she replenishes one of the donut trays in the display case.
After they slowly part, he nods. “I like the making-up part better.”
The dusk outside is pierced by lights from cars and big rigs passing on the highway next to the station. Albert-Bert stares at the traffic absently. He mumbles, “Tempus fugit.”
“Is that a play in London? Can we go to London?”
“Latin. Means time is passing, but the root for fugitive…”
“Ohh, stop. That hard-drive of yours is loose again.” She pulls his face close for a kiss.
He smiles inside and out. Used to have to let the hard-drive topic finish or it hurt somewhere. Doesn’t hurt anymore.
They get up to leave, walking closely arm-in-arm, step-for-step. He isn’t skittish now. His pace and hers are merged. I must have changed into a different persona, too.
Slipping through the aisle of hats and tee-shirts and maps for sale, the glare of a parking vehicle shines over their heads from the back window. Ernie notices the driver as he gets out of his car and walks to the entrance. She grabs Bert’s arm. “It’s him.”
My locks shall not be shorn ‘ere my arm receive its poke
In a King’s glittering dome, far far away
Persistence through random latency
The being contemplates those recent creations and is more or less satisfied.
A wave through this app produces a myriad scenes, sparkling with potential vigour, each ready to be activated.
The being tickles each meme gently, feeling its power, then chooses the last one. It is pulled across the possible scenes, searching for affinity. Sparkles occur over one of the scenes. An attraction is found.
The meme is infused into a scene of rough stone buildings arranged in a long circle around a central Commons.
In the dark of the night, a dog barks, then is answered by another. A third begins to bark. One of the dogs yelps painfully. The barking ceases. Tinkling echoes from one of the open windows.
The suggestion of pale light tickles the far mountains of the valley. A silent whoosh of a winged demon passes the rear window of a house. Desperate scrabbling on hard-packed clay. A minor thud of claws into fur. The slightest squeal, marking the end of a tiny chapter of life. The whoosh passes again, flapping, gaining height, to return to its nest to add to another chapter.
The pale light begins to gain substance. Mountain peaks are outlined from behind. Their snowcaps glisten. The light marches down their backsides gaining strength, then erupts past their shoulders to fill the sky with a swath of orange broken only by pastel blue streaks of clouds.
In the hamlet, a cock crows his dominance. Another begs to disagree. Shuffling of leather soles, and doors are clumped. Pails-full of swill are sloshing, then emptied into troughs. Cattle rise from sleep; they exhale and snort under their weight. Calves thump their mothers for milk; swine grunt through the trough then are shoved away by others, finding solace by pushing against wooden fence rails smoothed with a thousand pushes. The fields beyond beckon.
This hamlet awakens. Chamber pots are emptied from second-storey windows onto the well-trod clay in front of the houses.
From the stone house farthest away from the sun, still partly in the shadows of the other houses, young Gorman emerges. He adjusts his leather cloak and his wide-brimmed hat. He tightens the handle on his broad-bladed wooden shovel. Girding his loins, Gorman proceeds with his rounds. Shoveling the brown stuff that has appeared below most windows, pushing across the wetted clay sidewalk, down one side of the Commons, then back up the other.
His pattern is to make piles at every fifth house so that the filth he pushes does not accumulate, thereby scraping a brown streak. Woe be the Mucker who leaves a slippery mess before the house of a higher caste. For that crime, and perhaps out of dark whimsy, the aggrieved resident will wait until the Mucker is below, then empty their chamber pot over him. Hence the leather cloak and wide-brimmed hat.
Later, Gorman will do his rounds with a narrower shovel and a wheel-barrow.
This morning, Gorman feels the persistence of random latency – a blurring shiver through his soul – as he approaches the house of Morbrent. A quick glance up at the window shows Gorman that their candle is lit. A shadow passes before it. Gorman continues scraping under the window then jumps back in time to witness the splash and splatter of the accumulation from a satisfyingly large deposit. He’d remembered the absence of product from the morning before. Sometimes he couldn’t remember in time. Long latency.
Gorman chances a look up to see young Morbrent grinding his teeth at the window. Gorman hurries on his rounds. They may discuss this while playing on the Commons.
First published in Canadian Stories, Special Edition Anthology, December 2004
Lois had been a teacher for many years in the Cultus Lake area of the Fraser Valley and in the Okanagan. She listened respectfully to the tales told by her students and their parents, rendering some into poetry, some into prose, as they deserved to be heard.
We are searching for an Indigenous artist who would like to partner in a book of Lois’ historical poems and prose. Please send us a Comment!
On my cheek yet distant, wafting in a celestial mind.
Scent of love
Scent of you
Entwine your mind with mine
Bring me a glowing pearl of your warmth
That I may wait for you
My lips smile at the sky
Praying you feel my love
In that pale morning light.
Scent of desire
Scent of a dream
In my pain
Fumie Fukuda, trans. George Opacic
Fumie had been a student who came from Japan to work through things that were troubling her. She had written this poem and others in Japanese using a particular form. While I knew some Japanese, we could never quite get the translation to the point where it had the power of the original. Fumie went back not long after competing her studies. I hope she has found peace. Not sure.
I recently had time to revisit the poem. This is as close as I can get to her intentions.
“Writing is a compulsion” sounds like a cliché. Writing has neither brought me fame nor fortune. I’ve spent more on my scribbling than I could ever hope to earn from such an endeavour. I’m sure most would-be authors have discovered as much. Even good writers struggle to make ends meet. However, once started, I was unable to stop. Sound familiar?
I began writing to heal. I was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and in the midst of dealing with it, I was overwhelmed with myriad thoughts and confused memories of being eight, nine and ten during the London Blitz, living a two-fold terror with my pedophile uncle. To deal with such vivid flashbacks and a sense of incredible guilt, I found it necessary to scribble notes on endless reams of paper. That was a compulsion.
“*&%#*&%!” I stood on a hilltop, a short car ride and walk from my “handyman’s delight” in West Sechelt, flinging stones with all the force in my right arm. My son, my sweet loving son, urged me on.
“Great, Dad. Get it all out. Shout and curse as loud as you like. None but I can hear you here on this mountain top.”
He threw his own stones. We both threw and yelled until, at last, exhausted, we sat on a log laughing. My laughter mingled with tears. He, holding me in a complete reversal of roles. Son and Father — Father and Son.
I’d bottled so much up since PTSD. My forced retirement from teaching and resultant marriage breakdown had driven me to live alone in my tumbledown house on its own hill with a view. That yelling session was the catalyst — the moment of permission to express my feelings of anger and frustration. My young son provided what a psychiatrist had been unable to provide: permission to express previously suppressed feelings.
“You can be angry at Mom, angry at God, angry at yourself. Let go the poison. If you can’t yell and scream, write it down. Then read it out and burn what you need to get rid of.”
Later, after my son returned to university and I sat alone, I began writing. I filled entire notebooks with scribbles of emotion and scattered memories from earliest childhood to my years of teaching.
On sunny days, I cleared the weedy hill beside the house and gradually built and planted beautiful rockeries and gardens with fishponds and waterfalls, roses and rhododendrons, azaleas and bushy ferns. On the other side of the house where the ground was more level, I built an abundant vegetable garden with a lush lawn in front.
Through all this activity, I began having flashbacks of childhood terrors, memories I’d pushed from my mind as hidden horrors of filth and shame and an oath of strictest secrecy, suppressed for more than fifty years. All this I wrote down on tear-stained pages.
At last, I began transferring scribbles to computer documents, discarding garbage to an incinerator pile — and the pages mounted up. Thus began the lengthy and often tumultuous process of healing. I had to learn to forgive myself and discover my own innocence, finally washing away “my sins”.
Forgiving is more than mere words. Forgiving involves an active choice — difficult at first but feasible with determination, effort and time. Forgiving others follows.
We all make mistakes in life. Sometimes we hurt those we love the most. Discovering and acknowledging them makes it easier to forgive others who have hurt us. Not always, but most of the time. Self-editing and submitting to other editors helped me discover this.
More than anything else in writing a memoir, it’s most important to remember that no one wants to hear someone feeling sorry for themselves. Banish sadness but tell things as they were and are. The future is promising. However, old habits are hard to break.
It took me ten years to upgrade the house and garden to showcase status and, more importantly, to complete the first draft of my healing memoir. I finally sold the house and moved to the city where I met the love of my life — a supportive partner and primary editor — and many years of love and emotional healing.
Following two editions by other publishers and extensive self-editing, Rutherford Press of Qualicum Beach, B.C. published Discovered in a Scream.
My spirit healed at last, other books followed. No longer egocentric, I wrote and published poetry, children’s stories, a historical novel and the biography of one of Canada’s earliest bush pilots. My spirit had been freed and creativity followed at a gallop.
Shaving off the stubble around his goatee, Albert daydreams of languid beaches in Yevpatoriya, lying beside a scantily-clad Cloe. Probably bombed to hell by now. He aggressively clips off the longer bits of his hair. In the bachelor-suite “main room”, he looks at the few sticks of scavenged furniture that he makes do with. This can go up in smoke and nobody’d miss it. I can take a few clothes and the USBs of my files, and… Shit is it seven-thirty already? Finish later.
He slips on his shoes and heads out the door to meet Andrew. On the drive to Port Coquitlam he wonders what his former best friend wants; what he was up to; what’s “serious”. Can’t tell him what I’m doing. Andrew might still be active. Shit! What if there’s a contract out on me, and he’s… No. Not Andrew.
Albert is uncharacteristically a few minutes late. As he parks on the street near the coffee shop he and his former long-time friend had used as their favourite hangout, he sees someone in a wheelchair making his unpowered, strenuous way up the slightly inclined walkway to the front door. Albert hurries a bit to be there to open the door for the fellow.
With the door half opened he looks down at the person in the wheelchair. Dumbfounded at seeing the unmistakable eyes of his old friend, he stands holding the door half-open.
Andrew struggles to bend his neck enough to look up at Albert. “Thanks, but I might need it open more than that, if you don’t mind.”
Albert stares at the contorted grin on the face that he used to see just about every day for years, even before their time in the GRU’s Unit 74455. Snapping out of his astonishment, he pulls the door fully open. “Andrew! What the fuck…?”
“Good to see you, too, dickhead. Let me in, will you?” Albert steps back as Andrew has to push hard to wheel over the threshold, then he heads inside for a particular table. Albert has trouble forcing his legs to follow. A young couple are already sitting at the table. It has a wheelchair symbol on it. Andrew nods at the symbol as he parks aggressively at the open side of the table. The couple look at each other, shrug their shoulders, and make a point of slowly collecting their phones and cups to look for another table.
Albert shrugs apologetically as the couple leave and he takes one of the seats. He is about to start a conversation, “Andrew, I…”
“Get me an iced tea, will you? With a straw.” Andrew keeps his eyes down.
Albert notices his gaunt fidgeting hands are tightly bent in. MS?
“Oh. Sure.” Albert gets up. “Be right back.” He avoids a strong urge to put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder as he passes the wheelchair. He sees that the chair is heavily scratched and worn.
After a few minutes, Albert comes back to the table with two drinks. He puts the iced tea down in front of Andrew, turning the straw toward him. “Is that close enough, Andrew? Oh…” He pulls a few serviettes from a pocket, “…here. In case you, like, need them…”
As Albert sits down with his coffee, Andrew’s jerked movements settle down and he is able to put an arm on the table. “Can still talk, thank god. This fucking MS is going there next.” He creeps his arm in stages, closer to the cup. A finger and thumb finally capture it. Albert is about to jump forward to help, but he doesn’t. Andrew slides the cup near the edge toward himself. He uses his other arm to awkwardly roll closer to have his mouth near the straw. Albert stares in slow-motion fascination as short, barely controlled movements finally combine to have Andrew’s mouth capture the straw. He takes a satisfied slurp. A few drips escape onto his lap.
Albert slides the serviettes closer to Andrew’s hand. “Do you want me to…”
Quietly, “Fuck off, Al.”
Sitting in stunned silence at what his friend has become, Albert has trouble saying anything further. He sips his coffee, waiting for Andrew to say something.
After a few more difficult sips, Andrew works hard to focus on Albert. “Still want me to cover your back?”
“The last thing you told me was to cover your back. That game in the so-called industrial league. No contact, they said. Thought I could stick it out. Just to be… well… with a friend. Who really knows me.” Tremolo captures the voice.
Albert leans forward, “Jesuschrist, Andrew. What happened? I mean, this MS. You had it then?”
“Yeah. Got the doctor’s visit a couple days before… Floored me. Thought it had to be some secret plot to get me to spill… everything. Still don’t want to believe it. But here I am.”
“Does your mother… Well of course you told her…”
Andrew shakes his head. “Didn’t want to tell her. Right away. Burden her… But it gets worse sometimes. This is as bad as it’s been. Usually I can walk alright. Mom’s been a rock. She does everything for me. Reverted to speaking Russian…” He snaps his head around automatically to see if someone is listening. The tremolo gets more pronounced. “I can’t… can’t do this to her any longer, Al. She getting old, herself. Probably put years on her, being my… It’s getting worse. When I can’t go to the can by myself and I can’t eat anymore… what’s the use?” Andrew ends quietly.
It tugs on Albert’s heart. Tightens his chest. He can’t speak.
“Al, I want to end it. How can I end it? Can you… can you help me? Al?”
Albert is devastated. What’s he want me to do? Kill him? Push him off a cliff? “Andrew… I don’t know what to say. I really hate seeing you like… like this. But I don’t know what to do.”
Andrew hisses, “There’s only one fucken thing you can do for me goddamnit!”
Andrew slurps angrily a few more times, each one with extra drips falling down to his lap. Albert reaches over to put a serviette on his lap. He notices how much weight his old friend has lost. “Andrew, I want to help you. I’d do anything I can to help you. But… Maybe I can contact Vladi..” He shakes his head.
“Vladi for fucksake? Is that what you want? Shoot me like a fucken dog?” Andrew fidgets hard for a minute, shakes his head, then decides to leave. “Dickhead. Just fuck off. You can’t do anything for me, now. Have a good fucken life.” Andrew pushes back from the table.
Alarmed, Albert gets up to reach for Andrew’s chair as it turns, but Andrew heads aggressively for the door. A person entering holds the door open for Andrew as the wheelchair bounces past. Albert watches, helplessly, watching with a tear forming, seeing his old friend roll away. What the hell’s he want me to do!?
From a nearby table, a young woman who had been pretending to read on her phone since Albert first sat down, looks up to Albert’s face. “He’s been a sonofabitch. Comes in here almost every day and mopes at that table. Same table all the time. Gets people to buy him a drink. Bought him a couple, myself, at first. Let him go. Just let the sonofabitch go.” She taps opens her phone to actually do some reading.
In a daze, Albert takes the half-full cups from his table to the dishes tray. He walks outside, looking for Andrew but without enthusiasm. His heart feels empty. Frozen, and yet beating hollowly. But what could I do? He wants me to kill him?
Albert can’t sleep that night. He relives what he should have done with Andrew. Then Cloe’s face floats in, shaking silently, back and forth. Over the very early morning he stares at the phone’s time in twenty minute intervals, waiting for the hours to pass. Too early, he rises to get ready for his trip to Seattle. Echoing in his mind is the phrase, But what can I do for him?