Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sex, lies and home sales

It's done and I am heading out in a few days. I am exhausted and emotionally drained so it will be good to be on the road for a couple of days to just numb out.

The purchase of the house is more or less completed, they have removed it from the Multiple Listing Service. I guess they'd put up a Sold sign if they could, but the For Sale sign came down a long time ago so I don't know that they will go and erect a Sold sign now. I wouldn't, if I were them.

The financing is complicated (of course), so I won't breathe a sigh of relief until after that's done too.

This morning the garage has my truck for a final check before the long drive, I still have home insurance to take care of. And tonight the Gaspereau Summer Film Festival at the Gaspereau Walk-in Theatre (aka Lin's driveway) is showing Tulku, a documentary about Gesar Mukpo, one of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's sons. It's a fair-weather-only and bring-your-own-everything (beverage, snack, chair, bug dope) kind of thing.

Last week we watched Animals, a documentary by a local guy about his effort to raise and kill his own meat. I don't know the guy personally but he has a farm in a town I pass through to get to the Harbour. So you see the slaughter of various farm critters from this guy's perspective. He felt that if he was going to eat meat then he should have the courage to kill the animals concerned. The results vary.

There was also a short about a girl who works on a phone sex line. Her Dad calls. It's kind of funny in a black sort of way, but unfortunately a couple of the audience members were not up for the somewhat explicit humour and had to leave before the main film. I wonder if they'll be back this week.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's complicated...

A week since my last post, a lot has happened but only in the sense of 2 steps forward and 2 steps back. The seller and I are in some kind of weird little dance, my fourth offer on the house went in on Friday and I guess I'll hear the response soon.

I think the realty agents are colluding to get this sale over with, they both work in the same office and this house has been on the market---off and on---for ten years. My agent wants to get me a good deal on it, his agent just wants it done and gone. The seller, well, I'm not sure what the seller wants, it seems complicated. I suspect he doesn't know what he wants.

In any case, I think the agents know what they are doing and one way or another the deal will go through. I may be moving sooner than planned, or not. It has been such a complicated negotiation that I am ready to walk away from it if things don't resolve this week.

Isaac came for a whirlwind visit over the weekend, we had some business to discuss and we did a little visiting as well. He left early this morning to meet the rest of his family in PEI and head back to Toronto.

I got myself a little iPhone just in time for Isaac to hep me set it up. My cellphone bill immediately jumps from $11 to $60 a month, but it has so many features that I like and can use while travelling, that I am finally taking the big leap.

My truck has developed a leak that I patched with duck tape. I know it is sold as 'duct tape', but originally it was Duck Tape, so I am sticking to the original, and in this case I think that name is entirely appropriate. I was waiting for a good heavy rainfall to test my patch but all I got was occasional showers. So far the duck tape seems to be working, so I am going to stop waiting for the heavy rain and just get the truck packed and ready to go early next week. The plan is to be back in Toronto next week, then head west for a visit with west coast friends and family (and the soon to be newest member of the family!).

Depending on how the house negotiations go, I will spend the winter either in Nova Scotia or Ontario. Or who knows, maybe even BC.

Monday, July 19, 2010


My house hunting may be over. I have an accepted offer on a house, the financing is secured, insurability is almost there (one glitch to be overcome), and the building inspection just happened. My inspector is grumpy and negative-minded when it comes to this sort of thing, but he OK'ed it. Besides which, I like the house and the more I see of it the more I like it. What's not to like, it's my old house.

I used to own this house, I lived in it for six years and then rented it out for another eleven before selling it to the current owners. They bought the place at a bargain basement price because eleven years of rental and lousy property management had taken its toll on the house. They put a lot of work into restoring and improving it, had three babies while living there and finally moved out because it was just big enough for a family of four but not for a family of five. They rented it out for another five years before I offered to buy it back from them.

I think I have already described my first visit to the house, on my second visit the current owner happened to drop by and gave me and the real estate agent a bit of a tour of the place, showing off all the work he had done on it. A lot of it was behind-the-scenes invisible work, rewiring and replumbing and insulating and even rebuilding the roof. The obvious stuff was the hardwood flooring and thermal pane windows and finished basement, the second bathroom and the wood stove chimney. Less obvious was the wiring for sound of the basement rec room (it's home theatre-ready), and fixing the basement leak. Not to mention the plum tree, the grape arbour, the gooseberry and quince bushes, and flowering shrubs and perennials in the front and back yards. After his tour I felt like I really was getting a bargain.

There are a couple of down sides to this house. One is that I won't be here for the closing date, and the other is that the owner has lined up tenants to move in before the closing date and to stay for an as-yet-unspecified amount of time. I am aiming for them to be out next spring, but I suspect they will want to stay longer and I am not sure yet of the legal requirements here for such things. So buying this house is a little anti-climactic, I won't be able to walk into an empty house on closing day and say, Mine!

On the other hand. It feels good. I look forward to moving in. I have all winter to pack up and arrange moving details, one more winter of weaving and woodcarving classes, and all the other things Toronto has to offer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Canadian hero

I picked a book from the shelves here to read, it's called The Sword, The Scalpel: the story of Doctor Norman Bethune. It was written in the '50s so it is quite old and has no pictures at all. The authors had access to his voluminous writings, and also correspondence with his wife and friends. One of the authors knew Bethune personally, the other only by reputation, so they combined subjective and objective viewpoints.

Bethune died relatively young, at the age of 49, in a remote part of China. He prided himself on being a Communist, he hugely admired Mao Tse Tung (who he met and chatted with during his short time in China). He was right in the thick of China's battle to fend off the Japanese invasion,. Before that he participated in the Spanish Civil War and before that he campaigned for "socialized medicine" in Canada and the USA.

Doctor Bethune was originally from Gravenhurst, Ontario, and like many Canadians I knew he was sort of famous and revered by the Chinese, but I didn't really know much about him. I didn't know for example that he nearly died of tuberculosis himself as a young man, and had committed himself to a sanatorium to await his end. But as a trained doctor he continued to read medical journals and he heard about a radical surgical treatment for TB and decided to get it done to himself.

Basically it was a procedure of collapsing and shutting down the affected lung. He had it done and immediately recovered, although it was years before his collapsed lung became functional again. Before that happened though he was quite the bon vivant, and a very driven man. He made a lot of money dealing in art, he travelled a lot and he lived very well. After his bout of TB he came to realize that TB was a disease of poverty, it was rampant because poverty was rampant. He became a convert to the idea of socialized medicine but he did not live long enough to see his dream realized. His experience of nearly dying of TB really changed his perspective on what his life was for.

Doctor Bethune practiced medicine in Montreal and Detroit before volunteering to help in Spain. He was horrified by the treatment of common people in time of war. Being one of those people who is either all on or all off, he worked tirelessly to help refugees and resistors. They finally insisted that he return to North America to tell the real story of what was happening in Spain to try to raise money and support for their fight. He did return but his efforts were to no avail, the great powers of the time allowed Spain to fall to Franco with assistance from Mussolini and Hitler. In the meantime though Bethune heard about the struggle in China and decided to go there to help.

These days we take a dim view of Mao Tse Tung, in great part because of the so-called Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and also because of the invasion of Tibet. But he was an admirable leader during the actual revolution itself, providing a degree of freedom, opportunity and inspiration to millions of peasants that had never been available to them before. Bethune considered Mao very wise, and took many of his sayings very seriously. He did not live to see how things turned out, he died in 1939 and the Chinese Communists only achieved victory in 1949.

I was very interested in some of the historical information in this book, as well as the account of Bethune's life. I was particularly interested in the details of Spanish Civil War and the early days of the Communist Revolution in China. It made me realize what a slanted view conventional history texts and news accounts provide.

The thing that struck me the most though was about all these battles going on in the '30s. I think of World War II as starting in 1939 since that is when Great Britain and Canada declared war. But in reality it started long before that, we North Americans just downplayed or ignored what was going on. Bethune was aware of what was happening to Jews in Germany and other European countries even in the '30s, that information was out there, just not really paid attention to. Japan was busy invading China long before it ran afoul of the USA by attacking Pearl Harbour. The USA tolerated Japan's activities in China quite easily. Canada and the USA and Great Britain tolerated the invasion and subjugation of Spain, they even abetted it because the resistance was supported by Communists. Fascism was seen as a good thing, it opposed Communism.

Bethune was horrified by the suffering, angry at the lack of action by governments that ought to know better. He proudly declared himself a Communist because to be a non-Communist was to sit by and ignore the suffering of others.

Bethune was not an ordinary person, I think he must have been an extremely obsessed and driven man. He had a terrible temper, he scared the very people who adored him. When he was in China, the Communist revolutionary soldiers he lived with engaged in regular sessions of mutual criticism, and they told him in no uncertain terms how damaging his temper was to them. They loved him, but.

Of course they were devastated when he died. Temper or no temper they really did love him.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sunny day

It's a lovely warm sunny day, after a somewhat muggy and rainy day yesterday. I am hearing about heatwaves in the eastern USA and heavy rain and flooding in the west, but here in Nova Scotia we are having the perfect summer. June had enough rain to satisfy the farmers and gardeners, and enough sun to satisfy the rest of us. And probably the farmers and gardeners too. Last year was terribly buggy here, this year they are making themselves scarce, the bugs that is. The North Mountain is living up to its long time reputation of being almost completely free of them. I saw maybe a couple of black fly last month, and this month a couple of sluggish mosquitoes. Today it is 30C in the Valley and about 25C here on the Mountain, a perfect warm sunny day in the woods.

I hear several different kinds of birdsong and the occasional scolding squirrel, and the chuggling of the brook in the vault below. The stillness broken by occasional bird and squirrel sounds feels as if time has stopped dead in its tracks. Nothing happening, not a damn thing.

A baby chickadee showed up at my birdfeeder yesterday. I had bought some birdseed for the nesting junco, but after she abandoned the nest I put it all in the feeder and strung it up in a tree. The baby chickadee was clearly a novice at this birdfeeder thing, he kept pecking at the seeds he could see through the clear plastic seed bin of the feeder. Could not figure out how to get at those seeds. And he was sufficiently naive that he didn't startle when I came out to get a better look at him. He was obviously a baby, you could still see the down sticking out between the adult feathers. Today he came back, but he seems to be a little more educated now, he flew away when I came too close. And he didn't peck at the clear plastic but rather picked up a seed from the tray and chewed on that.

I will soon be leaving here, won't be staying the whole summer this time. The house hunting is getting down to the wire, I am still looking and there are a couple of options but nothing firm. In a few more days I am going to have to give it up as a lost cause. It is quite discouraging and frustrating. It keeps me too busy to stop and enjoy being in the woods, and not having a phone or internet access is a real impediment. I knew I wouldn't be here long enough to justify having it put in and so far it has only made things more difficult.

Seeing as how this is shaping up to be a perfect summer weather-wise, it really seems a shame to have to cut things short and fill up that short time with real estate business. That's the frustrating part, it seems right now that it is all for nothing. I guess I'd be OK with giving up a summer if I knew it was for a good cause, but at the moment that is not how things are working out.

I was kvetching about it all on the morning dogwalk, Valerie was trying to make helpful suggestions and I really didn't want to hear it. At one point I think she was trying to tell me that I shouldn't be so focussed on future finances, I should just let the future take care of itself and buy something I like regardless of the cost. Which really makes no sense to me. I admit to being fairly cautious about how I spend my money, but I think that has stood me in good stead over the years, I am not inclined to throw caution to the wind now. She thinks I am being extreme about it. I don't think she realizes that I am operating on a much slimmer budget than she is, and there really is no fat to trim.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Swamp Rock and river rock

On the weekend I went to the South Mountain Swamp Rock Opera with the Hupman and Dungaree Brothers, and tubing on the Gaspereau. A great good time. In between was a late night campfire and G&Ts at a friend's place.

Last time I went tubing on the Gaspereau was in the 70's, a good three decades ago. As I recall I was not all that sober at the time. However this time we went on a Sunday morning and aside from the rum in the fruit compote at breakfast, I think we were all quite sober.

The Gaspereau is a shallow rocky river that runs into the sea, named for its fish (in other parts of the world they are called shad or alewives, here they are gaspereaux). There's quite a little fishing industry on that river, using these great counterbalanced nets that are lowered into the river from streamside. The river runs through hardwood forest and pastureland for dairy cows, at one point you pass a ford in the river where the cows are driven from a pasture on one side to the barn on the other. There's a precarious suspended walkway over the river by the ford, the cows walk through the river and their human drivers walk over it.

The river is dammed by Nova Scotia Light and Power for hydro-electricity, and for tubing you put into the river just below the dam. The Hydro controls the water level in the river, and generally it's a good idea to go tubing before July when they leave the water fairly high. After mid-July it is lowered quite a bit.

You rent your tube from one of several homes near the put-in and take-out points. We rented ours from The King of the River (KOTR). Some folks who had already been down the river called out to us that it was good tubing today, the river was high. And it was.

My memory of that first trip down the river back in the '70s involved a lot of bum-scraping. This time I hardly touched bottom at all. The high water also made it faster flowing, and sections of rapids were kind of exciting. We'd see some fast water and rocks ahead and try to remember which side was the better side to be on. Some times we guessed right, some times we didn't.

Sometimes we floated down alone, sometimes we rafted together, four of us. It was delightful.

Peter told us about one of his sons who put together a Pirate Tube. He had a styrofoam cooler full of beer duct-taped to his tube, and a waterproof plastic container on the other side for storing cigarettes for the ladies he encountered. And of course a pirate flag on a broomstick. Once someone paid him $50 to rent his Pirate Tube for a trip down the Gaspereau.

The take-out point is at the bridge in the town of Gaspereau. People park their cars here and also at the put-in point, it's a long way to walk between. So we had one car in each place and when we got out at the end we piled our tubes on the top of the car there and tied them down for the drive back to the other car at the dam. It was so hot that we were pretty much dry by the time we got back.

The Swamp Rock Opera was good too. Let's just say that it was a very South Mountain affair, raucous, rock-y and bantering.No swamps no opera, but a lot of rock.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Road trip afterburn

I found out more about the houses we looked at the other day. Turns out Mike did some work on the older house, he remembered it. In particular, he remembers that the oil tank used to be outdoors by the back door. I now have a theory that the oil smell at the back door is from an oil spill when they moved the tank indoors. There must be oil in the ground there. The real estate agent says that the present owner admitted that she occasionally caught a "whiff" of oil at the back door. This was more than a whiff though, it just about knocked us off our feet.

I told the agent my emotional reaction to the houses we viewed and that I wondered if I should be paying attention to that or not. She said that every client she has ever had knew immediately when "this is it". Every house purchase she says is an emotional decision, not a logical one.

I've talked to a couple of friends about it and they think I should go with the feeling not the logic. Except Lin, who fell for the older house. Later that day she even went back to look at it with her husband. He pointed out a few things we missed on the exterior of the house, a bit of rot on the back porch, no window sills or flashing on the front windows. She doesn't like the house that I liked, she doesn't like its location. I told her maybe she should buy the older house, maybe it is the house for her. She says no. She wants me to buy it.

My fantasy is to find or build a small place in the woods. I guess I would like to build it myself. But the reality is I am 62, and I hate the building code and I have limited funds. And I have a bit of a time crunch. The reality is I can't have it all, I have to choose. Everyone I talk to keeps mentioning my age, You're a woman in her sixties, you need to think about what's best for your age. Part of me feels like that kind of thinking will put you in your grave a whole lot quicker.

I just finished reading The Wayfinders by Wade Davis, the Massey Lectures for 2010. Among other things he describes nomadic peoples and the pressures they face to settle down. Something about modernity does not like a nomad. And part of me is very much a nomad. Besides the cabin in the woods fantasy, I have another fantasy of being homeless, of not being tied down to any one location. Like those RVers who travel endlessly in their motor homes. A very unsustainable life style given the amount of fossil fuel involved, but nevertheless one with a certain appeal to me. I sometimes imagine travelling in a gypsy wagon, perhaps pulled by a couple of horses or mules. What a romantic I am!

I hate having to be practical in my old age, it seems like there is so little time left to live one's dreams, one really ought to just do it before it is too late. But then I think about the practicalities, like, what does one do with all one's stuff? Just dump it? Buy an expensive house to store it in and then have no money left to finance the nomadic life? Rent a storage locker? What's the point of having all that stuff if it just sits in a storage locker?


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Another day another meal

Last night the junco babies were in their nest, this morning they were gone and the nest pulled out of its hidey hole and dumped on the ground below.

Mike says he has been watching that nest too, taking photos of it. I have a photo of the eggs, he has photos of the babies. He says the nest was lined with a very fine grey down, and the down also covered the babies so that when he examined the photos he took it appeared as if the babies were in a grey fog. He counted four babies in his photos.

I don't think the snake would have pulled the whole nest out, it might have been a raccoon. But I don't know snakes very well, so perhaps it did. Anyway, the nest failed. There was no down left in the remains of the nest, something gobbled up the entire contents of the nest.

I only ever saw one adult junco at a time, I wonder if it is common for juncos to raise families alone, or if the mate was gone, or if only one of the pair ever showed up at a time. But if there were two parents, it seems odd that they would leave the nest unattended at any time, which indeed was what was happening.

I think actually the babies were dead or dying before the raccoon got to the nest. Last night around dusk the junco was not sitting on the nest, that seemed odd to me that she would leave the nest unattended at night. Certainly she'd been there in the evening every other time I looked. The babies were not moving or making any sound. I think she abandoned the project as a lost cause.

It is still early in the summer, if the junco can find another mate it could start another family.