Friday, January 25, 2019

Death in the Park

One day this week I went to the Reservoir to walk Hapi, but a policeman stopped me and said the Reservoir was off limits for the day. He wouldn't say why. I could see that they had heavily sanded the icy road in, presumably to let vehicles drive safely into the park. There was ice on all the trails, I gave up on the idea of an off-leash walk for Hapi. I could have gone out on the dykes, but it was too windy and cold for me.

I went back to the Reservoir the next day, but other than the sand on the icy road there was no sign of what had happened the day before. The day after that I walked with another woman (the wife of the Fairy Door Man) and she told me. A young man, a teenager, had committed suicide in the park. There was already a memorial marker put up by some of his school friends. A crude cross, a tea can, and a full bottle of homemade wine.

This is the third young man in two months to commit suicide in this small town. Like the first one that I wrote about earlier, his mother was also well known in town. I do not know her personally but I recognize her name and many of my friends do know her. I don't know much about the second person, just that there are at least three now. It appears to be viral.

It has cast a pall. I have no doubt that the young man's family and friends are devastated. In addition, the whole town is aware, and it is frightening. I was talking to a friend at my writing group this morning and she said, this is what it must be like in those small First Nations communities when this happens. No where to turn, nothing to be done, and who is going to be next. I guess I now understand why some religions make the act of suicide a sin. It not only hurts family and friends but it tears gashes into whole communities.

After the first one I talked to several women who related terrible stories about their own children's battles with depression, drugs and suicide. It is scary how easily someone you love can be lost. One woman said, when the first one goes, the others who are struggling see that there is a way out. Not a good way, but a way.

Monday, January 21, 2019


A few days ago Hapi and I were on the trail where the ravens have been tearing up the pine tree branches. A raven in the woods whistled. Hapi responds to whistles (I can't whistle so I can't take advantage of that) so she went tearing off into the woods. She went right to the tree where the raven was perched but she did not look up, she didn't see the raven. The raven was looking down at her, kind of surprised I guess. He wasn't intending to call her. I thought Hapi would come back when she couldn't find the whistler but she did not, she went further into the forest where I couldn't see her. I continued walking, calling her occasionally so she would know where I was, and eventually she reappeared.

The next day I went into the woods where she had been the day before to see if I could find whatever had attracted her after the whistling raven. I found an area of trampled snow, lots of rabbit tracks. Hapi went into the midst of the rabbit tracks to sniff around and I looked to see how big the trampled area was. There were no other tracks, just the rabbit tracks. I'm guessing there is a warren in there somewhere. I mentioned it to a friend who asked if I saw coyote tracks as well but I didn't. The coyotes don't know about this yet.

Yesterday a major storm passed through here, coming from Toronto the day before. In the morning it snowed and was very cold, but since I knew it was going to rain later in the day I took Hapi to the park in the snow. At one point it was snowing so heavily that it was like fog, you could hardly see anything. I decided to walk across the long pond since it is well frozen and people have cleared a skating rink on it. Hapi doesn't like walking on the frozen pond, she knows the risks. She once went through the ice in the Wolfville harbour in January and had to walk home drenched in freezing water. Anyway, she came with me but made it clear she did not consider it safe. She started growling. Ahead of us on the other side of the pond I could just make out two human forms on the ice. Getting closer I saw that they were hardcore skaters with big shovels clearing the snow off the rink. That's what Hapi was growling at, she thought that was really suspect behaviour. I stopped to chat with them about the ice, they were hoping that if they cleared the snow then later when it rained nice smooth ice would form.

When I got home I shovelled the snow off my driveway in hopes that the rain would wash everything away and my driveway would be bare afterwards. But it did mean that it was very icy for awhile. After the snow transitioned to rain Hapi came indoors. She doesn't mind sleeping in the snow but the noise of rain on the deck roof bothers her. In the evening it warmed up dramatically. I went outside and left the door open, just to be in the open warm air. Could barely see the moon. If I had been able to stay awake past midnight I might have seen the lunar eclipse. Maybe. The forecast was for heavy rain through the night so the chances weren't great.

This morning most of the snow was gone. It was cooler than the previous evening but still above zero. We went to the park. The trails were totally icy and optimistically I had not brought my Icers. You could have skated on the trails! I met a couple of other dog walkers and we set out on one trail that didn't look too bad, however once out of sight of the parking lot it turned to a sheet of ice. The other walkers decided to turn back but one of them loaned me her walking stick to continue on.

There are two ways to walk on ice. One is the Old Lady Shuffle and the other is just sliding. I can slide on ice that is relatively smooth but if the ice is bumpy or has a lot of debris in it then the Old Lady Shuffle is best. Either way you have to go slowly. The stick helped. We made it all the way around both ponds but I did not dare go onto the bike trails because they are too steep. At one point I was walking uphill on ice toward the parking lot and the only decent foothold I could get was on some of the dog poop on the side of the trail. People are supposed to pick up after their dogs but obviously not everybody does that. Walking on it was better than trying to walk on the icy slope!

At the parking lot a friend arrived in her car with her big Pyrenees dog. Lulu is bigger and younger than Hapi and just wants to play; Hapi is not interested in playing but she does like the company of other big dogs. I told Lulu's owner E about the ice but she thought she'd try it anyway because she was wearing ice grippers. Not as good as the Icers though. We got a little ways down the trail before she gave up and we turned back to the parking lot.

It is supposed to get really cold tonight. The skaters will get their wish, the ice on the pond will be perfect. And I will not be forgetting to bring my Icers, it is going to be very icy for the foreseeable future.

Friday, January 18, 2019

On hibernation and courting

I have not been sleeping well the past week or so and as a result I have been getting to the dog park late. Not that that is a hardship, but it does mean I miss meeting up with some of my dogwalking friends. When that happens Hapi and I go off on some of the mountain bike trails which we both love. In the winter time there are no bikes to contend with, just the silence of the trees.

This morning that was what we did, and we followed some of the more remote trails this time. As we were arriving back at the parking lot one of the regular dog walkers showed up, she said she deliberately came late in hopes of meeting me since she was aware that my regular schedule was awry. So Hapi and I did one more round of the ponds with P and her dog Maddie.

It is a truly gorgeous day. Very cold, but sunny and windless with only a thin layer of snow on the ground. There is quite a bit of ice under the snow so one does need one's ice grippers, and those of us who frequent the dog park have determined the best grippers around and we all wear them (Lee Valley Icers).

Anyway I was talking about my sleep issues, mostly caused by a series of minor painful inflammations. Seemingly unrelated, but when they happen one after the other one does wonder if there might be a connection. I was saying that it might be a response to stress. Not that my life is stressful or that there is anything serious going on, but still. Even minor stress can be stressful.

P says, "You know, most mammals hibernate at this time of year. Perhaps you should hibernate."

Ahhh. My sentiment exactly. I just want to hibernate, say 'à tout à l'heure!' to the world. I want to run away from all social responsibilities. Spend a week or two in my jammies.

I also ran into A who was born the same year as my mother and shows up in all weathers no matter what with her cute little Teddy. In her bright red ski jacket with a fake fur trimmed hood, her ski poles and dark sunglasses she looks like a well-dressed Arctic explorer. And M with her big old Owie who is the doggy version of Eeyore. So I wasn't the only late walker. There are ice skate marks on the big pond. Even though the snow has not been cleared the ice is thick and the snow is thin. And the ravens are just going crazy.

I don't know what is happening with the ravens, maybe courting? There was always a pair of them at the park, with their nest by the parking lot. Last summer they successfully raised quite a brood of youngsters and now there are at least half a dozen of them. They are unusually loud and engaged in producing strange sounds, I heard one today that sounded like it was trying to sing.

The other thing they are doing is tearing off the growing tips of pine branches. Some parts of the trails are quite littered with the small pine branch tips. I watched one raven ripping off a branch tip, it did not appear to be eating it, just tearing it off and dropping it on the ground.

The singing raven was clearly directing its efforts at a raven in a nearby tree; when a couple of other ravens flew by it immediately reverted to regular raven caws. I think it was telling the passers-by to mind their own beeswax.

Haven't seen our two resident eagles lately, they are most likely participating in the annual Eagle Watch.

Back in the '70s and early '80s there were hardly any bald eagles here. Then one farmer got the idea to try to bring them back; he collected farm animal carcasses from his neighbours and put them out in a field to attract the few eagles remaining. Farmers all up and down the Valley heard about his efforts and were happy to contribute dead animals. It didn't happen right away but within a couple of decades he was hugely successful. Today we have a tonne of eagles. That farmer is long gone and large animal carcasses are no longer put out for the eagles, but the local chicken farmers do put their dead birds out, especially at this time of year. Facebook and Instagram are full of eagle photos from the Eagle Watch right now. So our resident eagles are temporarily away feasting, while the ravens stir up a ruckus in their absence.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Off to a grumpy start, with flowers

Last summer I planted some nasturtiums in my garden but I did it late and they sprouted but not much else. So in the fall I dug them up and potted them to bring indoors. Now I have nasturtium flowers in the window.

My writing group has been trying to come up with meeting guidelines. We meet once a week to read what we've been working on and then reviewing/critiquing what we are listening to. There are plenty of examples online of such guidelines and various people in the group have sent copies around for our edification. Recently, someone thought we should finalize a set of guidelines for our group, that we could follow and also present to new members. So one set of guidelines was printed and distributed to the group shortly before Christmas, and about the same time it was decided (by the same person after discussion with a few of us) that we should close our group to new members.

At our annual Christmas get together a few people confided that actually, they didn't agree with that decision or with how some of the guidelines were worded, but did not feel in a position to object. I raised this at our next regular meeting, there was a discussion of the guideline document and the issue of closed membership, and an edited version of the guidelines was passed around via email for discussion. At our meeting last week some minor changes were made and the document generally accepted. Also, membership was officially reopened.

Through the process I changed my opinion from being fully in support of the guidelines to not wanting guidelines at all. I am in a minority of one, no one else supports my view. My viewpoint is, the fewer rules the better, we should only require rules for specific ongoing issues. While this document is intended to be only guidelines, nevertheless I have heard several people refer to them as the Rules and I think it's a slippery slope between guidelines and rules. I think that a solution to a particular problem often creates new problems while solving the original problem and one ought to be very careful in trying to solve a problem with a 'Rule'.

I asked the question, what is the problem we are trying to solve here and was told that it was twofold: too many people showing up for a meeting and thus limiting the time for reading and critiquing for each person, and some new members being disruptive due to no clear guidelines on how to comport themselves.

My view is, any new members who have been disruptive have moved on pretty quickly, they decided for themselves that they did not fit into our group, so why do we need rules for them? Also, we have been operating for a number of years without guidelines, why do we need them now? The behaviours deemed disruptive were arriving late and receiving cell phone calls during the meeting. The lateness issue was discussed at length, and while some people are bothered by it, others feel that occasional lateness can't be helped when travelling some distance to get to the meeting especially in the wintertime.

The obvious solution to me is just common sense: if you arrive late you may not have a chance to read if there are a bunch of people who arrived ahead of you. I also pointed out that we don't advertise and new members come by invitation only, so the inviter can fill the new member in on our current protocol in a brief conversation not requiring a written document (avoid lateness and turn off your phone or take your phone calls out of the room).

The discussion got a little heated and someone accused me of changing my mind from being fully supportive of the guidelines to fully opposed. I freely admitted that yes, I had changed my mind. Is that a problem?

Last night I was at a surprise birthday party for a friend and got into a conversation with another friend about "vision statements". She told me how she had wanted to join a particular local community group and was encouraged to do so, but when she was told that the next meeting of this group was devoted to coming up with a Vision Statement, she immediately decided this group was not for her. Having spent a career in various offices where Vision Statements were hammered out, she had concluded that they were a total waste of time and were of no use at all for busy groups just trying to get a job done.

I agreed with her heartily, the few times I have been involved in such exercises the discussion inevitably devolved into hair-splitting, and in order to achieve consensus the end result was a bland inanity. I have to say that that is my opinion of guidelines and rules as well. Such discussions are rarely useful and often result in creating new problems in place of the old ones.

I am starting off the new year being a grumpy iconoclast. Where will it end?

For a chuckle, here's a sign posted at my mechanic's garage: