Monday, December 23, 2013

A Voice from Christmas Past

   Fresh fallen snow protested beneath the crush of my gumboots breaking trail down the unploughed lane. Dry, sharp squeaks, not unlike the cries of cheap chalk cruelly scrapped against too clean a blackboard.
   Skuur-eek, skuur-eek.
   The boots ignored the sounds. They moved on, ribbed rubber bottoms and laced high leather tops creating a meandering wake in the ankle deep snow. To each side of the trail, drifted snow leaned tiredly against the backsides of the bungalows, dropped there to rest by an impatient Christmas Eve blizzard just passed through.
   Faint strains of music joined the squeaking as I approached our back fence. I stopped to hear the music more clearly, now identifiable as singing voices escaping through an open window. I shuffled forward and listened to the notes float out crisply and clearly, then mingle with smoke rising from the chimneys. Notes and smoke rose together into an icy midnight sky illuminated by frost crystals set shimmering by thousands of stars, and the frosty moon the Chippewas called Manidoo Geezis, the little spirit moon of early winter.
   I held my breath to hear better and determined that the music was the Christmas carol O Holy Night, and that the notes came from the window in my grandmother's room. It was open to the cold because most people smoked cigarettes back then, and at gatherings cracked a window to clear the air. They sang the first verse, and when they reached the sixth line, the other voices ceased and one voice carried on alone:
   "Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! O Niiii . . .iiight Diii…vine! . . . ." That's the part where the notes rise higher and higher until the singer reaches an awesome note.
   The solo voice belonged to my grandmother, Louise LaFrance, and I knew she hit that high note while sitting on the edge of the bed that was her prison. She was crippled with limb-twisting rheumatoid arthritis and suffered searing pain and the humiliation of being bedridden, a humiliation that included needing a bedpan to relieve herself and having her son-in-law lift her into the bathtub.
   The others stopped singing to listen to her. Each time she hit the high notes at the words 'O Night Divine', a shiver danced on my spine.
   When she finished singing O Holy Night, the other voices started up again, this time with Silent Night and other favourite carols. I went into the house and found Christmas Eve celebrants - my mom, dad and some neighbours - crowded into the 10-foot by 10-foot bedroom that was my grandmother's world. They sang long into the night, mostly in French because the neighbours were the Gauthiers who seldom spoke English to my grandmother and mother.
   The crippling arthritis had attacked my grandmother not long after my birth sixteen years before. It advanced quickly, twisting her fingers like pretzels, then deforming her ankles and knees. You could see the pain in her eyes and from my bedroom I could hear her moaning in restless sleep, sometimes calling out for relief. She took up smoking to ease the pain. Late into the night I would hear her stir, then listen for the scrape of a wooden match against the side of a box of Redbird matches. Then the acrid odour of sulphur drifted into my room, followed by the sweetness of smoke from a Sweet Caporal. Sometimes I would get up and go to her door and see the red tip of the cigarette glow brightly as she inhaled and I would go in and we would talk in the smoky darkness. Mostly the talk was about growing up and sorting through the conflicts between a teenager and his parents.
   After the singing ended that night, my mother served tortiere, which I slathered with mustard. Then we gathered at the tree and opened our gifts.
   I have long forgotten what I got that Christmas, and it doesn't matter. My real gift came many years later, and was an understanding of how that frail and twisted body came to produce such powerful and sweet notes. My gift was the realization that those high notes were not solely the products of the lungs. They were driven by something stronger than flesh - an unbreakable spirit. They came from strength far beyond anything that a mere body can produce. They came from the will to overcome.
   Adapted from Waking Nanabijou: Uncovering a Secret Past, By Jim Poling Sr., Dundurn Press 2007 Check it out at

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Time of the Little Spirit Moon

   It is a cottage morning ritual. I come downstairs and push the button on the coffee maker. Then I reach up into the cupboard and pull out my favourite clear glass coffee mug. Something is different. My sleep fogged mind ponders what is different as I run the hot water faucet to get
the chill out of the cup. Coffee is supposed to be hot so there is no use putting it into a cold cup, unless you are my wife, who puts an ice cube in her coffee.
   My mind clears and the realization dawns. Cold cup from the cupboard. That means despite walls that are fifteen-plus centimeters thick and stuffed with heavy insulation, cold air is seeping into the building.
   Cold cups and the recent arrival of the Little Spirit Moon tell me that winter is here. Little bits of autumn warmth clinging to life have been chased away. The trees outside the kitchen window are stark naked, cold grey in colour and devoid of any warmth. There is snow but the rocks
are still showing, however they are cold to the touch, even in the late morning sun.
   I shudder unexpectedly and remember that everything changes with the arrival of December's Little Spirit Moon. There is no turning back. Life must be adjusted to cold that will deepen with each passing week until mid-March, and to snow that cannot disappear completely until the
warmth of spring returns. . . .
   Once you develop some methods to push back at the cold and snow, winter cottage living is spectacularly restful. In the mornings you can sip coffee and watch the blue jays, chickadees, and nuthatches at the feeders, and below them, the daily troupe of wild turkeys. At night you can sit reading, or lie in bed, listening to the lake ice expanding and cracking, the thunderous booms radiating up the hill through the bedrock and into the cottage foundations. At other times you hear the roar and screeching of ice packs loosening and sliding off the roof.
   Canada’s roots are deep into the bedrock. Winter in cottage country is a reminder of what this country is and what its people had to do to develop into a modern society. It is a reminder that although Canada has become an urban society, there are still tens of thousands of its citizens
who live on the fringes in harsh conditions. They haul wood and they haul water, and they don’t have high-speed Internet, Wi-Fi or cell phones.
   It’s easy to forget that when you sit in a winter cottage supported by modern technologies and conveniences. It’s even easier when you sit in taxpayer-supplied surroundings at Toronto’s Queen’s Park. None of us ever should lose track of how people live in the forested fringes. Nor should we forget the importance of independence and individualism in building this country. In cottage country and beyond, no one needs government to tell them how to tack a piece of inner tube over a shed padlock to keep out the freezing wet snow in winter.
(Excerpted from Bears in the Bird Feeders 2013)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Crazy for Electronics

 As if we all didn’t have enough to worry about. Now there’s the threat of Rasberry Crazy Ants moving north. Their home is faraway Brazil and Argentina but they have spread north, invading southeast Texas, Mississippi and Georgia.
   So who is afraid of some itsy bitsy ants? Your electronics. Crazy Ants devour them. They ate Mike Foshee’s 50-inch television.
Nylanderia-pubens: Crazy Ant
   Mike is a Texan who noticed his TV flickering. He opened its back and found the inside components alive with thousands of Crazy Ants. When his air conditioner stopped working he dragged out his vacuum and started cleaning. When he finished he had sucked up five gallons of ants.
   Mike’s stories and a lot of other interesting stuff about the ants is found in writer Jon Mooallem’s excellent offbeat piece in this week’s New York Times Magazine
   Crazy ants don’t actually consume electronics. But they will stream into car stereos, laptop computers, circuit boxes and all kinds of electrical devices and short circuit them. People who study such things believe that when a Crazy Ant is electrocuted it releases a chemical that prompts hordes of fellow ants to come swarming, looking for the attacker who killed their fellow ant.
   These little fellows have huge colonies, much larger than other ants, because each colony has multiple queens.
   Incidentally, the name Rasberry Crazy Ant has nothing to do with raspberries. It comes from Tom Rasberry, a tobacco-chewing exterminator who first discovered them in Texas. And, they got the "crazy" monicker because they run about erratically like someone on crack cocaine.
   So, if you are reading this on a smartphone or handheld tablet, be suspicious, and careful. Very, very scary.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bed Bugs, Dead Deer and Gas

   A reporter’s notebook from a recent motor trip into the U.S:

   Buying gasoline in the U.S. is a sharp sliver in the backside – hugely irritating. Most filling stations require motorists to pre-pay inside, or at the pump with a credit/debit card. Canadian credit cards don’t work because most pumps demand a U.S. zip code for the address at which the card is registered.
   So, you have to go inside, say how much gas you want, pay, then return outside to start pumping. If you paid $50 and the tank only took $44, you  march back in to get a refund of $6. If $50 didn’t fill the tank, you repeat the routine. By the time you finally get a full tank, someone likely has stolen your car.
   Soothing the annoyance is the fact that gasoline is as low as $3 a U.S. gallon. In Canada it’s roughly $1.25 a litre (about $5.60 a gallon but the Canadian gallon is 20 per cent larger).
   Upon return home I learn of a solution for complicated, time-burning gasoline purchases in the U.S. Use a MasterCard and when the pump prompts you for a Zip Code, enter the three numerals in your Canadian Postal Code and add two zeroes. MasterCard says this works at most U.S. stations.
   Back out on the open road, I get confirmation that November is the worst month for deer being smacked down by cars. Deer carcasses in various stages of rot are everywhere on the highways of Pennsylvania, the Virginias, New York and Maryland. They are so common that I saw one dead deer on the main street of a Pennsylvania village. It had been left where struck and run over so many times that it was almost part of the asphalt.
   State Farm Insurance, which is diligent about keeping deer collision statistics, has reported that in the U.S. there were 1.22 million deer strikes during the year ended June 30, 2013.
   Done driving for the day and into a motel but still not totally safe. The American bed bug epidemic is increasing, says the 2013 Bed Bugs Without Borders survey

   I took advice from the Internet and turned off all the lights in the room and checked nooks and crannies with a flashlight. No bed bugs, but plenty of dust, which explains why I awake with swollen sinuses.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Mouse Bucket

   At my lake place there is a mouse bucket in the dark and dank recesses of the crawl space. It is a one-gallon plastic pail with a hollow aluminum dowel set into holes drilled through opposite sides of the pail, close to the rim. The bottom of the dowel is finger painted with fresh, creamy peanut butter. The pail is one-third filled with windshield washer.
   The pail’s purpose is to attract mice, who crave the peanut butter. They walk the dowel, somewhat like loggers of days past. They try to keep their balance as they bend to lick the peanut butter. At first the mice are careful to lick only what they can reach without making the dowel roll. Eventually, gluttony overcomes all mice and they bend farther to get more peanut butter. The dowel rolls and they plunge into the pool below where they drown and are pickled by the windshield washer.
   These are privileged mice, living warm and happy beneath the cabin, and who do not need peanut butter. None of their common-folk cousins who live in the nearby fields and forests have peanut butter available to them. No mouse needs peanut butter to live because food for survival surrounds them – seeds, nuts, bulbs, grasses and dozens of other nutritious foods supplied by nature. The privileged mice want peanut butter only because it is there for the taking.
   Our politicians, unelected officials and others who wield power, are awash with entitlements similar to the peanut butter smeared on the dowel. Like the mice, the greediest bend over too far and fall into the pool. However, penalties for greedy officials who fall are much less severe than for the mice. Most suffer embarrassment or what amounts to a slap on the wrist.
   Some who slip off the dowel protest that the rules covering entitlements are unclear or unfair. Rules can never be clear enough for anyone who takes something not for need or as fair compensation, but simply because it is there. Greed always obscures clarity.
   Such is life in an age of ever-growing expectations and entitlements.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Taxpayers' Dollars Redirected to Purgatory

   Senators Brazeau, Duffy, and Wallin have been banished to Canadian Senate purgatory but taxpayers will continue to support them there. We’ll still be paying their health benefits, which include dental work, vision care and eyeglasses, drugs and other medical benefits.
   Their suspensions for alleged misuse of expenses likely will last until 2015, the year all three become eligible for handsome annual pensions. It is likely that their pensions will be unaffected but no one in our massive federal government has been able to provide a definitive answer.
   All three were appointed in 2009 and need only six years as senators to be eligible for pension. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation estimates that pension will be $58,264 a year for Duffy. The average annual Canadian salary at the start of this year was $47,200. The mean individual income is $27,600. That means just as many individuals earn less than $27,600 as earn more.
   Another question is whether Duffy, who has a heart problem, can resign from the Senate for medical reasons and collect a disability allowance of roughly $95,000 a year.
   The Federation estimates that we taxpayers shell out close to $100 million a year for Senate salaries, living allowances, benefits, staff, and travel. It has called for a national referendum on abolition of the Senate. It has a petition at

   Government action on Senate reform or abolition has been akin to a bear cub sitting in the forest playing with itself. Direct action by the people is needed.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

End This Nonsense with a Judicial Inquiry

The script is right out of an old-fashioned Western movie. Shaking fists in outrage the mob surrounds the three offenders and drags them out to the hanging tree. The lynch mob will have its justice.
   That’s exactly what’s been going on this week as the Canadian Senate tries to suspend without pay Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. They are accused of “gross negiligence” related to the filing of improper expense claims. Their suspensions would be for the remainder of the parliamentary session just started and which could last two years. Their Senate salaries are $135,000 a year each.
   Brazeau’s salary already is being clawed back to recoup $48,700 in living expenses that the Senate claimed were inappropriate. Wallin has paid back $138,900 for inappropriate expenses and Duffy was ordered to pay back inappropriate expenses which he covered with a $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright, who resigned as Prime Minister Harper’s chief of staff when the cheque transaction became public.
   The lynching of these three Senators is the perfect argument for why the Senate should be dismantled and its prestigious Red Chamber converted into a bowling alley.
   The RCMP is investigating the Senate expenses scandal. No charges have been laid. Yet the Senate wants to convict the three before all the evidence is in. The Senate’s actions are based only on politics; a wrong-headed effort to appease a public fed up with the Senate, its waste, its do nothingness.
   The Senate, a quasi-judicial body, has decided to convict without a full investigation.
   The only way to mop up this mess now is a full judicial inquiry, after which hopefully anyone in any position in Ottawa proven to have cheated or lied in this shameful episode would get jail time. The public wants an end to all the political bullshit, and an end to the Senate.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Looking the Other Way While Children Die

   Unknown to most Canadians, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples’ rights is wrapping up a seven-day investigative trip to Canada this week. James Anaya is collecting information for a UN report on how Canada treats its native people. The short answer to that is: The same way it has for the last several hundred years – shamefully.

   It’s not that simple for the UN, however. Anaya will take the next year to write his report. He visited Ontario, Quebec and the West but not the Maritimes, noteworthy because one of this country’s most disgraceful examples of native plight exists on the East Coast.

   Gas-sniffing native children continue to die or become brain damaged in Natuashish in Newfoundland-Labrador. This is nothing new. The situation has existed for years. Every once and a while it attracts the attention of the news media and governments get involved by pasting over the horrors with a new wallpaper job.

   Natuashish is the planned community built 11 years ago to replace Davis Inlet, the previous hell-hole home of the Mushuau Innu. The new village cost the feds $200 million but has not eliminated the social problems that occur when a peoples’ traditional culture is destroyed.
   Davis Inlet was one horror after the next. One-quarter of the roughly 500 residents had attempted suicide. Alcoholism and gas-sniffing were rampant. Children dying in fires or because of addiction were commonplace.
   Little changed at the new village of Natuashish. The Labradorian newspaper recently quoted the community mental health therapist as saying he has 28 children who are chronic gas sniffers
   The gas sniffers range in age from nine to early teens, but start as early as age seven. They stagger through the streets every night, laughing and shouting while carrying sniffer bags of gasoline.
   Damage from deliberately-set fires and graffiti are seen throughout the community. One recent piece of graffiti reads: “We want to die. Nobody’s listening to us.”
   Chief Simeon Tsha-kapesh was quoted by the newspaper: “If that happened anywhere else in Canada with non-aboriginal kids, I think Canada or the province … would step in and do something about it.”
   You betcha. However, Canada’s long-standing shame continues to exist in many neglected native communities.
   A year from now Anaya will issue his UN report. Some Canadians will express outrage. Canadian politicians and bureaucrats will fidget and babble. Then interest will subside, and more children in Natuashish and other Indian communities will stick their faces into plastic gas sniffing bags.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nature's Deadly Deceptives

   Out in the autumn woods an explosion of wild mushrooms is another sign of nature’s generosity, and her dangers. Mushrooms flourish because of wetter than normal conditions. I’ve seldom seen so many different varieties and such spectacular colours. There are bright orange mushrooms, deep blacks, and brilliant whites.
   Mushrooms have a mystical draw. You see one standing white and fleshy in a beam of sunlight illuminating the dark forest floor. It calls seductively: “Come over and pick me. I am delicious.” I am tempted to pick and eat that mushroom. It looks so delicious, but I know better.
Sketch by Zita Poling Moynan
   I picked and ate many forest mushrooms years go. That was under the supervision of Emma Tadashore of Sault Ste. Marie, my mother-inlaw, who directed me to pick only the little mushrooms that grew under pine trees. She would examine my harvest, then boil the mushrooms in a pot with a silver coin and a few cloves of garlic. That was back when silver coins still were made of real silver. If the coin and garlic did not turn green, the mushrooms were good to eat.
   Some people now believe that is just an old wives’ tale. So now I don’t pick any wild mushrooms, especially after reading a New York Times article in which a medical doctor described how he poisoned himself despite following a respected field guide to wild mushrooms. Apparently some of the differences between poisonous and edible mushrooms can be subtle.
   Ask Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, the popular novel that was turned into a movie starring Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas. He picked mushrooms in the Scottish Highlands, cooked them in butter and parsley, and served them to his wife, brother-in-law, and his brother-in-law’s wife. His wife and brother-in-law were placed on dialysis and wait-listed for kidney transplants. Evans received a new kidney from his adult daughter.
   This reminds me that despite the considerable time I spend at Shaman’s Rock I know too little about nature. I wish I had spent less time with my nose in computer manuals and more learning about the plant life around me, or the stars in the sky. I was forced to study computer programs to keep current for work. Now I wish I had spent more time studying botany, zoology, and the night skies. These subjects lead right into the reasons for, and purposes of life.
(excerpted from my latest book: Bears in the Birdfeeders)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Misdirected Michael Douglas Campaign

So Michael Douglas, a favourite actor and a seemingly intelligent and compassionate human being, is upset with the U.S. penal system. His son Cameron is doing a long stretch in a federal prison for drug offences, and his dad doesn’t get to visit him because the lad is in solitary confinement for lengthy periods.
   The senior Douglas aired his complaints about the penal system at the Sept. 21 Emmy Awards, using phrases such as “non-violent drug addicts” and “happen to have a slip.” The junior Douglas also has been campaigning for attention from prison, writing an essay complaining about the prison system and the harshness against “non-violent drug offenders who are losing much of what is relevant in life.
   This PR campaign has garnered sympathy with blog commentary saying how wonderful Cameron is and how hateful the justice system is.
   The Douglas campaign needs to be balanced with a few facts. Cameron Douglas was given four years for drug distribution. He was part of a criminal system that distributed drugs intended to addict more of our young people. Later his sentence was extended by 4.5 years because he broke prison rules on more than one occasion. One of those was when he convinced an infatuated lawyer to smuggle him drugs in her bra.
    If the prison system is too harsh on people who take drugs but do not involve anyone else, then surely changes should be made. However, people who distribute drugs knowing that they are helping to destroy other people’s lives deserve everything that the system throws at them.
   Cameron’s best bet is to do his time productively and stop jerking around with the prison rules. Dad Michael can help his son, and the rest of us, by using his fame and wealth to help attack the roots of the drug culture and drug trade.
   There might be injustices against those already addicted, but surely most of society’s concern should be for those who will be drawn in and destroyed by the growing curse of illegal drugs.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oh Canada!

   Just an observation, but it seems that Canada is a country often too busy to have much interest in its heritage. One example: it’s difficult to find the little bush country cemetery where famous Canadian painter Tom Thomson was first laid to rest. Or the Thomson memorial cairn on Canoe Lake in Ontario’s  Algonquin Park.
Anyone see the Maple Leaf flying?
   Today I’m on a 14th floor balcony overlooking much of the city of Barrie. Within view are most of the city’s major buildings, including City Hall, the main court house, the library. Much to view, but something is missing. It takes a while to figure out what: Flags. The Canadian Maple Leaf flag.
   There is not one to be seen throughout this panorama. None atop any of the buildings, including City Hall. Far off near the horizon there are flashes of red and white but this is from maple leaf banners at a car dealership.
   Even at street level the flag is not prominently noticeable. There is one at City Hall, kind of small and kept company by two other flags on posts outside the main entrance.
   The few Maple Leaf flags you do see are often faded and tattered. The greatest use of the country’s national symbol is by businesses flying them in rows or bunches to attract attention. Many of the flags you see do not meet protocols set by the government. More about the national symbol and how to use it properly can be found at
   No big deal in the overall scheme of things. Just an observation, eh.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

No Money, No News, No Revolutionary Change

    Some Canadian newspapers decided not to publish on Labour Day because projected ad revenue was insufficient to cover that day’s production and delivery costs. Most prominent of the Labour Day dropouts is Toronto’s Globe and Mail whose publisher, Phillip Crawley, was quoted by as saying “That’s the truth of the situation, so let’s not pretend it’s any other.”
   Cancellation of Labour Day newspapers reconfirms two regretful truths: Newspapers are published today to make a profit, not to perform public service. Secondly, the cancer that began eating away at traditional newspapers 30 years ago is in its final stages.

   Two statistics support that: nearly one-third of people questioned say they have abandoned a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to (Pew Research Centre Annual Report on Journalism) And, newspaper newsroom staff levels in the U.S. were down 30 per cent in 2012 compared with 2000. 
   The newspaper industry’s primary problem is not its death, however. It is its inability to discover a path to rebirth. Newspaper people traditionally have devoted their focus to today, to the exclusion of how they will operate in the future.
   The path to rebirth has existed for some time. The folks running the business now, and over the past couple of decades, have been too busy, or too myopic, to see it. The newspaper industry requires revolutionary change in attitude and thinking. Many of the attitudes and much of the thinking that existed in newsrooms 50 years ago are still there and obviously out of step in today’s world.
   The role of editors needs redefining and strengthening. Editors should be the CEOs of the newspapers, not in title or actual job description, but in providing the tone, thinking, bold direction, and spirit of the news enterprise. Other folks, whatever you choose to call them, can provide the important mechanics of the operation. Too many modern-day editors spend their time fiddling with newspaper design, human resources challenges and being sycophants for panic-driven, save-your-ass ideas put forth by bosses whose chief interest is the bottom line.
   It’s been said tens of thousands of times that consumers of news want content that goes beyond the trivial. Content that tells them how people in their towns, their provinces, their country and the countries affecting them live their lives. Not how to make a perfect ice cream cone. Not simply the he said, she said stuff of governments. Newspapers offer too much thin, trivial content that is easy and cheap to get, while saying that’s what people want.
   What some people want and all people need is news and information that is specific, impeccably researched and sourced and fact checked. News with perspective and context.
   News outlets point to deadlines as excuses for generalization, inaccuracies and lack of stories placed in full perspective. The “rush” to get the news out is an anachronism based on a musty and egotistical idea that being first and exclusive is important. Being complete and in context is what counts now, even if it means missing a deadline and not having a ‘scoop.’
   Somewhere out there is a generation of journalists with fresh ideas for reviving the news business so it becomes a compelling part of each person's day. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The End of the Night Returns

   A small but brilliant point of light recently pierced the murky, confused world of book publishing. It’s that changed world where more is better; where volume rules over quality.
   Random House has started republishing the works of John D. MacDonald the crime novelist who died almost 30 years ago. MacDonald’s writing was at its peak 50 years ago, notably through his Travis McGee series of crime novels.
   MacDonald had a huge following way back then, but his loyal readers began to pass away and his work began the slide into obscurity. Stephen King, the current master of suspense and horror stories, helped to halt the slide with his published comments about MacDonald, a writer whom he idolized. King called MacDonald’s novel The End of the Night one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century. He ranked it with Arthur Miller’s Death of Salesman.
   Anything Stephen King has to say about writers and writing catches my attention and I went looking for The End of the Night. It was out of print and the only copies available were too costly.
John Dann MacDonald
   Then I discovered that this year Random House began republishing MacDonald, notably his non-Travis McGee works such as The End of the Night. You don’t have to read far into that novel to understand King’s praise. The storytelling and characterizations are brilliant. His descriptions are so subtle and light that they float into your mind where they leave hard-to-forget images. So unlike much of today’s writing where authors push the reader’s face into their work and leave nothing for the imagination.
   I’m glad Random House has brought John MacDonald back to us, in digital format as well as paper.
   Incidentally, anyone who knows nothing about John Dann MacDonald probably has seen some of his work. His novel The Executioners was made into the famous movie Cape Fear, starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum in 1962, then Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte in a 1991 remake.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Ozzie On The Road Again (Finale)

   The best part of travelling is getting home, settling into your favourite chair and reflecting on the wonderful things you saw and did.
   I'm in my favourite deck chair looking out over El Toyonal and running the once-in-a-lifetime road trip through my mind's projector. There's much for me to reflect on after one month covering 6,622 miles through two countries, one large province and 15 states. We travelled though mountains, across high plains and deserts, through boreal forests and rested for a while in lake country.

   The lives of people we observed were as varied as the geography. But on reflection, they are in many ways much the same. They have the same aspirations, and the same types of problems.
   The most prominent and difficult problem is the political system - in both Canada and the United States. Everywhere we travelled we saw the results of decisions made by bureaucrats and politicians trying to please everyone. Decisions based on fear of being unpopular.
   We passed through areas in both countries where governments are bankrupt or teetering on the edge. Places where infrastructure is falling apart, where police services are being cut back, where recreational areas are closed and places where kids are not getting the education that is their right.
   There is not enough money to do everything and the political systems are too polarized to form the team effort needed to create innovative solutions.
   But what do I know, I'm just a dog. An Alaskan Malamute happy to be back in the hills beside the Pacific, where it's refreshingly cool.
   Thanks to Mom, Steve, John, Marcus for bringing me along. 
   And thanks to folks who came along through my blogging. I'm turning it back over the Old Guy now with the hope that he won't screw it up.

Some Bonus Snaps
Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado

Red Rock Monuments Everywhere

My Favourite Perch


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ozzie On The Road Again - 8

   Most folks come to Las Vegas for the gambling. Not our little band of travellers. We come to a boiling parking lot in the warehouse district a mile and a half from the throbbing heart of The Strip.
   It is hot enough to fry a burger pattie on the asphalt at the rear of the lot. The parking area serves two newish warehouses not unlike others you would find away from the downtown core in any North American city. The only thing different about them is they are a desert sand colour, presumably to reflect the scorching sun.
   The far corner of the one building sports two glass windows, a glass door and a clever logo indicating that inside is Acrylic Tank Manufacturing. It seems an odd place for an aquarium company considering that I haven't scented a drop of water in the last 100 miles. 
   Life is full of surprises, however, even for a well-educated Alaskan Malamute such as me. They not only make custom aquariums inside, they film the work and turn it into Tanked, a popular kids reality show. 
   Tanked follows two real-life brothers-in-law who run the family aquarium manufacturing business. They will built any size of shaped aquarium that a customer requests. They create them in the shape of cars, pyramids, phone booths or whatever and leave Tanked viewers amazed and laughing.
   There's a little gift ship inside the plant and the guy running it tells me it receives up to 1,000 visitors a day. Las Vegas is a production town for a bunch of reality shows and tours of the production locations have become a business.
   He explains that millions of kids watch Tanked on Animal Planet TV because their parents don't want them watching the violence and sex of regular TV channels. So any adult who brings a kid to Las Vegas and asks "what would you like to see?" ends up out here in the warehouse district.
   It's a neat place to visit and there are no one-armed bandits there to pick your pockets.

The Place to Get Tanked in Vegas

Marcus and John Outside The Tank

How About an Aquarium Like This?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ozzie On The Road Again - 7

   A silly rule blocked the path to getting the photo of the decade today. I couldn't get in to the Four Corners Monument, so missed the chance to stand in four different states at the same time.
   Four Corners is where the state lines of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico intersect. It is the only place in the United States where this happens.
   The No Dogs Allowed signs were up all over the place, so people with cameras had to settle for snaps of people standing in two states, then bending over to touch the other two with their hands. How contrived!
   Four paws would have done it nicely, one paw in each state.
   Even worse, the Navajo Fry Bread stands were inside the No Dog Zone. Navajo Fry Bread is the best treat anywhere in the southwest.
   The Four corners is Navajo country, seemingly stretching forever across the tops of Arizona and New Mexico and the bottoms of Colorado and Utah. The Navajo are the largest native tribe in the U.S. and have their own government which includes a police force. 
   Despite no fry bread and no paws in four states, it was a wonderful day. The scenery here is spectacular. The canyonlands range in colour from red, to brown, black, white and grey. Throw in some green for the pinon bushes and some blue for the sage. 
   We went through Monument Valley and were awed at the different formations of rock projecting high into the sky above the high desert flatlands. The Glen Canyon Dam creating Lake Powell is a great stop with its modern visitor centre.

The gang (minus Oz) at Four Corners

Glen Canyon

Finger to the Sky

A Snow Cone in a Cup, No Fry Bread

Living Beneath the Giant



Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ozzie On The Road Again - 6

   Finally found a couple tourist sites where dogs are allowed and have the same privileges as humans. Both were nerve-wracking to say the least.
   Started the day with a visit to Traders Rendezvous, a mountain shop on the main street of Gunnison, Colorado. They welcomed me like a visiting dignitary. However, I quickly discovered that the shop is all about selling animal bones, skins and related trinkets.
   The place is stacked with piles of elk, deer, moose and other animal antlers. Also lots of taxidermy; stuffed deer, wolves, buffalo all with glassy eyes. Very creepy and I began to suspect the folks who run the place had an ulterior motive for inviting me in.
   There is also a gun section there and the Old Guy discovered an ancient Winchester 38-55 like his grandfather used to carry. That launched him into a long, tedious series of ancient hunting tales.
What a Spooky Spot
   Farther south in Telluride, the famous ski resort, I was invited to go up the mountain in the cable car. Great views, but not a great ride for a dog who loves his four feet firmly on terra firma.
   Telluride is built into a box canyon so the only way out of the place is the way you came in. But the views are wonderful. Every which way you turn you see a row of jagged peaks, or a colossal single mountain or a colorful row of red rimrock.
   Heading south from Telluride we went through a pass at 10,000 feet elevation, and then kept climbing. I was starting to breathe shallow.
   Into Arizona and New Mexico tomorrow.
Main Street Telluride
Going up, up, up

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ozzie On The Road Again - 5

   Colorado! State of majestic mountains and broad fertile valleys. And, finally some coolness.
   We've ended up in Gunnison in a lovely valley in west-central Colorado. Population about 5,800, elevation 7,700 feet. Definitely cattle country.
   Gunnison's historical claim to fame is that no one here died of the flu during the great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. The town closed itself off to the outside world during the outbreak.
   All highways leading into the town were barricaded. Train conductors warned passengers that anyone who got off in Gunnison would be arrested and quarantined.
   Naturally, when the Old Guy heard of this history he bugged me to include in my blog a mention of his book Killer Flu: The World on the Brink of an Epidemic. Geez!
   I might visit here in winter. The place gets an average 50 inches of snow and because it is in a low valley is considered one of the coldest winter places in the U.S. Colder than Alaska? No educated Malamute like me is going to believe that.

Arriving in Colorado!

John and Marcus Doing Water/Elect./Sewer Hookup

Goats Eating RV Park Shrubbery


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ozzie On The Road Again - 4

When you are an aristocrat Alaskan Malamute like me, you’ve got to hate these Great Plains. Reason One: It’s too damn hot. Temperatures ranged from 90 to 107 degrees in Nebraska today. Even the creeks and ponds were too warm to be cooling off spots. Any shady spots were occupied early in the day by the rattlesnakes.
   Reason Two: History. There is much wonderful explorer and pioneer history here. However, for canines, past events are not a happy memory.
   This is the territory famous for being the starting point for the Louis and Clark expedition just over 200 years ago. Those were the two lads that President Jefferson sent out to explore the unknown parts of the new America and to find an overland route to the Pacific Ocean.
   In 1803, a year or so before setting out on the great exploration, Captain Merriweather Lewis bought himself a strange companion. It was a Newfoundland dog named Seaman. Lewis must have really wanted the dog because he paid $20 for it, a large sum back then.
Chillin' In RV A/C
   Seaman, until recent history had been known as Scanlon because of smeared ink on a document containing his name, endured the entire trip to the Oregon Coast and back. He suffered some hardships including being bit on the leg by a beaver.
   His fared much better than the other 263 dogs who joined the exploration. They all were eaten when food ran low. Seaman was the only dog to return home, which shows the wisdom of choosing the right owner and sucking up to him and her.
   You can read more about Seaman at and there have been books written about Seaman including Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale by Laurie Myers 2002.
   Other highlights of knowledge acquired out on the Plains:

  • In Lemoyne, Nebraska (pop. 40) rattlesnakes took over a new church and churchyard in the early 1940s. Ninety rattlers were rounded up before services could be held in safety.
  • TV dinners were invented by a Nebraskan in 1954. Gerry Thomas, a salesman for Omaha-based C.A. Swanson and Sons, is credited with yet another way for people to get indigestion.
  • Back in the 1980s a gosling was born with no feet in Harvard, Nebraska. Someone who took ownership of the gosling made shoes for him and taught him to walk. Andy the Footless Goose was featured in a 1989 People magazine article and appeared on the Tonight Show. Sudden fame can be dangerous. Andy was kidnapped and murdered in 1991. His body was found with his shoes still on.

Marcus and Mom: Adopted Nebraskans
107 F and Looking for Shade


Monday, July 8, 2013

Ozzie on the Road Again - 3

   Things are cooking and jumping here in the Midwest. We rolled out of Chicago in a booming thunderstorm while listening to the radio news that 75 people were shot in the city during the four–day July 4 holiday period. Reports varied but it appears 12 people died of gunshot wounds in a variety of shooting incidents and more than 60 were wounded. Two of the critically wounded were little boys who were celebrating in city parks with their families and were hit in separate incidents of random gunfire.
   We breathed easier after rolling out of the storm and big city traffic and into the undulating cornfields of Iowa. Not exactly quiet here, either. Talk radio everywhere, including one show devoted to the highlights of nudity so far in 2013. Been a good year, I gather, with a nice selection of celebrity women having posed nude for the cameras. This is Iowa?
   We found the Midwest we expected when we pulled into a campground just southwest of Des Moines. Just down the road is the town of Winterset, birthplace of John Wayne. He was born there May 6, 1907 to Clyde and Mary Morrison who named him Marion Robert Morrison. His father was a pharmacist.
   This is America, so the birthplace is much celebrated. They are raising money to build a new museum that will teach new generations “the character quality of John Wayne.” It costs $7 for adults to get into the current museum. Here you can buy a Duke Talking Pocket Watch, a Duke Calendar, a John Wayne Bobblehead and a Green Berets mug.
   There’s another movie connection in this area. This is Madison County where the bridges were featured in the 1992 book and 1995 move The Bridges of Madison County.
   Back in Canada it takes a canoe, compass, and machete to find the disputed burial place of Tom Thomson, the now famous Canadian painter, and subject of one of the country’s most enduring mysteries. (click the Old Guy’s website for details about his Tom Thomson book).
   More cornfields tomorrow. Meanwhile, remember the Duke’s words:
“Courage is being scared to death . . . and saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne Birthplace/Museum

Proposed New Museum

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ozzie On the Road Again - 2

   The absurd discrimination against dogs prevents me from providing first-hand reporting on the trip to Wrigley Field, one of America’s holiest baseball shrines.

Dogs of course are not allowed on Chicago’s L (for elevated) transit system serving the stadium. Even if I got there, dogs are not allowed into the stadium. However, I can provide a report from various sources, none of whose reporting is as accurate or detailed as my own would be.
   Wrigley Field is the second oldest major league ballpark, opened in 1914. The oldest is Boston’s Fenway Park which opened in 1912. The L stops right beside the stadium and pours out thousands of people into the lively neighbourhood surrounding the park. Many crowd into Murphy’s Bleachers, the famous sports bar where patrons grab a beer and spill out onto the street.
   If you look up from the street you see an amazing example of American entrepreneurship. Bleachers have been built atop the stone and brick apartment buildings lining Sheffield and Waveland Streets. The bleachers look down in to the ballpark. You don’t need to buy a regular stadium ticket to see the game from there, but the people who own the outside bleachers charge a price for the novelty of watching the game from these perches.
   Inside Wrigley there is real grass and the outfield wall is draped in ivy. You are back in a different time, expecting a legendary player such as Babe Ruth to trot onto the field.
   There are hot dogs, pretzels and salted peanuts for sale. And, beer, of course.  You need to get a pink wrist band to buy beer. It’s proof that you are old enough to purchase alcohol. They even made the Old Guy go to the pink band desk to show his age ID. Obviously, it’s not just the umpire who is blind here.
   Wrigley truly is a place of miracles. The lowly Chicago Cubs defeated the league-leading Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1.
   That's it for now.

Murphy's Bleachers

Apartment Bleachers
The Venerable Ballpark

Steve, Marcus and John