Sunday, December 04, 2005

Terry Fox

Sitting in the waiting room at the Health Center the other day, waiting for blood to be sucked from my arm for a PSA test, I saw Terry Fox's picture on the cover of Maclean's Magazine. I remembered the time I saw Terry run.

I was on the way to the Sudbury airport to catch a flight to Toronto in order to attend a meeting that at the time seemed important, but whose purpose I have long since forgotten. The bypass had not yet been built so I was driving through a light rain along the old two-lane road. Near Lively, the traffic slowed down. I saw flashing police lights ahead and thought, O damn, an accident, that'll make me miss my flight. And braked to a stop.

Then I noticed that the police car was approaching me, its red and blue lights reflected in the water lying on the pavement. Behind it I saw Terry Fox, I knew immediately who he was, even though his van was some 50 yards behind him. He shifted his weight onto his good leg, made a skipping hop, threw his prosthesis in front of him, and used it as a pivot to bring his good leg over to the front again. His good leg hit the pavement, and he raised himself again in that skipping motion to lift the prosthesis off the ground and bring it to the front again.

Step, skip, swing, step, skip, swing, he came towards me, step skip swing. I began to imagine how many times he must have done that since he'd left the East Coast, thousands of times, tens of thousands of times, and wondered how his leg stump could stand the pounding, how the heel of his good foot could tolerate the repeated thump into the asphalt, how his back could take that twist and lift needed for each step.

My line of traffic began to move again, and I briefly saw Terry's face as he step-skipped past me. A couple weeks or so later we heard that that he had to stop near Thunder Bay because the cancer had come back. I thought, He knew it even then, in Sudbury, that was not just physical pain that marked his face, it was fear that he might not finish his run. I knew then that I had seen courage in his face.

Before I saw Terry, I'd dismissed his run as mere publicity hunting. When I saw him I began to see that Terry knew he wouldn't make his mark as the rest of us have done, in our work, our families, our communities. He would never succeed at any career, he would never be proud of his children, he would not earn the respect of neighbours and friends, because he wouldn't live long enough.

He could have waited for death, worked with the doctors to delay it for as long as possible, no one would have faulted him for doing that. But he felt the need to do something worthwhile. What could he do? He had no skills, no special talents, no training or education. He had only his body and his determination. So he did the only thing he could do: he used his body, he used himself, to draw attention, to enlist the rest of us in the struggle to understand the disease that was killing him, and would kill many others, and continues to kill.

Terry used himself up in doing this. He died doing this.

Every time we drive west through Thunder Bay, we stop at the monument beside the highway, and I remember. We stopped there again this past summer. I sat and looked up at his face, a face that I remembered from a brief glimpse in the rain, and I noticed that people spoke softly as they read the inscription and gazed at the statue of Terry Fox.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


We arrived in Toronto about 4:30pm today, and ran into the Saturday afternoon rush hour. Used to be that rush hour was a Monday to Friday phenom, not no more. Pity. More later.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Prices and scarcity

The news is that gas prices are rising "in response to market pressures", and so on. The news reports talk of prices as if they were natural phenomena, and go up or down entirely on their own. Which is of course utter nonsense. Prices are human constructs, and human decisions cause them to change.

A price does not rise or fall, someone decides to change it. There is no such thing as market pressure, there is only the belief by some people that a commodity is or will be in short supply. If they are sellers, they decide to ask for more. If they are buyers, they decide to offer more. If a sufficient number of buyers and sellers share that belief, and if the buyers cannot do without the commodity, or cannot delay their purchase of the commodity, higher prices will be paid. And so on. The converse happens when some people believe that a commodity will be in abundant supply.

The theory of the free market is said to assume that buyers and sellers have the same or at least similar information, and that the transaction is based on this information. This too is nonsense. Firstly, it is not information that matters, but belief. Secondly, information functions to justify belief, and it is belief that drives the decision to buy or sell. Thus, buyers and sellers may justify their decisions based on some very different information, or disagree about the significance of common information.

Either way, however, it is the apparent scarcity that drives pricing decisions. Both buyer and seller will attempt to control information, but for opposite reasons: the seller, to make the commodity seem scarce, the buyer to make the commodity seem abundant. Scarcity justifies the seller asking for more, abundance justifies the buyer's offering less. Thus the only information that seems relevant to pricing is information about scarcity.

It is the function of advertising to make the buyer believe that the commodity is scarce in some way. This is true even of advertising that offers goods at lower than usual prices: the implication (sometimes explicitly stated) is that goods at this low a price are scarce, so get them now before the price is raised. Luxury goods are luxury goods not because they are better than other goods, but because the sellers and buyers conspire to limit the supply: there must be just enough of the precious item available that only those few worthy of owning one can buy it. Scarcity explains the high values placed on antiques, most of which are merely the kitsch of earlier generations. But people discard kitsch in enormous quantities, so that little of it survives. Scarcity accounts for the high, sometimes outrageously high, prices paid to athletes and actors for their performances. The ultimate scarcity is that of the item advertised as unique, tens of thousands of which are sold to people who hope thereby to express and announce their unique individuality. What's truly scarce, apparently, is individual worth.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Hike up Parker Ridge

Parker Ridge Trail is a popular hike. The parking lot was about half full. The information posters showed the flowers we could expect to find along the trail. Marie studied these, and stopped frequently to examine the flora. Several other people set out from the parking lot the same time as we did. We were: Robert and Roswita, Tim, Jenn and Vic and CJ and Caitlin, Peter and Marge, Catherine F, and Marie and me. A dozen of us.

They first hundred yards or so are easy, and most hikers struck a brisk pace. I foresaw a stiff climb up the steep mountain side; Tim had studied the maps (he's a geographer), and told us it was a 1200ft vertical difference in about 1-1/2 miles of trail. Recalling what I had learned about hiking as boy in Austria, I started walking at what even to me seemed a very slow rhythm, and let others pass me. Eventually, I passed most of them.

Within a couple of hundred yards up the trail, I knew I'd made the right decision. I maintained the rhythm to the top, never varying its speed, just taking shorter or longer steps depending on the terrain. About 1/3rd of the way up, I passed a gentleman who had raced ahead of me. He was standing by a bench, chest heaving, chuffing like a broken steam engine. I greeted him without pausing, and kept on. The wind picked up the higher I got, and began to chill me, despite the wind-proof jacket I wore, and which had seemed too warm just minutes earlier, when I was sheltered by the forest. I reached the top before the others.

I carried a kite that had never flown. At the top, there were two stone-built low shelters, one occupied by a family of four. I sat down in the second one, it reached part way up my back. I was glad I'd tied my hat on, else the wind would have blown it down into the valley. Then I flew the kite, a parasail about 20" wide. I paid out about 150 yards of line, and watched the kite soar off the brow of the ridge and out over the valley. The rest of our group saw it, too, and took some photos. CJ showed up, and held onto the kite. The wind was strong, he hard a hard time holding it. Eventually, I reeled the kite down. Tim helped me retrieve it as it came into the turbulence below the ridge and dived onto the rocky ground.

On the other side of the ridge a small hollow sheltered us from the wind. We had our lunch there, sitting in a raggedy row along the east-facing slope. To the north, a small pine tree, sheltered by the hollow, demonstrated that the tree line is a zone, within which minor differences in micro-climate determine whether or not a tree survives. After lunch (and lots of photographs), we held a short ceremony committing Mum and Dad's ashes to the ground, scattering them under the pine. I read parts of the service from the Book of Common Prayer, which Mum preferred over the more modern forms. Catherine F. read a few words on her own behalf, and a letter from old friends on the Island. We stood for few moments in silence, said the Grace, and broke up.

We went on the trip because Roswita insisted on it. At first, I didn't think much of it, agreed mostly because Roswita is my favourite (and only) sister, and because it was a good excuse to see Tim, and Jenn and her family. But Roswita was right, it was good thing to have a committal rite.

I printed off some of the photos for Cassandra, Niobe, and Jon. I especially like the one of the tree with the higher mountains in the background, for Parker Ridge is only the first in a series of ridges that lead up to the peaks. I used a cheap panoramic camera, the kind that magazines once gave away as subscription premiums, and which one could find at Value Village. This one has a glass lens, so it takes reasonably sharp pictures. I will use it again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Trip West 1: highlights


1) The drives there and back, marked by light traffic, good weather, and a relaxed mood. We stayed in so-so and very good motels, never phoned ahead, always found accommodation that was at least acceptable. But we also now know which ones to avoid. Ate well, especially breakfasts: two eggs over easy, bacon, toast and coffee always works. Ate twice at Rossport's Serendipity Cafe: excellent food, lovely view over Rossport Bay.

2) Family: we saw almost everybody, only Peter Edenloff couldn't make it to Camrose while we were there. More later.

3) The hike up Parker Ridge, the flying of the kite, and the memorial service for Mum and Dad.

4) Railways in Jasper (CNR and VIA) and Schreiber (Northern Ontario CPR). And a surprising number of trains on the prairies, l-o-o-o-ong trains!

5) The Costume Museum, Drumheller and area, Donalda Art Gallery, Camrose railway museum. More later.

6) Maligne Canyon, the art gallery at Jasper Park Lodge, Maligne Lake, the Rockies, Pembina River gorge, Sunwapt Falls.

7) Time together with no deadlines, no meetings, no stuff we had to do.

And that's it for tonight.

Monday, July 11, 2005

PD James, Monarch Butterflies, solar powered radio

Jon told us about a BBC Radio4 program on forensic language analysis, presented by P. D. James, so we listened to it. Some analyses of recordings are definitive: the analyst can say what a mumbled or poorly recorded word is. At other times, analysis of words and phrases (the so-called register) reveals that a suspect's oral confession was in fact read from a statement prepared by the police. And so on. Grist for the crime novelist's mill, I suppose, but also a salutary reminder that every person's language exhibits sufficient idiosyncracies that attempts to influence a suspect's statement are likely to be detected.

Marie planted an asclapius last year, having heard that it was a good one for attracting Monarch butterflies. Earlier this evening, we saw four Monarch caterpillars having a good feed. Just now, Marie told me that they were noticeably fatter, the li'l gluttons. They will have turned into chrysalises by the time Bria and Connor get here. With luck, they will be able to the chrysalises. Asclapius is a shrubby plant about 2ft tall, with large ovoid leaves on the stems, and umbels of small white flowers. The Monarch caterpillars like the leaves, which must be extraordinarily fattening for Monarchs, as there is little evidence of their voraciousness, yet they thrive.

I bought a small solar-powered radio from Lee Valley some time ago. Not exactly good in iffy reception areas, such as our deck (where several reflected signals intersect), but it will run without batteries, and without turning the built-in charger, so it's a Useful Tool. Sound is tinny but clear enough, and not very loud even at max setting. Recommended. Look it up in your Lee Valley catalog. We listend to Sound Advice while eating supper which tells you how late we ate.)

That's enough.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Second Thoughts

What else? I'm having them, foremost among them, Damn, I may not have much to say. Which would entail the production of drivel, writing characterised by a low ratio of sense to verbiage. Or, as my Nearest and Dearest says when unimpressed by some article, What a lot of words!

Ever have that gut wrenching feeling that comes when you realise you've just done something stoopid? And you can't blame anyone else? It's a cliche expression, but if you consider its original, literal meaning, it's a precisely true description of the experience. There's a twist and clamping down, a lurch in the world around you, and you realise that you may not know how to recover from your stoopid action. Or omission, in this case. The Horticultural Society meets in the Marina lounge, but we need a key to get in, and I'd forgotten to pick it up at the Town Hall. Ungggh! Luckily, Richard M. has a key, and I was able to track him down and borrow it, so we had our meeting at the right time and place.

I added the picture to find out how to do it. I hope you like it. This amaryllis bloomed in our front porch window two years ago.

Good night all.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

First Thoughts

So, I went to my son's blog, Feldsparia, he posts something every day. Sofar (about a week into his blogging), no one has commented on his posts, which tend to be rants. But he comes by that honestly: I tend to rant, too, though these last few years I've toned 'em down a bit.

It's obvious that there has to be some structure to this blogging, that is, you have to have some notion of what shape the blog will be. A daily journal, telling of the doings and non-doings of the blogger? A list of events of note? Rants, tirades, whinges? Comments of what's good, bad, or ugly about the world I live in? This free-form, anything-goes sort of thing can quickly deteriorate into incoherent mumblings, of interest only to the blogger and his psychiatrist (whose interest is professional, ie, (s)he gets paid.) Over the next week or so, I'll try to work out something like a scheme of topics or themes.

This being Sunday, I'll proffer some Deep Thoughts. Not the Answer, I don't have it. (But the next loco I decorate for the Central Alberta Railway will be #42.) Some will be my own, most will be stolen, er, borrowed from others.

DT #1: Faith is the ability to tolerate doubt. (I think this by Augustine.)

DT#2: You can learn a lot by just looking (Yogi Berra)

DT#3: A picture may be worth a thousand words. The question is, which words? (mine).

That's enough for tonight.