My blog is occasioned by a photo yesterday of my four year old great granddaughter eating what appear to be Blue Point oysters, with great relish. The picture on Facebook gave me great pleasure but took me back to family contention over oysters, from Atlantic, Salt Spring Island, cooking or raw or eating alive. My brother-in-law, a medical colleague who lived in New York and taught at Columbia-Presbyterian insisted on Blue Point oysters as the piece de reistance of all oysters. I guessed he was right but tried to assert myself in an effort to bolster our cluster of Japanese oysters that grew in our Price Road beach on the shale outcroppings that we harvested from time to time. The Japanese oysters have displaced the indigenous oysters in our area now and are large, and meaty and I felt I owed it to Salt Spring, despite my misgivings about our oysters when he visited us for a few days aside, on a teaching role on the west coast. Misgivings aside,if you know your argument is weak , at least it could be memorable. I told him we ate the oysters alive since they tasted better than just fresh, We then rowed out to the shale outcrops and chucked the oysters, leaving them on the rocks in the attached shell and ate them from the rock. I believe that is an innovation called oystermania. He was unimpressed. I also told him we and the other beach friends cooked oysters, clams and fish in a pit in the beach between tides on hot coals covered with seaweed and a 4ft by 8ft plywood. Timing is important to finish before the tide comes in and floods your pit. I resolve I won't bullshit my great granddaughter if I live that long and am so proud of her for trying new things. My brother-in-law Jack was my long time colleague and friend and was never fooled by either my misgivings or attempts to be memorable. And what's more? I didn't mind!
If knowing as we must by now, that anatomically we consist of an aggregate of organic and inorganic molecules of building blocks for our substance, how is it that we came to the emotion of love or to mourn the absence of justice? My friend Joe with whom I discussed this and whose interest is particle physics corrected me in that we are really composed entirely of a breakdown of these molecules to particles. Does this mean that we have truly arrived from A) a pinch of dust and B) the breath of God, so that the particles could love and mourn? And does it mean that when the dust returns to the carboniferous earth we are finally at home in carboniferous union? And am I just a molecular aggregate skating along on the molecular aggregate contents of Mother Nature who is really my true mother with whom I will rejoin? She possibly has allowed me the freedom to love and mourn in the period between the dust of creation and the dust of reunion. And in that period I can self replicate praise God. How was it I thought in the past I was just a liver and a couple of kidneys and a bag of skin and could love and mourn without the breath I received? How was it I thought I was self replicating without giving much credit to receiving my supplies freely and daily from the carboniferous earth that I gobbled up carelessly? The truth of the matter is the time between the dusts is limited and the replication starts to slow down before reunion. When the dust is finally united with the earth, the breath remains. Somewhere!
Every decade we have dragged our stuff and lived on and under it, hither and yon. I love our stuff which carries meaning.My writing from here on stuff explores meaning deeper than touch or sight. In the mid-seventies, when she was still alive our friend Carolyn stayed with us and sketched a collection of drawings of our house we had built in Victoria. The house was later designated a Heritage house in Saanich and 3 months in an Architecture Gallery Show some time later. My friends, when we built it, felt sorry for us and thought it looked like a bank. I wrote about our house in my book "A Braided Cord" and the "Force Vitale" that will accompany what you love, but a house is an empty shell, when you carry away the force vitale. Still, the drawings are in my room on the wall and Carolyn and the house are both etched in my memory. We all have symbols whether we acknowledge them or not. And as I say in the book, "--a visible symbol is a sign of an invisible presence". There can be no apology for stuff in our life imparting a Force Vitale. It would be much like an apology for meaning.. As I also said , "It just requires vigilance to maintain control of one's own orbit."
Above the toilet in our bathroom is a pen and ink watercolor of our backyard in Plymouth where Robert and Anne played in the sand pile, collected snails for John to cook and eat at a penny a snail, and got humped by Winston, the adolescent bulldog, from time to time which we discouraged. As I stand and piddle and look at it at eye level over the years I remark to myself what memories that little painting 58 years ago returns to me, whereas they could spring from a paragraph now, to a book if I had the energy. John Polochi, a general surgeon, now dead after a career in Kingston. Susan, pursuing her art at the time and coping with his gastronomical needs including small birds which he trapped and sheep's heads for face meat. He helped me rake up all the broken glass from our back yard and clean and drain the bomb shelter, that residual remains from the heavy blitz in Plymouth in 1941, to make it safe for our children. They loved them too. Canadian and Italian, we were all strangers in an other's land.
When I was a high school student in our little town of Lestock Saskatchewan in 1950 our town doctor made house calls in the winter with his bombardier. He had a driver, Joe Lucas, and his service area was about 25 miles in diameter, frequently bad or no available roads were passable other than as you can see with the bombardier. His role was crucial because despite our town's small size we had the only hospital in the area and the vehicle could also transport patients if need be. Our doctor, Chuck McCullough was a good friend of our family and for a young boy the imagined romance connected with the saving grace of rescuing the sick, bounding over drifts of snow, over fences trapping snow, in blizzard conditions was inspiring. It may have been the single most important matter that captured my desire to go into medicine. It tells us once again that the ability of a solo practitioner managing such a large area by himself, treating a large farm population in a hospital and at home with his own hands and own brain was crucial. This was the state of affairs in the country practice in the winter of 1950 in rural Saskatchewan. Who wouldn't be swept up with this kind of life and this kind of effort.Talk about value. Priceless.
Having read Wikipedia I was refreshed with the original description of factoid, a word with the suffix "oid" meaning "resembling or like". Resembling or like a fact, is not a fact. It may be mistaken for a fact but it isn't . However, unfortunately the newer definition of factoid is a fact that is merely trivial or less germane. It's better that a fact that is trivial or marginally germane be called a factlet . This is not yet a word but could be.I like the original word and definition which was originally concocted by Norman Mailer and he was clear that a factoid was not a fact. The modernized definition of factoid allows use of the word for the simple reason that none has made it out of the bush that is better. However, better that the trivial fact should be described as a factlet was suggested by William Safire. "Let" is a suffix that means a diminutive like piglet and a marginally germane or trivial fact fits a factlet. Whatever is happening now to information, we are subjected to colossal collections of factlets and all factoids that we must sort through. The need for these words arise because of the repeated hammering by fake news. The information age allows the diminutive size of the factlets to slip through apertures in the loose web. I believe that "terms of definition" will help us sort it out. Words matter.
Were you aware that the first production of oxygen in the atmosphere was by the first plant-like form on earth, the Lichen? The Lichen is a composite of a fungus and a cyanobacteria or blue green algae that live in a symbiotic relationship, the fungus harboring and moisture producing while drawing sugar from the algae. Possibly a paradox like the baby nourishing the nursing mother. The algae, an anaerobe, produces oxygen and sugar by way of photosynthesis, CO2+H2O producing free oxygen that is usable. Moreover the O2 molecule when unstable produced free radical O that combined with O2 to produce O3 (Ozone) a layer that resists ultraviolet rays from the sun that can kill. That the lichen is the first plant-like form on earth is clear from fossil records and the appearance of oxygen seen from ferrous mineral records at the same time, tells us of the importance of this gift that would grow on bare rock and eventually produce the gas of life for the animal world and provide our protection from ultraviolet rays. In 2011 I wrote a poem celebrating the Lichen in my book An Elderly Eclectic Gentleman. I called the poem Succession and will repeat it here since we owe the Lichen so much. Please bear with me because if the foregoing doesn't thrill you much, it does me.
The Lichen grows on bare rock,
no earth, little sustenance,
a tenuous foothold to life.
It asks for sun and time
and grows, defeated, grows again.
It rains, it grows, summer drought comes,
it dies, to grow again with rain.
And when it dies it leaves a little behind.
Soil? Or is it the merest memory of Lichen
So.Mosses grow, a succession plant,
thicker, greener, richer
because of the poor precursor
which took a foothold where no other could.
The foregoing tells you that CO2 was drawn from the atmosphere to produce oxygen.
As I look at my ruminant reading of my blogs that detail my life in the olden days, chewing the cud of yesteryear, I wonder, like Bugs Bunny, "What's up Doc?" Why are you constantly going back to these collections of diaries? Good question? One answer is, " For every thing there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:---" (Ecclesiastes 3, 1 ) I just don't want to forget that season and those times. While munching my story books like a carrot, it's possible that I have reached an age that resembles or at least seeks to copy the best parts of Bugs Bunny: he was smart, funny ,loved life and is still contemporaneous and as long as I live and I don't ever wish to be like Elmer Fudd. It always becomes a secret worry when those of us who are 85 contemplate Elmer Fudd. Rereading my blogs is in effect a prayer to God, Ecclesiastes and my alter ego that I can stay a little like Bugs Bunny, continue to say, "What's up Doc?" and not be a Shadow of my Former Self, but keep the old season and the old time going on a little longer.
I speak of insurance. I saw patients for insurance companies for ten years so I know of what I speak. When you are sold a policy you are assured of the nurturing you will receive when your need arises.What they don't tell you is they always begin with "No". It is as wide as the word and specific to insurance of every ilk. My father years ago bought an accident life insurance policy through Eaton's department store for a monthly payment of 7 0r 8 dollars. He was 60 at the time and assiduously paid his premium for 20 odd years. He fell rushing to the toilet in his apartment to pee and broke his hip acetabulum and my mother and her friend in the middle of the night carried him back to bed. He was admitted to hospital and died the following day. About a month later my mother said to me, " Dad had an accident policy he had been paying for, for years." Mum, I said, " Dad was an old man and had bad emphysema and periodic gastrointestinal bleeding."
"Nevertheless," she said. "He still had an accident and broke his hip bone. He paid his payments for years and it was for one hundred thousand dollars." I told her I would write to the insurance company and explore making a claim. I did so and after a time I received a letter with official denial of the claim. They began with "No". Despite my lousy attitude I phoned my lawyer and he said I would need a deposit of 6 thousand to sue them and so mother and I were on tap. To make a long story short, two years later we collected 95 thousand dollars for her after a blizzard of confrontations. It is true he was an old man with medical conditions but the Coronor's report said , "death secondary to accident." The Oxygen man's note for the day of the accident said, " Mr. Warren doing well and washing dishes." And my mother confirmed those observations at the Examination for Discovery . They started at fifty thousand and we started after the delay, loss of interest,
family despair, at one hundred and eighteen. We ended up at 95. My advice is always listen to your mother and stick to your guns once you have knowledge on your side and realize they always begin with "No"!
Tonight Emma and I went to a celebration with a small gathering of people reading poems by Mary Oliver. It was said to be a piece to honor her recent death at the age of 82. It was serendipitous for us because I was under the misapprehension that we were, as a gathering, to read from our own poetical renderings so it was both a surprise and an opportunity. Neither Emma nor I had read or heard the voice of Mary Oliver before that evening.
The beautiful verdant layer on the stone we share in space with one another, rolling and hurtling around the sun, with a seething fiery centre, universally present in its core, is described in its entirety by the poet. The long view of the stone by the astronaut and the deep view by the vulcanologist is acknowledged by her, but she celebrates in spades the verdant layer in all its elements with continuing gratitude. Her work seems replete with idiomatic expressions that celebrate life in the layers. Mary Oliver is upbeat. It is the package we have been blessed with and a layer we need to care for!
For Jim's past posts, check out his old blog here: