The watched pot never boils. Oh yeah?!

When I occasionally put on a large pot of eggs to hard-boil, I love to watch the water come to a boil. That might seem silly–an octogenarian watching a pot of water come to a boil. But to me it seems so fundamental. It’s one of the miracles of nature that is so common we never think about it at all.

But I think about it. I think of how humans must have first discovered that boil. I use wonderful stainless steel pots. I wonder what kind of containers my ancient ancestors used. I wonder what kind of eggs they cooked, where they came from, how they preserved tem. The whole process is so basic, and it must have taken millennia to perfect–and yet here it is–perfect and simple, on the top of my gas stove, over in minutes.

When the  boil first begins, nothing seems to happen. It’s sort of like waiting for your computer to boot up. Then there might come a slight disturbance to the surface of the water. It seems to go smooth, get glassy, and brace itself for something to come. Then minute streams of tiny bubbles begin to rise up from around the side of the eggs. They gradually get larger and larger until bigger bubbles burst to the surface. I know that’s the beginning of the boil. If I keep watching, those large bubbles combine again until they almost disappear and the water begins to roil.

The eggs don’t move around much, although from the turbulence of the water you would expect them to. When they reach that state, I follow Martha Stewart’s advice and turn off the heat, put the cover on the pot, and let it rest for exactly 13 minutes. She and Julia Childs both agree this is the best way to hard-boil eggs. It leaves them without that green ring that surrounds the yolks if you boil them too long. The eggs come out looking perfect, and will keep for quite a while in the fridge before they’re gone.

I think watching water boil is like seeing the story of mankind through aeons of time. Two simple atoms, hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water. I think of how our bodies are mostly water. I wonder how my ancestors discovered the boil, and how they used it. Watching water boil is not simple or silly for me. It is the story of humanity in a pot.

Before I quit, I’d like to leave you with a method of peeling eggs I discovered on the Internet. It is so simple to do it rivals the simplicity of boiling. I have watched Martha Stewart on TV trying to peel a hard-boiled egg. Shs is pretty good at it, but even she can’t pull it off flawlessly every time. My method will take all the stress out of peeling eggs. Are you ready?

Take a mason jar, the half-quart size will do fine, but any reasonably-sized jar will work. Drop the egg into the jar. Half-fill it with water. Put your hand over the top and shake vigorously. Empty out the water, take the egg out and peel it. ,The shell is so perfectly broken that once you start to peel the egg the shell will virtually come off in one piece attached to the membrane that originally surrounded the egg.

The reason it works is that the water is able to penetrate the shell and separate it from the egg itself. It only takes a second, and it’s just another reason why water is so important to life. Try my method. You’ll be amazed at how well it works. Have a good eggy day!


Thoughts on Remembrance Day

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. How appropriate for remembering.

I received a Remembrance Day note from my local civic councillor this morning which reminded me of how close we still are to the sacrifices made for us by those who serve in our armed forces. Jim Karygiannis, the councillor for my voting ward in Agincourt, lost five cousins and relatives to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, that benighted country that is still in the Stone Age. Except that these Stone Age people have access to guns and explosives. It’s like a bad science fiction novel, except that it’s real, and now.

At almost the same time  I read a fatuous piece in the local paper about how we should wear the remembrance poppy. Apparently we are dissing our veterans if we don’t wear it on the left side, above our hearts. Only appropriate to wear it for the first eleven days of November. Allowable to wear it for other remembrance ceremonies like Air Force and Navy Day, or days of mourning for police, fire, and civic functionaries.

A more facetious piece of  twaddle I have rarely encountered. I wear the poppy year round on my cap; stuck on the sun visor of my car; above my  desk; any place I can so I really NEVER forget the sacrifices made for our democracy. Remembrance and cenotaph ceremonies are all very well, but we tend to watch or participate in those rituals–then forget them for the rest of the year.

I, too, lost friends and relatives: in the First World War at Gallipoli and in France; in the Second World War in the Battle of Britain; and in Burma. They were all young because war devours the children of our race, scarcely ever the elderly as collateral damage. It takes the best, the brightest, the most fundamental young people of our society, and it never gives them back.

When I’m driving down the street I give thanks that in this country, at least, there aren’t explosives waiting by the side of the road to blow me to kingdom come. I think of the vets who have returned home with terrible memories of the sorties they’ve been on, and with PTSD (what an oxymoron that is–Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). Inability to sleep, stress on young families, sometimes even suicide because they can’t escape the events of the battlefield. It almost seems sacrilegious to give thanks for persons who endure such torment.

Then to read a fatuous piece of journalistic prose exhorting me to wear the poppy only at approved times and in approved places. It is to weep.

So I ignore such strictures. I know they come from those of small minds and less knowledge. I’m too polite to call them ignorant, but I’m tempted. I’ll just go on remembering in my own way, and never forgetting that war never solves anything except the whittling down of a society by unnatural means. I will remember. I will never forget.

The gales of November

The first gale of November tore through Toronto last night, ripping the last leaves from the trees and depositing a thin crust of snow on everything as it passed. As I lay snug in my bed under my warm Swedish duvet from Ikea I listened to the wind roaring through the pine trees that line the golf course next to my home, and thought of the sailors on the Great Lakes still sailing between our inland ports with cargoes of grain and ore.

November is the month when many of Canada’s worst Great Lakes maritime disasters occur. I still think of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, one of our mightiest lake carriers, overtaken by a monster wave in Lake Superior and sent instantly to the bottom with 49 lives snuffed out as a result. Gordon Lightfoot, one of our best known folk singers wrote a haunting song called The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald that somehow finds its way to the air waves each November to remind us that our treasured inland lake paradises can also be a graveyard for unsuspecting souls.

November also brings the Hunter’s Moon. My beloved son-in-law Arastou is a hunter. I’m not particularly fond of that activity myself, preferring my wildlife wild and free. But I have come to realize that sincere hunters often contribute as much as they take, and that the good ones hunt not just for meat for the table, but also to conserve our wildlife. They do not kill indiscriminately.

What they contribute is seen at our cottage. Arastou and his hunting pal Dave between them have set out nearly a dozen wildlife cameras, and what they have revealed has astonished even me. Our cottage is only a few hundred miles north of Toronto, on the shores of Geaorgian Bay, overlookinmg Christian Island at the southwest end of the bay, not far from Wasaga Beach. It sits on a bluff overlooking the bay that in itself tells a story.

In prehistoric times that bluff was once the shore of Georgian Bay itself. It’s 400 feet high, and that tells you just how much water it must have held back then. The area is also historic in nature. In recent time it was first visited by Champlain when he was exploring what he called “The Great Sweetwater Sea.” He held a mass at Caraghoa, not far from our cottage, in 1615.

The cottage lies in the Township of Tiny, so named by Governor Simcoe’s wife, an intrepid female adventurer who, with her husband, the first governor of Upper Canada, named three of the townships in Simcoe County Tiny, Tay, and Floss, after her three pet dogs.

The area was also home to the Huron Indians. The Jesuits had established a mission to the Hurons in the 1600s called Ste. Marie Among the Hurons. They tried to christianize the natives, but were repelled by the Iroquois who had been enemies of the Hurons for many years.

Why? It was all about trade. The Hurons separated the Iroquois from a tribe of Indians known as the Tobacco Indians. Tobacco was like cocoa orl gold today. The Hurons controlled the trade.

As a result, two of the Jesuits–Brothers Breboeuf and Lalement were killed by the Iroquois, who drove the Hurons from their land to their last stand on Christian Island. There they established Fort Ste. Marie II, but it was not to last.
The last Hurons left the area headed for Montreal to the site where their descendants still live today. I have no proof, but I suspect a lot of this happened in November.

A footnote to this is that Ste. Marie Among the Hurons is the setting for what today is known as The Huron Chistmas Carol. It begins: “‘Twas in the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled/ That mighty Gitchee Manitou sent angel choirs instead”, and is a haunting carol about the birth of Christ told for natives who knew nothing at all about christianity. No matter how youi feel about converting natives, the carol evokes the sacred nature of the birth of Jesus, whose country was so far from Huronia it beggars the mind.

When you think of the distances the Hurons travelled to escape their enemies, ed, it must have been a terrifying migration. But those Indians were used to using the Georgian Bay waterways as their highway, so what to us might seem like a stupendous journey to them must have seemed ordinary.

But back to the hunting. Arastou often hunts with a crossbow. He is very good at it, and very, very careful about how he hunts. He has built himself a blind up a tree in the forest near where he has, in the summer, set out a salt lick. That may seem like a dirty trick, but animals need salt, and it preserves many more than are killed.

And actually there are not that many killed. Occasionally Arastou bags a wild turkey. Once he bagged a stag. But I suspect he just likes sitting up in his blind, whether in rain or snow, appreciating the silence and the freshness of the atmosphere. He often needs a break from the pressure of his job, which is to keep the entire bus fleet of North York on the road so peoole can get too work on time.

He and his friend Dave’s cameras have revealed an astonishing plethora of wildlife in what is actually a semi-settled area. His cameras have revealed a family of black bears, a female, a half grown cub, and a big male who all come to take their share of the salt lick. There are foxes, coyotes, and hordes of wild turkeys, which have only been introduced into the area recently. There was even a ful-grown moose captured byu his lenses, something very unusual this far south.

There are many white-tailed deer, and Arastou spotted a ten-point buck on his recent November expedition. One of the most amusing episodes he filmed was of the male bear stamping his foot and trying to drive off a porcupine attempting to monopolize the salt lick. He has evben filmed a wolf with his cameras, as well as pheasants and owls.

I have vacationed on Georgian Bay since I have been 20, and never seen the amount of wildlife that I know are around the cottage. I realize now that animals are not stupid. They watch us more closely that we watch them. They are instinctively clever, and do not blindly walk into the sights of a hunter’s bow or gun. I used to be dead set against any hunting of any kind, but Arastou has shown me a different kind of hunter, and frankly, I applaud his avocation. He is doing more for wild animals by simply showing us how they exist than any hunter is doing by taking meat. As long as that continues to be the case, I will support his pursuit.

It’s the little things that count

The older I get, the more I appreciate that it’s the little things that count. I always remember the story about the remarkable poet Emily Dickenson who wrote some of the most beautiful poetry I have ever read. She basically never moved from her home. Saw everything through her front window, yet experienced life to the full. Or Emmanuel Kant, the great German philosopher who never moved outside his hometown, yet influenced the entire western world with his philosophy.

Watering the flowers

A simple task like watering the flowers every day can bring so much joy–not immediately, but over a long period of time. As I wield my watering can or hose I marvel at how the plants grow. When I fertilize them every  couple of weeks I imagine how they will bloom a few short days after their feeding. And sure enough, a week or so after their tonic they begin to bloom their heads off. As long as it doesn’t freeze they will continue to enrich my daily life, not just with their blooms, but with the tiny daily ritual of keeping them alive with that commonest of all elements–water.

I have a couple of plants at the front of the house; chrysanthemums with some tall rush-like plants I don’t know the name of. But they are taller then my five-foot-ten-inches, and have fuzzy cat tail heads like bulrushes. Not only do they practically talk to me when I fertilize and water them, they provide constant continuous motion when the wind blows. They remind me of cats’ tails waving to and fro, constantly in motion, creating a sinuous ballet with the slightest breeze.

And the geraniums–I feel like melting when I view their rich colours: brilliant red, succulent pink, blinding white. I have a bright yellow begonia on my deck that has been blazing all summer long, and now that we’re nearly into October is still going strong. I love the odour of geraniums, that crisp, gingery scent that teases your nostrils when you break off a leaf, or cull dead blooms from their mother stems. These are the things that have come to mean the most to me as my life moves ever onwards.

My trusty pen knife

Another simple thing I give thanks for every day is my pen knife. Ironically, it was an industrial give-away I acquired when I began to work with Alcan Canada Products in 1970. It has remained with me ever since. That’s nearly half a century now, and it has never left my pocket. I use it for so many things, it’s like a third hand.

I use it to open letters, carve the skin off a tangerine, fix a ragged fingernail with its everlasting file. It’s a simple five-bladed knife, made by the Swiss knife-maker Victorinox,  anodized blue with the Alcan logo on one side. It has two blades, a tiny pair of scissors, a nail file and what the Swiss call a pipe cleaner, which is really a tiny scraper with a screwdriver at the end. It’s small enough to fix the screws on any pair of glasses ever made, and strong enough not to break when it hits a tough one. It has been my constant companion, and it calls up a whole host of memories every time I use it. It has become indispensable.

My change purse

Another item that has become part of my daily life is my change purse. A friend once remarked that he had never seen me without it, and indeed, one has been in my pocket since childhood. My father used to have the same kind of purse, and I remember inheriting his used one when I must have been eight or nine. It’s the best designed purse for a man that I know of.

It has always been made in China, and the one I use today must have come from the same Chinese last at its forebears. It’s a squared oval in shape. Imagine an oval shape with the end being square. It is a fold-over design with a fold-over flap that covers a small pocket as well as the purse itself. Best of all, it is a ridged design so that there is plenty of room for change. When you need to use it, you open the flap, tilt the purse, and the change flows into the flap without going all over the place. The ridge of the purse holds the change in place, and there is room to count it out without spilling.

But its best feature is that it’s flat. It fits in your pocket without   showing a huge bulge in your trousers. Because the oval is squared off, it also sits securely in the bottom of your pocket, and even though It may be full of change, it doesn’t weigh you down.

To me, the thing speaks of Chinese ingenuity. It’s a design that uses only thin leather and thread, two basic components, and yet works flawlessly. It needs no zippers, no clasps, no Velcro. There is nothing to poke holes either in your pocket or you. It reminds me of the essence of Chinese philosophy–effortless  simplicity in design and use. Isn’t that what “being” is all about?

Friday the 13th

I didn’t know it would end like this, she said, and died.
The ring I gave her more that 60 years ago
clipped cruelly from her swollen hand.
Her body, from the bed, to the morgue, to the flame
to me, in a box heavy with grief.
I didn’t know it would end like this–
the love we shared, the lives we built . . .
in a box, to the grave, on the 24th
on a day we should have celebrated birth.
Hail and farewell, my love. I’ll see you when I sleep.

24 August 2015

On work I

There is a time when we may reach the understanding that no matter how menial, boring or trivial work seems, there is nothing better for most of us than to fill our lives with regulated activity. Only the living are allowed to work. The dead contribute nothing but the chemicals that make life possible–tending, always tending–never becoming, never being. Is work so bad when the alternative is nothing?

On work II

It is best if your work is that which enables you to truly realize yourself. Yet it is difficult to know which work can bring about this crystallization.

For years I believe the only work worth of the name was creative work of the artistic kind–work best suited for those of superior mind and sensitive understanding. How great my pride: how miniscule my knowledge!

Now I know the work that most expands my mind is simple, repetitive, and often boring. Typing lists of things; accounting for life’s unmemorable dross has become an ennobling activity.

I now appreciate, perhaps may some day truly understand, why the man who used to collect the shit from our backhouses once a week never felt humbled by this activity. He smiled and joked like any ordinary man, bore his load with patience, and never, so far as I knew, paid the slightest attention to the snickers behind his back. Never once did I hear him curse or complain. He was never slovenly, never dirty, never smelled. What he carried smelled, but he did not create that–we did. We used to call his truck the Honey Wagon Without him we would have sunk in our own mire; suffocated in the effluent we paid him to collect. The names of many who labored over me to “teach me something” I cannot remember: Mr. Klanka’s example remains with  me still. He was then, I have become, not ashamed of menial work . . .