A STROKE OF LUCK (6 Chapters)

A weak spot . . .

1 ̶ The Incident

I am now officially a senior.

I knew I was getting older, but in my mind, I was never there yet.

Until recently, I could read a blue streak, write a decent paragraph, solve a mess of cryptograms without cheating, rake up a yardful of dead leaves, and power-walk three kilometres in my bare feet on sharp stones. (Okay, there’s one little white lie in there.) Several weeks ago, that all changed. They have yanked my driver’s licence.   I have to bum rides. Now I’m a senior.

What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened. I never saw it coming. I had a stroke.

On Wednesday, April 26, after Olga and I finished supper, I retired upstairs to watch tv. I often left Olga alone, sometimes for hours, as I worked on the computer or watched a program. All of a sudden I felt different. I couldn’t adjust the set. It was too much of an effort. When I got up, I found I couldn’t walk properly. I couldn;t speak. Over the course of an hour and a half, I fell several times as my legs failed to support me. I managed to climb to the third storey with intention of turning off my computer, but I couldn’t find the switch. My right arm lost all feeling; it became detached from my trunk. I couldn’t find my right arm. I left the computer and the lights on as I collapsed down one flight of stairs. My legs wouldn’t work; I couldn’t grasp the handrail because I had lost the one arm.

Somehow, I still don’t know how, I switched off most lights. Feeling returned to my right arm. I edged down one more set of stairs. It felt too far to trudge to the living room to let Olga know I had problem ̶ not that I could speak anyway. I ducked into the bedroom.

I stripped down to the flesh. I had to clean up. Somewhere en route I had voided my bowels. I sponged myself off, tucked the dirty laundry in the washer. I slept very well.

Next morning, I felt pretty normal, but Olga sensed something was wrong. There were evidences of my accidental discharges.   I could speak but I couldn’t articulate what had happened to me. All day we weathered ice-storm conditions, so even if I felt like frolicking, I couldn’t. We rarely have visitors, for we live in the country. My memory of that day is hazy, but I must have read and watched tv.

Next day, Friday, Olga was getting really worried about me. I myself knew that something extraordinary had occurred. She suggested I go to the Emergency. I didn’t think it wise to drive myself, 30 minutes away, and Olga no longer drives. Finally I found words to describe my condition. I had been trying for a day and a half to find the words. I blurted them out: “Heart attack!”, I said.  The wrong words, as it turned out.

I couldn’t find the word “stroke” in my vocabulary. I called our son, Rob, who had finished his work week. He lives three hours away. He had some errands to run but he came as quickly as he could. I took along an overnight bag and my meds.

The weather was still miserable.

Some journeys take forever . . .

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The Discovery

In July, 1934, Ted Eliot, a high school teacher and writer, was traveling by train from Longlac to Port Arthur. When the train stopped in the bush just south of Beardmore, Ontario, to pick up a prospector, Eliot chatted with him. Eddie Dodd told him about some “French armour or Indian relics” he had found on his claim.

Thus began a saga which is still unfolding.

In September, 1937, the Royal Ontario Museum sent an academic to examine the site of the discovery. ROM had already authenticated the artifacts as genuine Viking relics. Dr. T.F. McIlwraith made an inspection that may have lasted an hour or two. He found Eddie Dodd to be a credible witness.

A controversy erupted, reported in the national media. Dodd’s credibility was vigorously attacked. Another “owner” of the relics stepped up, claiming that Dodd had stolen them from the house he rented to Dodd in Port Arthur. Academics and researchers leapt into the fray.

In the 1940’s, the controversy died down, only to erupt in 1956 when Maclean’s Magazine and the Toronto Globe and Mail revived it.

In 1966 ROM issued a booklet titled The Beardmore Relics: Hoax or History? It reviewed the history and the controversy, and stated that “opinion leans strongly towards the view that it was a hoax”.

However, the last paragraph also allows “the possibility that Norsemen did reach the central area of North America”. It goes on to say, “Perhaps some day unequivocal evidence will be uncovered to support that theory. At present, there is none.”

The Re-Discovery

None had reported visiting the site since the 1930’s.

There were few clues in the historical record to guide Lavoie in his search. At different times, he enlisted people to conduct a grid search pattern. One clue was the fact that Dodd had a cabin in the vicinity. Robert Coté, who had been a key person in the search, reported the ruins of a cabin he had found while hunting. It proved to be Dodd’s cabin.

On November 17th, Lavoie came upon a promising location. It was not the foot of a rocky “knoll” which Dodd had always described as the site of his workings. It was the foot of a small cliff in a long sloping hill.

Lavoie immediately contacted Coté, and together they examined the site. Coté, a prospector, agreed that the site conformed to all available evidence.

In a rather feeble effort to provide some protection for the site, Lavoie staked a claim that day that encompassed the cabin and the site.

Lavoie made some moves to encourage a modern, full-scale archaeological examination of the site, and received little to no encouragement.

Today the relics supposedly repose in the Royal Ontario Museum. When Lavoie asked to see them many years ago, no one knew where they were, exactly. In the case of the sword, it had apparently been co-opted to serve in a generic exhibit of Viking artifacts. No one knew where, exactly.

The Last Re-Discovery

In the summer of 1999, a huge fire swept through the forest east of Lake Nipigon, burning some 30,000 hectares. It wiped out the vegetative landmarks in the area where Dodd claimed he had found the relics.

In the fall of 2009, Lavoie set out to re-discover the site. Using notes he had kept on the searches in 1990, he narrowed down the prospective area. One major clue was a mileage marker on the CN railway. The Kinghorn Subdivision line was slated for demolition, and in 2010, that marker likely disappeared.

The area has re-vegetated with thickly packed bushes and saplings. With the assistance of friend Dave Alcorn, Lavoie cut a trail towards Dodd’s pit and trenches, and with a lot of figuring and a little luck, hit them dead on. Back in 1990, no one had traveled the bush taking GPS readings.

The entrance to the trail is disguised in order to discourage curiosity-seekers. Lavoie’s goal remains the same: a proper archaeological examination of the site in order to determine if the relics once reposed there. Or not.

Replicas of the Beardmore relics are, at this writing, in the custody of the Municipality of Greenstone.

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I have lost a great many gray hairs, and I do not regret one of them.

I am proud of every one. RIP.

This rumination comes to mind because yesterday I addressed a class of student teachers at Lakehead U. Young men and women ̶ kids, really ̶ just starting out. I do not envy them at all. Little do they know what lies ahead. Mind you, most of what lies ahead is good, as it was for me. Yet, if you asked me to re-live my life, I would run screaming in the opposite direction. Been there, done that. It was good, much of it was fun, but I have earned the right to be my age.

Fifty-five years ago I attended Lakehead Teachers’ College, and yesterday I went back for the first time. I had to be directed there because they have changed the name. Now it’s the Bora Laskin Building. I don’t remember him as a teacher. But, he must have done something right to be so honoured.

The prof who invited me, Walter Epp, is teaching geography ̶ or rather, teaching how to teach geography ̶ and exposes his students to as many geography-related experiences as he can. Last year he sent a group of students up to my home on Wildgoose Lake to pick my brains on being a writer and historian and a wanna-be geographer. Walter admires my historical-geographical novel, The Beardmore Relics, and it was, I believe assigned reading in one of his courses.

In the hour I had, Walter asked me to first reminisce about my attending the first graduating class at Lakehead Teachers’ College. Well, I didn’t say much ̶ I had a lot of ground to cover ̶ but I did mention that when I was attending Queen’s U to upgrade my certificate, I aspired to be a geographer. However, the labs were formidable, absorbing a huge block of a student’s time and energy, so I chose something easy ̶ English Literature. I have never regretted it.

I had 50-some slides in a PowerPoint presentation. I reviewed the history of The (historic) Beardmore Relics, starting with their discovery by a weekend prospector near the community of Beardmore in the early ’30s. I showed how, as a relatively young teacher, on my weekends in the fall of 1990, I set out to re-discover the discovery site, and succeeded. Then, after the great fire of ’99, when some 30,000 hectares of bush was wiped out between Macdiarmid, Beardmore, and Lake Nipigon, and all the vegetative landmarks had disappeared, I set out in the fall of 2009 to re-discover the site of my re-discovery of the discovery site.

In the next post, The Beardmore Relics, I recount all that stuff.

I segued into slides I took while researching The (literary) Beardmore Relics, focusing on locations in the novel that showcase the grand geographical and historical features of Lake Nipigon and the Beardmore region.

Foundations of the old Northern Empire mill, July 2009.

After the presentation, there was the obligatory applause. But I had to wonder what the students were really thinking. When I was in their shoes ̶ and I was, fifty-five years ago ̶ I too was addressed by some old fogies fifty-five years older than me, and some of those were my teachers (though I still don’t recall Bora Laskin).

I can still recall some of my thoughts from that long-ago time: I can’t believe that guy was once my age. What went wrong? And how much of what he is telling us can we really believe? How much is fake news (okay, we didn’t even know the term “fake news”, but we thought it). This old geezer is telling me he was recently sailing on the sixth Great Lake and canoeing and hiking and scrambling up a mountain in wild country and that he knows how to deter a charging black bear and . . . Aw, this is all an elaborate hoax by our beloved Professor. Are they late with that bell again?

As you can imagine, my presentation was a typical educational experience.

Still, I enjoyed it. I am a born teacher and a life-long student.

As I was leaving the Bora Laskin Building, I looked for some familiar landmarks. There’s a library in the extension (we had to use the university’s central library). The auditorium where we met regularly to hear old fogies speak, was locked. I couldn’t spot the entrance to the gymnasium, but a student I asked said it is still there.

The flower bed is gone where I buried an empty vodka bottle. But that’s another story.

Book cover, representing a view of Bish Bay on Lake Nipigon.

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Olga & Miko, Valentine's Day 2017

Olga & Miko, Valentine’s Day 2017

Two days ago, I took Miko for his last ride.

Our little Shih Tzu mixed loves a car ride. Usually, when Olga and I leave home for a quick trip to town, we leave Miko in a baby pen. We can’t let him roam the house because he will attack the portal we left from. He has already chewed and clawed a good portion of the cedar door and the frame through which he has seen us disappear.

When we return, there is always an enthusiastic welcome.

We acquired Miko four years ago from our granddaughter, Heather. Heather acquired him in Sudbury, where she was living at the time. When she visited us at Wildgoose Lake, Olga acquired him. We had recently lost our own dog, Shiloh, when her hips collapsed. And Olga had always wanted a lap dog.

Miko wasn’t a lap dog.   Miko’s first owner was a senior in Sudbury, and when he entered a seniors’ residence, he had to surrender Miko. Miko never forgave him, apparently, for he was a tough animal to warm up to. He frequently bit us. Nearly took off Olga’s big toe once. When Heather visited the next time, he bit her.

We understood his trauma. We caressed him, indulged him with special treats, let him sleep with us. Over the months, he warmed up to us, bit us less often.

We have a habit of acquiring rescue pets. We still have our cat,Trouble, after many years ̶ she grew up wild in the Dorion bush, fed occasionally by animal-lovers Penny and Doug. We later acquired Bushcat when son Rob found him half-starved roaming the nearby bush. Miko was our rescue dog.

These last few months, Miko became a true lap dog. Loved jumping into our laps. Loved visitors. Loved our cats. Almost never snapped at us.

When we travelled to TBay, three hours away, we took Miko for a ride. Sometimes to the vet. Sometimes to the groomer.   Sometimes just to keep us company. We certainly couldn’t leave him penned up in the house overnight. Miko loved those rides. Especially with Olga along. He was Olga’s dog. Olga called him my dog because if I left home for a day or more, he pined for me. Whimpered, wouldn’t eat.

We were never sure of Miko’s age. We thought he was age seven when we acquired him. Heather later revised that to nine. And just the other day, to age twelve. Go figure.

For several weeks now, Miko has been ailing. Off his feed. Lackadaisical. Sometimes not eating a bite for a whole day. Urinating wherever he felt like. Dropping sticky gifts on the carpet. For a year we’ve known he suffers from kidney stones, often resulting in his leaving bloody patches. Medication hasn’t helped much, and surgery is beyond our means.

For the last while, he will not stay on our bed at night. Jumps off, curls up on the floor. Sometimes hides under the bed. In daytime, likes to lie down in cramped places, under a table or kitchen chair. It is our experience with pets that they often isolate themselves when they feel the end is near. Shiloh dragged herself into the nearby bush, wouldn’t return to the house. Had to lift her into the car for her last ride to the vet.

Lately, Miko has had his fine moments. Snatches up a toy and invites us to play. Never growls if disturbed. Never dreams of snapping at us. When we receive a visitor, he arouses from his lethargy and cavorts.

Four days ago, Olga said it was time. I made arrangements with the vet.

Two days ago, I told Miko, “Going for a ride.”

He leapt up. He toddled upstairs like a young puppy. He followed me out the door, tail wagging. He waded through the knee-deep snow (his knees, mind you) although I was prepared to pick him up. He joyfully ensconced himself in the back-seat hammock. He never really complained that Olga wasn’t coming along. He was going for a ride.

It wasn’t a ride that Olga was prepared to take. If I could have skipped it, I would’ve.

Three hours later, I left Miko at the vet’s.

Gave him our last caresses. Collected his collar and tags. Miko was happy enough. Maybe he thought he was going to be groomed.

Yes, we’ve shed a few tears. I’m crying now.

But we are collecting Miko a week from today. Bringing him home in a sand-coloured urn. When the ground thaws, we’ll find a sandy spot for him.

Give him one last caress.

He’ll be so happy.

Heather & Miko in happier times

Heather & Miko in happier times

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Creelman Creek in the fall, looking towards Wildgoose Lake . . .

Creelman Creek in the fall, looking towards Wildgoose Lake . . .

How safe is a 60-year-old natural gas pipeline when it’s converted to carry heavy crude?

The short answer: not very.

That was the consensus of the public meeting last night at Geraldton’s Community Centre. Common Voice Northwest invited everyone to comment on a serious issue. Of course, everyone turned out. Everyone that counted. Nine or ten of us.

CVNW is an intervenor in the proposed Energy East (aka TransCanada Pipelines aka TransCanada Corporation) pipeline. The proposal is to take an ancient natural gas pipeline that runs 1900 kilometres across Northern Ontario and through the Ottawa valley and to repurpose the unused or underused sections of it to carry diluted bitumen.

What is diluted bitumen? It’s the stuff that the Alberta tar sands wants to ship out of the province as fast and conveniently as it can because it doesn’t want to deal with it (i.e., refine it on site). Dilbit is the most horrible toxic sludge you can imagine. Compared to it, fentanyl is lemonade.

CVNW is the creature of NOMA ̶   Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association. CVNA has hired KBM Resources Group to conduct meetings in communities along the TCPL corridor. Last night, the facilitator, Steve, made it clear that neither KBM nor CVNW is taking sides. Nor are they defending any aspects of the Energy East proposal. Nor are they equipped to answer anyone’s questions about the multitudinous questionable aspects of the proposal. They are simply gathering information.

And CVNW, as an intervenor (an official input-er ̶ if there is such a word ̶ of the review process). Their expenses are underwritten by Energy East. And CVNW, via KBM, will pass on the gathered information to the big guns that call the shots on whether Energy East gets approval to proceed.

Steve wanted two types of information. One, identify which water crossings are significant. That’s the label, “significant”. If a rupture should occur at or close to a water crossing in the proposed converted pipeline, how sensitive is the spot to environmental damage?

In the detailed proposal that I examined two years ago (and I suspect that little has changed since), Energy East had identified not a single “significant” water crossing in Northern Ontario. I guess somebody told them that they had to do better. I guess they now believe they should get some information. CVNW is stepping up.

The consensus of the meeting last night: every water crossing is significant. I know. That is not news. If you’ve been following the news lately, you know that in every public meeting, Energy East is being advised that every water crossing in Northern Ontario (and they are thousands of them) is significant.

Supposedly, Energy East will monitor these crossings more closely than other spots in the pipeline. How good are their proposed leak-detection-and-response systems? Not very. Check out my article, How Energy East’s Pipeline Could Contaminate Beardmore, the Blackwater River, and Lake Nipigon Without Hardly Trying ( http://bit.ly/2jfIqpw ) .

Two, rank nineteen (yes, nineteen) areas of environmental sensitivity at water crossings you are familiar with.

Back to the first classification of info. I identified Creelman Creek as a significant water crossing. It is two kilometres from our home on Wildgoose Lake. The creek is not big, but it is significant. You can wade across it in many places, but still, a rupture where the pipeline crosses it could have major consequences. Given the poor record of current and proposed leak-detection-and-response systems, it could have catastrophic consequences.

The first consequence: our drilled well is replenished with water that runs in the geological formation where the rupture would occur.

Other consequences: Creelman Creek drains into Wildgoose Lake, where our home is. There are hundreds of other camps and residences on Wildgoose Lake, some of which have wells, others of which draw water from the lake.

We have a great sport fishery. We host a multitude of waterfowl in season. We are home to countless wildlife that depend on water (moose, beavers, otters). We enjoy many water-based recreational activities. And our water helps replenish the Great Lakes. Yes, the waters of Creelman Creek and Wildgoose Lake drain westward into other lakes and rivers, run through Lake Nipigon, and on into Lake Superior.


In this region through which the converted pipeline would run, there are thousands of water crossings and wetlands (muskegs may be classed as wetlands). Water in our region (whatever its location) does one of three things: it evaporates, it recirculates in soil and living species, or it finds its way into the Atlantic Ocean (via the Great Lakes) or the Arctic Ocean, via James and Hudson Bays.

Dilbit kills whatever it touches.

Another thing: this converted pipeline will leak. Even Energy East admits that. What it hopes to accomplish is to mitigate the damage. Small hope.

With regard to the second classification of information: the consensus of the meeting last night was that the most sensitive area would be a community’s water intake downstream of a rupture. Much farther down the list of nineteen sensitivities were caribou calving areas and habitats of rare plants. Remember, we were asked to identify sensitive areas that we knew of. There might have been fourteen or more areas that were sensitive that we knew nothing about, from personal knowledge. Perhaps the experts should be consulted.

As I said before, everybody in Greenstone had a chance to comment on Energy East’s proposal. By everybody, I mean the nine or ten of us who attended the meeting. So we commented on behalf of everybody in Greenstone. Well, on behalf of at least half of Greenstone . . . because there’s a meeting in Longlac tonight.

Having said all this, am I against the Energy East proposal? The short answer is yes.

Am I against a pipeline that would carry heavy crude across this region to a refinery in the east? Not necessarily.

My first condition for approval would be using an existing utility corridor. That, apparently, is no problem. Dig up the old natural gas pipeline and recycle the metal. Second, a new proposal should be based on a brand new pipeline constructed to the highest standards. Not, I’m afraid, according to current industry standards. Those kinds of pipelines leak regularly. The new standards should incorporate what is known about almost 100%-leak-proof pipeline material and advanced leak-detection-and-response systems and 24/7 eyeball surveillance.

This technology does exist now. Yes, it is expensive. But, we think our environment is priceless. We like it the way it is. We’ll take a pass on the dilbit cocktail.

The next time you meet an Energy East official, ask him or her about stainless steel pipelines, and pipeline pigs (you could look it up), and drone inspections.

He or she will say, But that’s way too expensive!

And you will say . . .

Creelman Creek in winter . . .

Creelman Creek in winter . . .

Posted in WRITING | 2 Comments


by Edgar J. Lavoie


[This op-ed article is adapted from the last chapter of a four-chapter post on E.J. Lavoie’s Blog (ejlavoie.wordpress.com ). The post (dated 23 January 2015 and titled TCPL PROPOSES, NATURE DISPOSES) arose from the author’s participation in a public meeting on 14 January 2015 in Thunder Bay. The Ontario Energy Board has been charged with making a recommendation to the Minister of Energy on TransCanada Pipeline’s proposal for an Energy East pipeline. TransCanada proposes to convert one of its mainline natural gas pipelines to transport diluted bitumen. The converted line would run for about 1,900 km through Ontario, passing through, among other places, the Greenstone region, in the boreal forest north of Lake Superior. An extensive news article by the author is also available in PDF format ( http://1drv.ms/1BueH2X ).]

Another four principles in the letter of the Minister of Energy stipulate that Aboriginal communities must be consulted, that local communities must be consulted, that TransCanada Pipeline (TCPL) must demonstrate “economic benefit and opportunities to the people of Ontario”, and that the proponent (TCPL) must take financial responsibility for emergency responses and remediation (up to a point).

Let us address a sixth principle: “Pipelines must have world leading [sic] contingency planning and emergency response programs”.

The TCPL Application (TCPL-A) provides scenarios for addressing spills in different environments and seasonal conditions. I am choosing the scenario that seems to most closely resemble our situation in Northern Ontario. It comes from Appendix Vol. 7-9, Terrestrial Spill Response with Impacts on Navigable Water.

“In this scenario, a land-based release of 10,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil from the Project’s mainline pipeline occurs in the winter in an area with deep groundwater (depth greater than 10 vertical meters [sic]), sloping terrain, with nearby wetlands, and river within 300 m. There is a public water intake one kilometer [sic] downriver and a partially ice-covered lake/wetland complex two km downriver.”

Bakken crude is diluted bitumen (aka dilbit).

The scenario continues: “Because of the sloping terrain described in this scenario, the oil would migrate horizontally down-gradient and into the nearby river. As the river flow is approximately three kilometers [sic] per hour, it is likely that crude oil would reach the location of the public water intake one kilometer [sic] downriver within 20 minutes (and prior to it being contained).”

Yes, you may well shudder. Eventually, though, notifications would go out and responders would react.

A containment boom would be deployed around the public water intake within one hour. There would be “further deployment of cascading deflection and booms [sic] in multiple downriver locations, all of which would occur within 24 hours.” The booms would direct the oil to the shore where responders would collect it with suction equipment and surface skimmers.   Helicopters would transport personnel and equipment.

To give you an idea of the containment strategies, here is the list taken from Section 6.5.2 of Volume 7: Construction and Operations:

  • securing the release site . . . to minimize access by wildlife or unauthorized access
  • using dams and dykes
  • deploying containment booms and diversion booms, including sorbent booms
  • installing underflow dams or overflow dams
  • ice-slotting where waterways are ice-covered

Here is the list of removal strategies:

  • applying sorbents and other absorbent materials
  • deploying oil skimmers
  • deploying suction equipment, including vacuum trucks
  • dredging
  • ice-slotting
  • deploying filters and various netting techniques

There could also be chemical dispersants and in-situ burning. “These responses have a short window of opportunity for effectiveness . . . “

Okay. It sounds as if they have the situation covered.

But I’m a “show me” kind of guy. So I imagine the 10,000-barrel spill occurring in Greenstone. I imagine it happening in Beardmore, where the current TCPL mainline passes within a few hundred metres of the river that skirts the edge of town. The Blackwater River flows from east to west, emptying into Lake Nipigon about 25 kilometres away.

Hold on a minute. How much is 10,000 barrels anyway? I burn a good portion of that in my little Kia every year. Okay, let’s look at a rail tank car, model CTC-111A (called DOT-111 in the U.S.). It carries up to 30,000 U.S. gallons. That is close to 700 barrels. So, 700 divided into 10,000 . . . is . . . Oh, that can’t be right.

It is simply impossible to imagine 14 tank cars being dumped on Beardmore’s doorstep.

On the ice near the water treatment plant. It is, remember, wintertime.

Okay. The municipal emergency response team is likely to be the volunteer fire department. So the guys arrive promptly at the water intake with their brooms, shovels, rakes, and possibly even a containment boom.

Uh oh. The river is frozen solid. The dilbit is accumulating on the ice. Can’t use the boom. Maybe use sand bags, then ̶ make a dam? Uh oh. Not part of the equipment.

But no matter. As the dilbit cascades downriver on the ice, it bypasses the water intake. What fantastic luck. Before the churning wave of black goo leaves town, it meets a waterfall. Can they use the boom there? Get real. The toxic sludge slips under the ice downstream.

Now it’s the turn of the nearest TransCanada personnel. If they’re quick, they arrive from the nearest pumping stations on the line just as the firemen are nailing up signs to advise the wildlife to keep their distance and warning off any onlookers (who are unauthorized personnel) who show indications of wanting to throw lighted matches into the oily torrent.

Wait. Back up. The TCPL guys will have a ton of equipment to transport to Beardmore. So they don’t arrive until the dilbit is well on its way to Lake Nipigon. Under the ice.

Note this: references to dilbit in the TCPL-A suggest that it has many of the qualities of conventional oil. It will even float on water.   Well, it does, mostly. When it’s hot. To make this stuff flow through the pipeline, it has to be heated, from 41 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise it is a sludge. So, as soon as it hits the snow (between the pipe and the river) and tumbles onto the ice (of the river), it is cooling off. As it slips under the ice, a lot of it is no longer skimming the underside of the ice. It is sinking.

Okay. Finally the TCPL guys start deploying their equipment. Downriver.

Wait. Back up. There is no road paralleling the river downriver. There is not even road access to any part of the river downriver.

Call in the helicopters. The nearest chopper service is likely Thunder Bay . . . less than 200 km away as the oil-coated raven flies (but that raven will have heavy wings). Hopefully, the fleet of choppers will have been under contract since the oil first started flowing through the line way back when. The pilots have been keeping the engines warm and chewing on wake-up pills to keep alert. So there is no problem getting them up to Beardmore in a couple of hours.

The helicopters load up personnel and equipment.

Aw, geez. Where are they going to offload their cargo? A chopper needs a proper landing pad. A piece of flat ground, cleared of snow, with trees and shrubs well back from the whirling blades.

Okay. Offload the cargo. Get a bunch of guys with snowshoes and chainsaws and hot coffee and hack out a few helipads.

Where? What do I mean by “where”? Well, part of the response strategy is to track how far the oil travels downriver so that containment procedures can be implemented. The TCPL-A strategy for this scenario is “helicopters and drones [yes, drones ̶ that’s verbatim] would also be used to track the oil flow trajectory”.

These would be futuristic helicopters and drones which can track the oil which is invisible to the naked eye or any digital camera lens.

But wait. Far, far downriver is a major waterfall. They can track the oil at that place. Sure, it’ll be tricky positioning a containment or deflection boom at the top of a waterfall, but let’s not say it can’t be done until we try.

Do you hear that dull drone? It is the voice of the prophet. The voice is saying, over and over, Man proposes, God disposes.

Meanwhile, back to business. More personnel will be arriving from far-flung places like Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, maybe even Calgary. They will be bringing the really serious equipment and the more seriously trained responders.

If the Blackwater River flows at the rate of 3 km per hour, then the water that left Beardmore 8 to 10 hours earlier is emptying into Canada’s sixth Great Lake ̶ Lake Nipigon.

I’d love to go on because I’m having so much fun. But it’s time to get (more) serious.

We haven’t even gotten into the remediation phases of the grand strategy. We are talking of remediation of soil (where brooms, shovels, and rakes are some of the tools), of groundwater (vacuum trucks may help), of marine environment (I believe Lake Nipigon qualifies as one), and urban landscape (we imagined the rupture occurring within the boundaries of Beardmore).

What’s it all going to cost? No problem, TCPL is responsible for all costs (up to a point). At the public meeting in Thunder Bay, references were made to a 1-billion-dollar limit. Not bad.

Wait a minute. The Kalamazoo River spill has cost 1 billion Canadian dollars already. And the job’s not done. And that’s just one spill.

The nightmare becomes more marish. The dream of a leak-free pipeline begins with the highest technical standards of an industry that takes leaks in its stride. It continues with a description of a leak-detection system second-to-none. It . . . Wait a minute.

I found this headline in a Huffington Post article dated 11 July 2012: Government Investigation Provides Damning Picture of the Kalamazoo Tar Sands Spill.

Here is an extract: “Enbridge continued to operate the pipeline for 17 hours after the spill despite warnings from the leak detection system. The operator took no steps to investigate the potential leak, did not respond to 911 calls reporting the smell of oil, and only shutdown the pipeline after third parties located the spill.”

Of course that could never happen in Greenstone. Some berry picker or bird hunter would report the spill long before 17 hours are up. Wait a minute   ̶ the scenario is wintertime, so no berries and no birds in season.

To continue: TransCanada Pipeline has described a foolproof emergency response system. And TCPL believes that diluted bitumen is not as difficult to clean up as some scaremongers would have us believe. And TCPL will post a bond for 1 billion dollars. And think of the jobs, man. Think of the jobs.

Remember this principle from the Minister’s letter?: “Projects should provide demonstrable economic benefits and opportunities to the people of Ontario, over both the short and the long term [sic]”.

Okay, the TransCanada Pipeline Application has not provided any figures yet ̶ nothing demonstrable ̶ the information is coming. Some day. Don’t know when. Cross their heart or they hope to die.

Having one of the six principles ignored in the TCPL-A is not a problem. Unless you’re a stickler.

One last thing: does Ontario, or does Canada, need a pipeline to transport heavy crude oil to ships on the Atlantic seaboard?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t have the credentials for that.

Ask the professionals. Det Norske Veritas (Canada) Ltd. (the OEB’s technical advisor) has 16,000 of them to scrutinize the 3,000 pages of the TCPL-A. Alright, to be fair, only a few will be assigned to that task. They began the task in early December. I began the task last week. I got through a few dozen pages. And I don’t have the credentials anyway, except . . .

Personal experience . . .

And an enquiring mind.

Why should anyone take me seriously?

I am just Joe Public.

When’s the last time your politicians listened to you?

P.S. The OEB is not accepting any more public input after February 6. Yes, this year.

[The author lives on a lake in Greenstone, Ontario, and draws his water from a well. The TCPL mainline passes over a geological formation and a creek within two kilometres of his home. The creek flows into the lake and the geology replenishes his well. A PDF version of the complete blog post is available ( http://1drv.ms/15rvzJs).]

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[Originally dated February 2006, & published in “The Jarheads of Goshen”.]

The grand leap of the whale up the Fall of Niagara is esteemed, by all who have seen it, as one of the finest spectacles in nature.

               When he wrote this to a London newspaper, Benjamin Franklin was pulling the flukes of those Englishmen who knew squat about New World experience.   Of course, we know today that the whale leaps only down the Fall.

Just the other day, a whale went to London to visit the Queen. On a Friday, Londoners spotted a northern bottlenose whale swimming past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It was obviously lost, and in distress. Its natural habitat is the deep water of the North Atlantic.

Londoners jammed the river banks. Boatmen launched a flotilla of small craft. The drama extended into Saturday. Citizens waded into the murky waters of the Thames to dissuade the leviathan from beaching itself. The civilian navy tried to steer the beast downstream, to the North Sea, sixty kilometres east. Professionals — marine biologists and veterinarians and conservationists — became involved. They slipped an inflatable pontoon beneath the six-metre-long monster, cranked it out of the river with a crane, and laid it gently on a barge.

It’s been about a century since the last bottlenose was spotted in the Thames. What occasioned this visit? Yes, the Queen was in residence, but still, speculation was rife. Our planet’s seas are stressed, from global warming and massive pollution and extensive oil and gas extractions and busy shipping lanes and sonar. Yes, sonar. The British Royal Navy has developed extraordinarily powerful submarine detection technology, and the whale, which navigated acoustically, could have become disoriented.

I was reminded of my own encounter with a deep water creature. It, too, was out of its depth. I was eighteen at the time, on a work detail for TransCanada Pipelines, labouring on a stretch of right-of-way through the land o’ Goshen. At one point, to quench my thirst, I scooped a handful from a stream that trickled through the ditch, and lo! Leviathan reared its head. It flopped about in the shallows, Godzilla’s offspring, diabolically black, slimy and serpentine, and a good 150 millimetres long . . . Yeah, six inches long.

Freshwater ling cod . . .

Freshwater ling cod . . .

I was nonplussed. I was yeanegatived. I was aghast and aghust. I was . . . well, you get my drift. And my draft. A co-worker called it a ling. A ling. I have seen ling only twice since, but that’s another story.   One Goshenite in a thousand is lucky to see a ling in his lifetime, yet it is a denizen of our domain. It is the Goshen equivalent of the North Atlantic bottlenose whale. If you can imagine finding a ling in a Toronto sewer, you have some idea of the sense of wonder and the waves of compassion that swept over Londoners.

The ling, also known as a burbot, haunts cold, deep water lakes. The largest catch in a North American lake weighed 24 pounds, 12 ounces. It is usually landed as an incidental fish, but there are fishers who target them. In some parts of the continent, they are declared an endangered species.

Which brings me back to the whale. In 1973, conservationists managed to ban the hunt for the bottlenose. The whale on the barge suffered from a damaged eye and several cuts to the torso. As the barge moved seaward, the creature’s condition worsened. As it went into convulsions, its nurses prepared to euthanize it, but then it expired.

A necropsy determined that the immature female died from dehydration, muscle damage, and failing kidneys. It had not fed for days, its favourite food being Atlantic deep sea squid. Squid also provided its hydration. How did the youngster find itself so far from home?

The best guess of the scientists is that the bottlenose took a wrong turn at Scotland, swam into the North Sea, and then, harkening to its instincts, swam west, seeking the Atlantic. It was not visiting the Queen after all.

The whale left a legacy. Animal welfare and conservation agencies, especially the Save-the-Whales variety, reaped a windfall of donations. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people had followed the whale’s progress, and received an education. Children a half century from now will remember those whirlwind days.

Which brings me back to the ling. How did this youngster find itself so far from home? Was it seeking the next cool, deep water lake? Was it seeking the North Atlantic? Or was it seeking some intelligent species, an author sapiens, that could, a half century later, commemorate its odyssey.

Do not expect anytime soon a Canadian campaign to Save the Ling. There are three things lacking. One, a foreigner to initiate it. Two, celebrities to pursue it. And three, the talent to Disneyfy the ling.

But first, above all, someone must sound the alarm. Someone like me.

Ding a ling. Ding a ling.

Is anybody out there listening?

Even a ling can have a whale of a time.

The ling or burbot comes in all sizes . . .

The ling or burbot comes in all sizes . . .

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The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone. (Psalm 118:22) What a great line! There, in a nutshell, is the Christmas story.

For many a Christmas in our household, it was the same story. Find a tree. Put it up. Decorate it. Admire it. And when the needles on the floor accumulated to the point they tripped us up, we took it down.

For a few years we went plastic. It was not a savvy move, for the cost to the environment to extract, manufacture, and transport a plastic tree must be enormous.   I know, I know, there’s nothing that says Christmas like plastic. Still, something was missing.

Lately we have foregone indoor trees in favour of outdoor trees. Real Christmas trees. This year, as usual, I chose the optimum time to locate a tree. Deep winter had set in.   Frostbite, pneumonia, and coronaviruses were rampant.

I like to scout for trees along road and utility corridors. In these industrial reserves, the life expectancy of a tree is always short. So, nature would forgive me. This year I located my spruce near a power line. It towered nearly seven feet. The backside was skimpy on branches, but that was alright, for I planned to display the frontside only.

When I got it home, it proved to be a right runt of a tree. Perfect. Farmers are familiar with the concept of runt. It’s born small, the rest of the litter push it around, and it stays small. The farmer decides it’s not worth keeping, and it gets the axe. Or the knife. Or the bullet.

My wife, Olga, born into a good-sized family, tells me that she was the runt. She held her own, though, and now she’s a comfortable size. We have decided to keep her.

Runts have made a contribution to civilization. There were, for example, Queen Elizabeth the First, and Napoleon Bonaparte, and Danny DeVito. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.   There have been religious zealots, such as Mother Teresa, and Joan of Arc, and, for all we know, Jesus of Nazareth.

There have been outstanding comedians and innovative artists and sexy movie stars, such as Charlie Chaplin, and Pablo Picasso, and Mae West. They were all runts. Runts have been world-changing geniuses, such as Isaac Newton, and Ludwig van Beethoven, and Francois-Marie Arouet. In the eighteenth century, Arouet, better known as Voltaire, turned all of Europe on its head, daring to suggest that if a man or woman had a mind, why not use it?

Two thousand years ago, there was a runty little thing born in a barn. It wasn’t much to look at, but there it lay, in a manger, sucking its thumb, munching on hay, and, we have to assume, pooping away. But word got around, and there was a procession of star-gazers, including certain Poor Shepherds, Hark the Herald Angel, and the Three Kings of Orient Are.

What a great story! Who could have foreseen his career, and seen the move from barn-rat to prophet to King of the Good News? You don’t have to be religious to revel in this story. You just have to be open to experience.

This year, when I finally took a hard, unsentimental look at our Christmas tree, I noted that it was bald on three sides.   The one branchy side, however, had done an expert comb-over, and projected an image of a fully-follicled tree, if you looked at it head-on. It was perfect.

As per tradition, I erected the tree off the corner of our house so that passers-by could enjoy it, and so that Olga and I could admire it through a row of tall windows. Dressed up in the latest LED lights, it is a joy to behold.

You know, the Christmas story, is the story of the promise to mankind that is locked up in every child, no matter how runty. It is the promise of a new beginning, of a new way, and of a better ending. I only hope I never get so jaded that I do not rejoice whenever I hear a carol, or see a tree, or pass a Nativity scene.

If I do, get out the axe.

Two is company, but a tree’s allowed.

[Originally published December 2005, and reprinted in The Jarheads of Goshen, a collection by E.J. Lavoie.]


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An important part of anyone's anatomy . . .

An important part of anyone’s anatomy . . .

It’s been a week now, and I’m monitoring my nostrils very closely.

Last Saturday, a week ago, I had a spontaneous nosebleed, the first in my life. One that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. My left nostril gushed blood over the front of my sweater and spattered the immediate area.

What had I done wrong? Fortunately, I was in one of those cubicles that provide free toilet paper, so I kept stuffing wads up my nostril. When each wad was thoroughly soaked, I extracted it and stuffed another one up.

When I examined myself in the mirror, I had blood smeared on my chin and hands. Cold water removed most of the stains from my sweater. I walked back to my book table in the Coliseum with no toilet paper trailing from my nose.

There's a lot going on up there . . .

There’s a lot going on up there . . .

An hour or so later, I felt the blood flowing again. I pushed a handful of tissues against my nostril and fled to the washroom. Another bout with the wad stuffing and everything was normal again.

Soon it was time to leave for the day, and return in the morning. Sister Sue and I headed for Laura’s for supper. On High Street my nose gushed again. I pulled over, got out, and let my nose drain into a puddle on the ground. Holding tissues to my nostril, I drove to the closest pharmacy, Shoppers Drug Mart, corner of John and Memorial. More puddling on the ground. The pharmacist on duty responded immediately, escorted me to the staff washroom, let me do the wadding thing until the flow stopped.139-3-capture-text-1

The pharmacist offered no other solution than cotton balls. He asked me if I was on a blood thinner. I said no. He was concerned but out of his element. He found a bag of cotton balls for me. I picked up two large boxes of tissues, returned to the car, made more puddling on the ground, stuffed my nostril with cotton balls, and made a decision.

I had to go to emerge.

TBRHSC emerge in daylight

TBRHSC emerge in daylight . . .

It was full dark. I dropped Susanne off at Laura’s and drove to the Regional Health Sciences Centre emergency department. Coming off Oliver Road, I had a general idea where emerge was, but saw no sign. Drove past it. Turned around, found a prominent sign, drove up the ramp. Every parking space filled. Making a three-point turn and cramping the steering wheel with one hand, I abandoned the car where other arrivals could still maneuvre. More puddling on the ground.

TBRHSC emerge at night . . .

TBRHSC emerge at night . . .

With bloody tissues pressed against my nose, I waited for somebody behind the glass wall in the reception area to notice me. Finally someone responded. Scrutinized my health card. Directed me around the corner to a seat in a tiny waiting area. Blood gushing. I asked someone where the washroom was and rushed there, washed myself up a bit, left splashes everywhere, got wads of paper towels, returned to my seat. Immediately called into the inner sanctum.

Someone behind a reinforced glass barrier asked me something, I forget what. I christened the counter liberally, tried to wipe it up. Was sent to the general waiting room.

Within minutes the triage nurse called me. I gave her the particulars of my case. Asked me if I was on blood thinners. I said no. Meanwhile, I’m swallowing blood. Was sent back to the waiting room. Barely got settled when I heard someone calling “Ed – GAR”. “Ed – GAR”. Finally dawned on me that she was calling me, “ED -gar”.

She ushered me through the double doors to the examination area. Room 3. Across from the desk where a nurse and the doctors hang out. I looked around for a hard chair that I wouldn’t mess up too much. A woman in green scrubs directed me to sit on the clean sheet of the bed. Later learned that this woman was a resident, Dr. P.

She left the examination room door open.

What the doctor sees . . .

What the doctor sees . . .

I could see everybody walking by, they could see me. During the course of an hour I managed to smear blood everywhere ̶ counter, floor, sink. Interview with Dr. P. She said my nasal passages looked dried out. Looked at my list of meds. Asked me if I was on a blood thinner. I said no. Asked me if I took a daily aspirin, 81 mg. I said yes, my doctor’s orders. Then it twigged. Aspirin is a blood thinner. Meanwhile, I was holding a deep-sided tray under my chin to catch drips. I was swallowing blood. I coughed up a big clot of blood. Then Dr. L came in, introduced Dr. P. as “his” resident, which I took to mean his student/apprentice.  He wore a white lab coat over a black shirt and trousers.

How you see yourself . . .

How you see yourself . . .

Dr. L. gave me two options.

Once the flow had stopped, I could go home, and if the flow started up, I could try squeezing my nostrils for fifteen minutes, and if that didn’t work, I could return to emerge.

Option Two: Let the doctors pack my nostril to apply pressure to the ruptured vessel and hopefully allow it to heal.

I chose Option Three: Since I still had blood flow, I suggested I do the nostril squeezing right then and there, and if that didn’t work, then pack my nostril.

It was agreed.

At some point, my cell rang. It was Laura. Wanted to know what was happening. I updated her.

The doctors left me leaning over the sink, bracing myself with the left hand. With my right thumb and forefinger, I squeezed my nostrils just below the nose bone . . . hard. Hard. Hard. For fifteen minutes. I was sure I would leave permanent indentations there.

After fifteen minutes, I stopped squeezing. And the blood recommenced flowing.

139-8-capture-1-snot-boogersThe doctors moved to Option Two. Dr. L. was instructing his resident, Dr. P. She sprayed something wet up my nostril. Then she took a tongue depressor out of its package. Up close it had the same shape and size as a surf board. Farther away, it may have measured four inches long and five-eighths of an inch wide. It was relatively flat.

139-9-capture-2-snot-boogers“Push it up,” said Dr. L.,”until you meet resistance. Be gentle but firm.” She told me to lean back on the raised segment of the bed. She pushed the board in, millimetre by millimetre. I felt it.

She stopped. “I hit resistance,” she said.

Dr. L. took over. He pushed it in, inch by inch. I felt it. When it hit the back of my skull, he stopped. “It’s your first one,” he said to Dr. P. “You’ll soon get used to it.”


The doctors left. I could feel nothing happening. Through the open door I could see the activity in the hall around the nurse’s desk. The doctors returned.

Apparently the board had transformed into a self-inflating cotton nose pack. At some point I mentioned that I had recently recovered from a marathon bout with a cold virus. “Ah,” said Dr. L. “That explains it.” He meant that the decongestants I was using had dried out my nasal passages. I had mentioned that the bleed started in the Coliseum where the air was extremely dry.

There were two strings dangling from the nose pack. Dr. P. taped them to my cheek. Dr. L. said I should keep the nose pack in for two days. He said I could remove the pack by pulling on the strings, but advised me to let a doctor do it. Advised me to stay off aspirin for two days. I asked the doctors for their names, and thanked them.

Whereupon I was discharged.

I kept some tissues hovering near my nose just in case. I pushed through the double doors into the reception area. I headed out. As soon as I stepped outside, there was a gush of blood.

From my RIGHT nostril!

More puddling on the ground. I stumbled back into reception. Pushed on the double doors. Locked. Staggered over to the glass wall. One triage nurse was busy, the other, gone. I loitered where someone in the back room could see me. Finally a lady came out. “I just came out of there,” I said, gesturing to the examination area. “I have fresh bleeding.”

“Uh,” she said, “you’ve been discharged. Can’t let you in.” She left.

I hung around. I appeared to be the only one in the entire unit who was distressed. After five or ten minutes, the lady came out again. “Okay,” she said, “you can go in.” She pressed a button somewhere. The double doors opened.

I found my way to the desk. “Hello, again,” I said, to Dr. P. and Dr. L. “It’s the right nostril now.”

Ushered into my former examination room. Room still liberally sprinkled with blood. My blood. Leaned back on the bed. Dr. P. stuck a flashlight up my nose. “I don’t see a clot,” she said.

Dr. L. entered. “It appears,” she said, “to be overflow from the other side.”

It was. The flow stopped. I thanked them again.

No one had towed my car. Back behind the wheel, I drove to son Rob’s place, where I was staying. Stemmed leakage with tissues. Phoned Laura and Susanne to update them. Laura had phoned wife Olga but left it to me to mention my trauma. I phoned Olga. She took it very well. I was more worried than she was.

When you feel you're just vegetating . . .

When you feel you’re just vegetating . . .

I had no appetite. I could not lie down because my packed nostril was leaking clear mucus stained with blood. The right nostril dripped constantly. I was swallowing blood. I commandeered Rob’s La-Z-Boy chair, tucked a towel under my chin, covered myself with a blanket, positioned a box of tissues within reach, and slept fitfully all night (both Rob and Carmen were away). Periodically I had to stem the flow of mucus and blood and clear my throat.

Morning . . . I picked up Susanne. We went for breakfast. I managed to swallow two Finnish pancakes. Made a quick shopping stop. Arrived at the Coliseum, waited with other vendors until the doors opened at 10:30. Informed the management that I had to pack up and leave, but my table partners were carrying on. I explained things to Elle and Harold when they arrived. Got everything squared away in the car.

Made another quick shopping stop. Dropped Sue off at her apartment block. Hit the highway north. Pulled over a couple of times to sop up fluids and have a quick nap. Gassed up in Nipigon.

Arrived home at Wildgoose Lake. Unloaded the car. Commandeered my old La-Z-Boy chair from our mutt, Miko, who quickly adjusted to the reality that the chair was mine for the next while.   I rarely left that chair. Slept most of the time, kept myself hydrated with green tea, and had an occasional nibble.

My main problem now was mucus congestion. When my right nostril plugged up completely with green mucus, I tried squeezing the sopping nose pack and blowing out the right nostril. Resorted to an old Ukrainian remedy: a generous dollop of table salt in a mixing bowl, a litre of hot water, and a towel draped around the bowl and my head, for up to twenty minutes. It worked.

Sunday . . . Monday . . . Tuesday morning, the

When you're feeling more than you can express . . .

When you’re feeling more than you can express . . .

first good sign. No blood spotting, just clear mucus in both nostrils. Had a shower and shave. Drove myself to emerge in Geraldton (Olga doesn’t drive anymore).

Registered in Outpatients at 1:45 p.m. By 2:15 I was in an examination room with Dr. D. She had treated me about two weeks before when I was wrestling with a cold virus. Advised lots of green tea, and chewing lemons as I would chew gum. Good old Ukrainian remedies, I believe. I gave up after two days ̶̶ the chewing, I mean. I switched to oranges ̶ for the Vitamin C, you know. (Dr. D. doesn’t believe in vitamin supplements.)

The doctor interviewed me as thoroughly as the triage nurse did. Made me sit on the clean sheet of a bed. She smiled when I mentioned I was off aspirin for two days. “Aspirin remains in your system for seven days,” she said. Left me for a long time. My back ached, so I slipped back into the hardback chair. The doctor returned and explained what the procedure would be.

She would try to pack as much vaseline as possible between the nose pack and the nasal passage. Made me sit on the bed again. Said something about applying the vaseline daily. She left. The nurse entered, told me to lie back on the clean sheet, boots and all. She proceeded to pack in vaseline. Left the room. Returned a quarter hour later and packed in some more. Left again. Finally, satisfied, she called the doctor in.

Dr. D. approved her work. Dr. D. seized the double strings (which I had numerous times re-taped to my cheeks, but now they were dangling loose). She pulled firmly. Again. And again.

What we both feared, of course, was that the pack had bonded with whatever scab had formed on the ruptured vessel. She pulled. And pulled. Little by little the pack detached itself from its cozy burrow. With a final jerk, it came out.

No gush of blood.


Dr. D. instructed me to lie quietly back for a while. When she returned, she was happy with her work. She had been cautious and meticulous. I recalled that Dr. L. at TBay hospital had suggested I could even remove the pack myself. Bad idea.

I asked her how long she meant me to paint the forward portion of my nasal passages with vaseline. She said every day. Which I took to mean every day for the rest of the winter, when heated rooms promote dry air.

Discharged at 4:30, I went out and purchased a humidifier, our old one no long functioning.

I went home. No leakage. Had a good supper.

Since then, I have green mucus clogging both nostrils from time to time. But I simply blow each passage one at a time, gently.

Breathing normally.

What a relief.

I reflect on how some little thing, such as a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, or an imperceptible decline in humidity, can trigger something as devastating as an unstoppable nosebleed.

How complicated the world is.

How beautiful.

How wonderful to breathe through both nostrils.

What a gift.

A nose is a man's best friend . . .

A nose is a man’s best friend . . .

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After I arrived at my sister’s place on Sunday, September 18, Grace suggested we attend the last evening of the Wasaga Beach Blues Festival. I leapt at the chance.

First she gave me a quick tour of Collingwood’s waterfront, pointing out where she often kayaked. Then we zipped over to Wasaga Beach, a legendary place I had heard whispers of. In the time it took to click the heels of her ruby red slippers, we arrived.

Wasaga Beach is two places: a community137-2bwasaga-beach-aerial-2 and a shoreline. Darkness was falling, it was getting chilly, but Grace wanted to show me the famous shoreline. As we tried to access the waters of Georgian Bay, we tooled down narrow streets lined with palatial mansions and starter-home shacks, the smallest of which had to be worth a million dollars. Location, you know. No luck. She headed for the Town Centre.

137-2c-wasaga-beach-18sep2016-2We drove onto the boulevard that skirts the shore, fronted by palaces of entertainment. As the sun shot its bloody rays into our eyeballs, I could see miles and miles of miles and miles of sand. The brochures say there are 14 kilometres of sand, the longest freshwater beach in the world. In full

Two lovers cavort on the beach, two others embrace in the waves.

Two lovers cavort on the beach, two others embrace in the waves.

sunshine on a summer day, I could believe that thousands of tourists thronged this shoreline. That evening there might have been a half dozen strollers within eyeshot.

Grace drove us to the festival venue.   We weaved our way through booths, the live music making everything bounce. We pushed through the crowd at the gate and found a vantage

137-2e-wasaga-beach-blues-festival-18sep2016-2point on the sloping ground. Most of the throng had brought their own chairs. There was a roped-off bar doing very poor business. Everywhere, people were tilting heads back and lifting mysterious vessels to their lips. Grace had supplied us with two thermoses of “tea”, tangy red stuff.

I left Grace to do some exploring. I dodged through the unsteady dancers and prepared to report on the backstage antics and the portable loos. I worked my way up the slope, snapping pictures, and tried to look official when I encountered security patrolling the fence line. I cut across the hillside,137-2f-wasaga-beach-blues-festival-18sep2016-2 through the seated throng, and reported to Grace. Behind us loitered a gang of friendly-looking police officers. At one point they descended to the makeshift dance floor and escorted a gentleman and his thermos back to the gate.

Steadily the darkness fell and the stage grew brighter. The last performance of the evening was Chuck Jackson and The Allstars. The Allstars is the reincarnation of the legendary Canadians blues band, Downchild, launched in 1969 in Toronto. Do not, repeat, NOT let anyone tell you that nothing good has come out of Toronto. These relics onstage were still fantastic. The performers had opportunities to play solos on guitar and harmonica and keyboard and drums and saxophone. Chuck Jackson handled the vocals.

Chuck Jackson, front and centre.

Chuck Jackson, front and centre.

In the windup, Jackson thanked the crowd, mentioned they were celebrating their 47th year on the road, and invited everyone to a downtown pub to carry on.

Grace skipped the trick with the ruby slippers as we drove home at a leisurely pace.

I returned to Collingwood on Saturday, September 24, on my way back from T.O. I spent the afternoon exploring historical stuff (more on that later), and as darkness fell, Grace and I joined the annual Art Crawl.

On our way, I mentioned that I wanted to pick up some of the signature apples of the Collingwood region, Honeycrisp. I wanted to leave early next morning. Grace drove straight to a little country store but it was closed.

Heritage Conservation District, looking west towards harbour & Collingwood Terminals.

Heritage Conservation District, looking west towards harbour & Collingwood Terminals.

The multi-venue event centres on the west end137-2h-collingwood-art-crawl-2016-poster-2 of Hurontario Street in the Heritage Conservation District. The chic thing to do is to crawl (and by crawl, I mean stroll) from venue to venue between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. Painters, musicians, artisans, actors do their stuff. You walk into a storefront, help yourself to a biscuit, quaff a strange liquid, study the artwork, speak to the artists. You can even buy stuff. On the broad sidewalks are canopied booths. As Grace and I crawled, darkness fell. Live bands entertained everyone within three blocks.

137-2j-art-crawl-heritage-district-fiddler-24sep2016-2My favourite performer was a street fiddler with a smart tie who played Celtic airs; him I tipped heavily. In a rock shop I scooped up polished stones to take home to Susanne, my other sister. For myself, I bought137-2k-art-crawl-heritage-district-painting-24sep2016-2 a thumbstone, my first, and I now use it every day. Grace called me into an art gallery to look at a piece of home: two transports in a snowy scene, one of them ditched. Such a fond memory!

As the evening wore on, we started looking137-2m-art-crawl-heritage-district-booths-24sep2016-2 for the battle of the painters, a duel in which a duo had to start with a blank canvas and complete a picture137-2n-art-crawl-heritage-district-artist-24sep2016-2 in twenty minutes flat. We discovered one artist hunched over on the pavement, a tight half circle of spectators around him. It wasn’t him. We watched a tableau of costumed performers assisting passers-by to dress up and act out the personalities of recognizable painters like

137-2o-art-crawl-heritage-district-impersonate-an-artist-24sep2016-2Van Gogh. They were allowed to keep their ears, though. Then Grace said, I bet that painter competition is over at the Simcoe Street Theatre.

We started down some less well lit streets. The public library, supposedly one of the venues, looked deserted. People were streaming out of the little theatre, so we barged in. In one half-darkened hall, a performer had captivated an audience by making the weirdest sounds with electrical assistance (don’t ask me what I mean). We made our way into an organic food shop cum restaurant. We checked out the vegetables (they did not look very healthy), asked the lady in charge where the painter competition was. She was more than willing to help. As she trolled for information on her computer, she was talking into a phone to her kid. The kid was very insistent that he or she needed her attention. She (the lady) was equally insistent that he or she would have wait till she (the lady) got home. This went on for five or ten minutes. Finally she coughed up the information we needed.

We struck out again for Hurontario Street, and in a side street, found two competing artists. It was the last performance of the evening. A big crowd gave them lots of room to wield their brushes and squeeze their tubes. Grace and I whispered our critiques to each other. I snapped multiple pictures, trying to get both canvases on my screen along with the most dramatic poses of the artists. I probably failed.


The referee called time. The painters stood back. The crowd applauded and moved in for closer inspection. My phone camera chose that time to die. I assure you, though, the paintings were excellent ̶ both completed within a twenty-minute span.

The crowds dispersed. We had missed encounters with at least 80 artists. All day, somewhere, two artists had been completing two 8-foot-square murals. We never saw the acrobatics of the Aerial Silks Youth Team. The Canadian community singing contest finals had occurred somewhere. It was not all a loss, however. I memorized the location of Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub . . . for next time in Collingwood. Maybe James Joyce or his spiritous proxy will drop in.

Grace drove us home. In the morning I planned to drive straight through to the Soo and to Manitouwadge, where our brother, John, lives, arriving in time for supper. It was a crazy plan, and it almost worked. I may tell you about it sometime.

[continued in Chapter 3]


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