Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on October 26, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 2 comments

 

The true north strong and free

 

Huh?

By the time you receive this and, weather permitting, I will be back in Kangiqsujuaq.

A dear friend, mentor, and colleague passed away a few weeks ago and to honor her memory, I decided to come back to the village and take over her class for the balance of the school year.

I will be home at Christmas and hope to launch my newest book about my time in the north. I might have to add a second epilogue!

Stay tuned.

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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on October 5, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with no comments yet

 

150 years to grow. 15 seconds to come down. Thanks, Fiona.

 

These are my recollections of hurricane Fiona. I wrote this for posterity. It is not riveting but simply a chronicle of events of one of the greatest natural disasters to hit our part of the world.

 

“Oooh my little pretty one, pretty one,

When you gonna give me some time, Sharona?”

My Sharona – The Knack

 

Oooh my little nasty one, nasty one,

When you gonna leave us, my Fiona?

With apologies to The Knack.

For me, it started early Friday, the day before hurricane Fiona was due to make landfall in Nova Scotia. So many hurricanes and tropical depressions have, in my mind, been overhyped over the years. We’ve become immune to the warnings of “Storm of the Century”. Cry wolf. Even a skeptic like me decided to heed the dire warnings and get prepared.

And what, you ask, was the very first thing I did on Friday, September 23rd?

I made popcorn.

“That’s a pretty bizarre choice, Len.”

Did you expect anything different?

I’m sure my neighbours were puzzled by the smell of popcorn at 7:00 a.m. I always get my priorities straight and I figured that if Fiona arrived earlier than expected, I would have, at a bare minimum, a stash of snacks. I also filled some water jugs and the bathtub. Water and popcorn. Really, what else does a person need to survive a hurricane?

Later that day, I cooked some real food, knowing full well that I would be eating it cold over the next few days.

Going anywhere near a grocery store on the Friday before a major weather event must be like standing before the gates of hell. I avoided the former and hope to elude the latter.

And then I waited.

I woke around 2:00 a.m. on Saturday to use the bathroom. Predictably, the power was out, and the apartment was in total darkness. I had slept quite soundly up until that point and hadn’t heard the telltale howling winds of a hurricane. I pulled back the curtains and peered into the darkness. Our apartment buildings are surrounded on three sides by trees that are easily 100 years old and incredibly tall providing a lovely canopy of shade on hot summer days. I was shocked at what I saw or, more to the point, what I didn’t see. I couldn’t detect any damage and actually I couldn’t see any movement in the trees. My cynicism started to creep in. “Yup. Storm predictions overblown yet again.” I crawled back into bed realizing that we had dodged a bullet.

When I opened the curtains in the morning, the devastation was jaw dropping. I quickly realized that what I saw at 2:00 a.m. might have been a 20 second lull in the winds. And because I live in a basement apartment, the noise from the wind had been muted. There was no doubt that we had taken a direct hit from Fiona. Majestic trees were splintered and looked more like a box of toothpicks.

After consuming a cold breakfast, I received an invitation from my brother and his wife to come to their house a few blocks away for coffee. My brother is an active outdoors person and had in his possession a “pocket rocket”, a very small propane device for heating water. There was no way that I could walk through the tree littered pathway between our street and the one running parallel, so I headed up Court Street. The street was littered with debris and one gigantic tree was ripped from its mooring and lay across power lines. It was raining hard, and the wind was still strong but certainly not hurricane strength. Later that day, my neighbours across the hall also offered me hot water to make coffee. They too, were equipped with some gadgetry to boil water. At a bare minimum, I knew that I could get coffee on demand from two sources. It was at that point that I knew I would survive the storm and resultant power outage.

Things got a bit dicey after leaving my brother’s house. Th wind was absolutely ferocious. Hillcrest Street was covered with twisted trees. Many of them looked like they had exploded. It didn’t feel safe walking. A very large branch with a pointy end came hurtling down on the street about 25 yards in front of me. It was at that point that I knew I had made an error in judgment leaving my apartment. I literally ran the rest of the way home.

Day 1 was predictable. The entire town and surrounding area were completely disabled. Luckily, we were still able to access information through our cell phones. Some people had wind up radios and were able to get up to the minute reports from CBC. News filtered out that areas of Cape Breton and Newfoundland had taken direct hits with devastating consequences.

My brother and I took a drive down to our family cottages at Bayfield. The news was not good. The storm surge destroyed another several feet of declining shoreline and a set of stairs, built at a significant cost with reinforced steel a few years ago, were swept out to sea. My brother was hosting guests from Vancouver. They had planned a trip to the Maritimes for some time and had received this rather rude welcome.

Later that evening, when the storm had passed, I took a walk around town and the carnage was jaw dropping. Roofs on several houses displayed gaping holes where massive trees had collapsed overnight. It was Armageddon and something I had never witnessed in my lifetime.

Because of the time of the year, darkness came early. I brought out candles and was able to read my book with the aid of a solar powered flashlight. With nothing else to do, I crawled into bed and continued to read holding the flashlight in one hand and turning the pages with the other. Visions on my childhood when we read books under the covers.

For many of us, the hurricane and its aftermath were an inconvenience, nothing more, nothing less. That was not the case for so many people. A large swath of the province was without power and reports from our neighbors, Prince Edward Island, indicated that a whopping 90% in that province was in the dark. One of the looming issues for homeowners was food spoilage. With predictions that we could be without power for at least 72 hours, there was a good chance that a lot of food was going to go bad and have to be thrown out. I am not about to cry foul, but just a few weeks before, I had filled my fridge freezer with all kinds of meat and fish (and fowl!) including several pounds of fresh Pubnico haddock.

For the second day in a row, I headed to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for morning coffee and storm story swapping. It so happened that on this particular day, my oldest brother was celebrating his 75th birthday. Two days earlier, my sister had celebrated her 74th. Karen and Gerard invited the lot of us for lunch. We convened at noon, and you would never know that anything was amiss as we dined on crabcakes, salad and birthday cake.

Later that day, I took another stroll through town. The two most prevalent sounds were generators and chainsaws. The massive cleanup had begun.

On day three, I woke to one of the darkest and dreariest days that I can remember. It was raining and my basement apartment felt like a cave. The contents of my freezer were nearly thawed out. I headed to one of the large grocery stores at 7:00 a.m. to try and secure a bag of ice to keep my partially frozen food cool. No luck. Exiting the store, a Sobey’s employee stood outside clutching a cup of coffee. He told me that he had just worked the night shift and had made himself a coffee in the staffroom. He was waiting to be picked up and driven home by a family member. When he saw me drooling, he turned to his grocery cart and produced a cup of black coffee which he offered to me. I was joyous and when I discovered that his ride wasn’t forthcoming, I offered to drive him home. We had a lovely chat along the way.

The thought of spending the day in darkness with rotting food held no appeal so I decided to pack up and head to my daughter’s in Halifax. I was distraught at the thought of tossing out the contents of my freezer. My brother in Bayfield had a generator and a barbeque. I packaged up all of the meat and fish and sent it down to the beach. I am thrilled to report that everything was eaten over the ensuing days.

I had a slight dilemma. I had enough gas to make it as far as Truro, a distance of 115 kilometers. None of the gas stations in Antigonish were operational so I needed to get gas in either New Glasgow or Truro if I was going to make it to Halifax. The thought of walking to Halifax crossed my mind! As I was planning to visit another one of my daughters in New Glasgow, I reckoned that this was my best option to get gas. Wrong. A handful of gas stations were open in New Glasgow but the lineups were massive. The only thing comparable is any Tim Horton’s at morning rush hour. Cars were lined up for kilometers in both directions.

I was very fortunate to get a cup of very strong coffee at my daughter’s place along with 10 litres of gas which they were using for their generator.

The gas stations in Truro were not nearly as busy and I was able to top off my tank.

I had a nice visit in Halifax and early the next morning, I heard from a neighbour back in Antigonish that the power had been restored to our apartment building. It was time to head home. Because my freezer needed to be restocked, I decided that a trip to Costco made sense so there I was at 8:45 a.m. waiting in a short lineup for the doors to open. It didn’t have quite the fanfare as the closing bell at the NYSE, but I was one of the first to answer the opening bell at Costco. They actually opened the doors 10 minutes early. It was a bizarre scene entering a store that normally resembles a thousand ant hills. It was eerily quiet and by 9:12 I was back in my car and on my way home.

The repercussions of this hurricane are still being felt as of this writing and the consequences of the devastation will be felt for months and even years as many properties were destroyed, crops ruined, and shorelines and beaches altered forever.

No more “crying wolf”. This was the real deal.

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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom… and Whimsy

Posted on September 14, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 3 comments

My kilt shrunk

 

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,

Those days of soda and pretzels and beer.”

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer – Nat King Cole.

And red wine. And ice cream. And patio bars. And barbeques.

I’m back!

So, Len. What did you do on your summer hiatus from writing?

That’s an easy one. I got fat.

I might as well get right to the shaming part of this piece. A few weeks ago, I was pressed into service to perform at the Antigonish Heritage Museum at one of their weekly summer ceilidhs. As it turned out, on that particular night, there was a group of Airstream travelers staying overnight at Whidden’s Campground and many of them decided to come to the ceilidh. Many of these people, mostly from Ontario but also from Washington State, Missouri, North Carolina and Texas, enjoyed some fiddle tunes along with some Celtic and Maritime songs.

The following Thursday, the P.D. MacDonald family performed at the final ceilidh of the summer at the museum. My sister, who produced the set lists for the singalong, asked the male MacDonald’s to wear their kilts and a white shirt, a seemingly simple request. My wardrobe closet (what a misnomer) is pathetic in the extreme. I discovered the day before the concert that I did not own a white shirt. This required a trip to Mark’s. As fate would have it, my other two brothers had the same idea and we showed up well coordinated. The shirts were on sale. Scots rarely miss a bargain!

Now, about the kilt. Having spent three years in the north, where temperatures can reach -60, there weren’t many opportunities to wear a kilt. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I had worn mine, but it was several years ago. Forty-five minutes before show time, I hauled the kilt and the black belt with the shiny silver buckle that goes with it, out of the closet. Something was terribly wrong. I wrapped it around my stomach and when I tried to affix the small belts that keep the kilt in one piece, I was unable to perform this menial task. At first (deluding myself), I attributed this to my bad back. Even putting on a regular belt through the loops of my shorts requires some effort. I tugged and grunted as small drops of perspiration appeared on my forehead. Try as I might, I simply could not attach the small buckles.

I was perplexed. Was it possible that my kilt had actually shrunk over the past five or so years? Maybe the combination of the dark closet and neglect, had caused the fabric to shrink. We all know the reason the kilt wouldn’t fit. The clock was ticking, and an impending sense of doom passed over me. Fortuitously, I had a friend visiting me that day. I sheepishly asked for a bit of assistance. She tugged and she pulled as I sucked in my gut. It resembled the tug of war at the Exhibition. The kilt was on me, but I could barely breathe. I went from a bass to a tenor in a matter of minutes. I grabbed the large ceremonial Scottish belt. It laughed at me as I tried to put it on. Forget about attaching it. The ends wouldn’t even meet. It was a very humbling experience.

I am happy to report that the concert went well. One my way into the museum, someone asked me if we had practiced before the performance. “Yes. For 70 years” was my cheeky reply.

The kilt is now back in the closet where it shall remain for the foreseeable future… maybe forever unless I lose some weight.

BTW. The Town of Antigonish is having a Bulky Waste pickup day next week. I was wondering if they might stop by my apartment?!

Ah, the joys of aging. Several weeks ago, my neighbour accepted an invitation to visit her friend who lives in the adjacent apartment building. She exited her apartment and was making the two- minute stroll when she was met by another resident of our complex. They had a nice chat on the sidewalk. She then climbed one flight of stairs and rang her friend’s doorbell. She waited for the expected footsteps but heard nothing. A second attempt rendered a similar result. Understandably, she was somewhat perplexed at this sudden turn of events. While pondering her next move, she looked up and noticed a very familiar wreath hanging on the door. She then realized that she had rung her own doorbell. The chat with her neighbour on the sidewalk had distracted her and she ended up going back to her own apartment, which, by the way, is in the exact location as her friend’s in the nearby apartment building.

I had a good chuckle at her expense when she told me this story.

“He who laughs last, laughs best.”

Not long after this incident, I was in the parking lot getting ready to head out for groceries. I own a 15-year-old Prius which is a hybrid. It runs on gas and electricity. When the car is in neutral, you can’t hear the engine running. I started the car and was waiting for the air conditioning to kick in as we were in the middle of a heat wave. I noticed another resident backing up and I had something I needed to tell her. I left the car running and hopped out to have a chat. When I returned to the car, I was appalled to discover that I had locked myself out. I wasn’t terribly concerned because I had a spare set in my apartment, but I was mad at myself for being so absent minded. Disgust quickly morphed into humiliation as I realized that I had been trying to get into my neighbour’s car which was parked beside mine. Both cars are gray and look alike at first glance. I looked up to the second floor of my building to see if my neighbour (the one who had gone to the wrong apartment) was giggling.

My 7th book will be heading to the printer in a few weeks’ time. I’m excited to have this project completed.

Have a great weekend.

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