Rhymes, Rants & Accolades from North Central BC

BERRY PICKING BLUES

It is the middle of August and my berry picking muscles are twitching. Last month I was laid up and missed out on the gathering of what I hear was a super-abundant crop of larger-than-usual wild strawberries. Luckily for me the huckleberries which should be well past their prime, are just beginning to ripen. This year Mother Nature has been slightly off-season with her blessings. About three weeks behind–perhaps because of the late spring?

Right now I am yearning to be out there with other fervently addicted huckleberry hunters: climbing steep, unstable rocky inclines and trudging through swamps, criss-crossed with spiky spruce blow-downs and littered with devils club, to reach the clear cuts where it has been rumoured the biggest and best berries abound.

If only it would stop raining!

During yesterday’s wet weather I extricated a batch of last year’s wild blueberries from where I had stashed them in the deep freeze. They were still firmly attached to their vines amidst a wealth of healthy-looking green leaves. When I had picked them, I entertained the notion that the freezing process might make it easier to separate the itzy bits of fruit from their abundant foliage. Not so. My husband compared my tedious efforts to that of picking fly specks out of pepper. But it was raining and I had nothing better to do.

After that I made some blue-huck-toon jam, which turned out to be delicious. The one berry in the trilogy that was this year’s variety was a few cups of saskatoons from the only productive bush in the neighborhood.

We had slavered in anticipation upon noticing all the saskatoon blossoms earlier. The theory has now been voiced that our chilly spring made it difficult for pollinating bugs to survive and carry out their duties.

I would like to share my lazy woman’s recipe for saskatoon or huckleberry pie. After years of mopping my oven because of overflowing juices (unless I beefed the filling up with too much thickener which rendered it inedible) I now cook the berry mixture on top of the stove. The bottom crust has to be baked first before being filled. (Otherwise the pie may still muck up your oven during the longer baking process.) Following that, you need only to secure a top crust in place and brown. (If you are really lazy as I am, you use the frozen crusts from the store.)

SASKATOON PIE FILLER (Makes 3 or 4 pies and is freezable. The recipe is from my friend Mary in Fort Fraser.)

4 cups saskatoons
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 dessertspoon lemon juice
Cook until thick. (For huckleberries omit the water, almond extract and lemon juice. You will probably need more corn starch and sugar.)

1999  Sense and Nonsense

I caught the flu bug just before Christmas. Although my husband and I refrained from kissing and engaging in any germ-exchanging activities, he managed to catch it anyway.  We spent the holidays hacking and coughing and complaining, each one of us convinced that the other was not nearly as sick as we were.  It became a competition as to who deserved the largest portion of pity.

I guess I won. About the second day into the New Year, my husband entered his usual early morning disgustingly-cheerful state of mind. Much of his early years were spent on a farm in Central Alberta and, as such, his vocabulary is littered with a repertoire of colourful “made in Alberta” clichés.

He finally noticed that I was not as well as he was. “You poor thing,” he stated compassionately, “You look about as miserable as a mule in a hailstorm.”

My face opened slightly in a horrible caricature of a grin.

“What was that?” he inquired. “Could it have been a smile?”  He peered into my sombre countenance but I was not ready for any more banter. He turned away and I heard him mutter, “Must have been gas.”

Later, after strolling outside with the dog through snowflakes “the size of cigarette papers” and in the process, becoming “as wet as a new born calf” he entered the room and complained about the lack of wattage in our kitchen light bulbs. “It’s as dark in here as the inside of an Angus cow at midnight!” he snorted.

Alberta clichés often allude to a small part of the human anatomy that is not exposed to the sun’s rays. The other day my husband listened to a television commentator who was expressing a particularly uninformed opinion about gun control. “That fellow talks as if he has a paper anus,” he growled. (He didn’t exactly say ‘anus’)

“When it comes to knowing the facts, he is about as lost as a pet hog in a snowstorm!”

The other day when I emerged from the utility room with a basketful of laundry, a broom, a mop and the vacuum cleaner, my husband was taken aback. “Oh no, you’re back in cleaning mode!” he exclaimed. “Why do you have to tackle everything as if you were killing snakes?”

The look I gave him was “colder than a mother-in-law’s kiss” and “sour enough to make a pig squeal.”

 

HORSE SENSE

1998 Sense and Nonsense

I am from the generation that loves country and western music. The old stuff– not the guitar-busting, belly button revealing, new style of warbling. I like Garth and Shania but it’s the classic horse loving, gut-wrenchingly lonesome kind of music that stirs my country soul.

Every once in awhile I like to visit a barnyard for old time’s sake. And for old time smells. One thing I notice is that while cows are still popular, horses are becoming a creature of the past. When I was a farm-raised kid in the Cariboo our horses did everything. Not only were they expected to pull various pieces of equipment around in the fields during plowing, sowing and haying seasons, they were our everyday transportation.

In my mind’s eye I can still picture the huge harnessed  rear ends of Paddy and Peggy, as they slowly ambled down the dirt road toward town, pulling a sleigh in winter and a wagon anytime after the snow had gone. In 1947 our town consisted of a general store with post office, and a feed shed. I don’t recall any gasoline pumps although there was a red Chevy pickup that shared the road and scared poor old Peggy every time we met. She would usually attempt to break and run, despite being hitched to Paddy who was heavier and much calmer–to the point of being almost comatose at times. He was that way when we kids wanted to ride him. If he was not in harness, Paddy didn’t believe he should move at all.

I always wanted a saddle pony but Dad could not bring himself to trust any horse other than the ploddy old team that he loved. Saddle horses were the sports cars of my youth and I was forever petulant that I couldn’t have one. The excuse was that they cost too much money. It was not until my own daughter expressed a wish for a pony and I noticed the fear in my father’s eyes, that I finally understood the reason why I had to walk to school while the neighbor’s kids got to ride horses.

There were a few times when my brother and I had to ride Peggy into town to buy groceries. The storekeeper always referred to our potbellied, swaybacked mare as “the horse built for two”. He would fill our grain sacks with canned goods and staples so that the weight was evenly distributed; then tie them together and help us sling them across Peggy’s ample shoulders. My position was up there behind the groceries, and my brother’s was behind me. I would pretend I was Gene Autry (without the saddle) while my brother who never agreed with me about anything, identified with his favorite cowboy hero, Roy Rogers.

The problem with Peggy was that unbeknownst to Dad, she would bolt every so often causing her human cargo to fall  to the ground. With her big belly and our short legs, there was no way we could hold on. Peggy had an imagination, and would sometimes shy at unusual shadow configurations cast by familiar stumps and trees.

On one occasion she did this while carrying a full load of groceries. The sacks fell apart as they hit the road–with me clutching at them desperately. Dented cans and crushed boxes of crackers and cereal littered the ruts and the ditches. My brother ran ahead to catch the old girl while I attempted to patch up the evidence. I don’t remember what we told Dad but it wasn’t the truth; riding old Peggy was better than not being allowed to ride at all!

Yes, the days when we relied on horses are gone forever. Now the cowboys do their chores while mounted on all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. The following is my attempt to capture the essence of the modern-day cowhand in song:

Last night I went riding on my 450 Skidoo,
The night it was cold and my clothing was few,
The cows got away and then things got worse,
A cowboy is hopeless when he don’t got a horse!

Oh, nobody knows the pain and frustration,
Of riding a Skidoo across this great nation
The pain in my butt and the frost on my nose
And I’m lost as a pet hog in all of this snow!

 

I wish I was home in my house on the hill
With my dearest Mary, or maybe ’twas Jill?
I’d butcher a cow and cook up some steaks,
But this gawdawful machine doesn’t have any brakes!

The End (thank goodness for that!)

1999 Sense and Nonsense

There are two things that intrigue me greatly at the present time: one is the crop circles that appeared last year in a farmer’s field in Vanderhoof, and the other is the mysterious mobility of our living room rug. I am beginning to wonder if the two circumstances are related.

There are some amazing similarities between the crop circles, first spotted from the air on August 30, 1998 and the polypropylene braided rug which was purchased about the same time from the Sears catalogue. The evidence, when weighed by a frivolous and prone-to-fantasy marred mind, such as my own, is startling.

First of all the rug is round–which is exactly the same shape as the crop circles. I had debated for weeks about whether to buy the oval or the rectangle, but for some unexplained reason defied the conventionality of my upbringing and ordered the round instead. That in itself is cause for conjecture: when I placed the order could my mind have been manipulated by extraterrestrial messages?

A month or two after we unrolled the new seven-foot in diameter mat upon the slip-proof surface of the existing carpet, I realized it possessed the uncanny ability to reposition itself without any help from us. Every few days the gap at one end of the room became noticeably bigger than the corresponding gap at the other end. At first I assumed that it was my husband who was responsible for its change of placement. But he emphatically denied all household repositioning (including that of the toilet seat.)

The rug is not the old-fashioned braided kind where the colors and pattern of each plait progress predictably up to and unto the final coil. Ours has intricate patterns and symbols throughout (in pleasing shades of burgundy and nutmeg) very likely indicative of an alien language and culture. There is no doubt in my mind that it is extraterrestrial in origin; very likely capable of making changes in its own molecular structure and able to travel through the air at enormous speeds to set down in a farmer’s field and etch out messages to observers on a faraway planet. It then returns surreptitiously during the night, but is tired and does not always uncoil its torso in exactly the same place on the living room floor.

Sometimes I worry about whether I should turn the rug in because it may represent a threat to our planet’s security. The problem is, I don’t see another in this year’s Sear’s catalogue that goes as well with my decor.

 

THE BEARS AND ME

circa 1990 Sense and Nonsense

My first unhappy experience with a bear happened one dark night during the early nineteen-sixties when I was employed as company cook at an isolated sawmill camp. A section of the cookhouse had been partitioned off to make sleeping quarters for our family.

In those days I did not have a problem with insomnia. Except for an occasional breeze in the nearby pines, the world outside my bedtime window was usually as still as death. But this night my husband and I were awakened by a crashing cacophony of sound that cut through the silence like a jagged knife. My heart beat so fast it almost popped my pajamas. The hush that followed was even more disquieting.

We fumbled around for matches to light the gasoline lamp and discovered that the lower pane of the bedroom window, the base of which was at least six feet above the ground, had been shattered. Splinters and shards of glass lay everywhere–on the floor and on the double bed where our two small daughters still managed to sleep soundly.

It was several long minutes before we comprehended what had happened. The faint rattle of clattering cans outside in the darkness clued us in. We surmised that a tall black bear (or perhaps a short grizzly) had planned to climb through the broken window and feast upon cookhouse goodies. Our presence had put a damper on his appetite and he was scrounging in the cook house dump instead.

But Mr. Bear was able to exercise his climbing muscles that night. The following morning we learned that our brand new Volkswagon car had been used as a stepping stool for our visitor to launch himself up and onto the flat roof of a nearby shed. And then crawl back down again. Numerous dents and claw-marks marred the shiny new paint job.

I guess some bears are like teenage girls–they just want to have fun. When our children were small we used to camp out a lot. We always made sure no food was left in or around our tent that would attract bears. One day after returning to camp from a boating expedition to the other end of the lake, we found our canvas home-away-from-home in shreds.

The tracks of a sow bear and her cubs in the sand along the shore led to a disheartening disarray of torn pieces of fabric and metal poles that had been our almost-new tent. Claw imprints deeply embedded in foam plastic mattresses, and the illusive trail of our gasoline lantern which had been playfully rolled into the bushes, told the story of a fun-filled afternoon.

They say the biggest part of prejudice is fear. We once lived where there were a great many saskatoon bushes and every year the bears would come to camp on our lawn. Our dog got so bored with chasing them, she decided that they belonged there. She saved her warning barks for invading squirrels and the neighbor’s cat. When it was saskatoon season, I seldom ventured outside the house.

But bears were around at other times of the year too. One spring day I loaded the camera and pedaled my bicycle a few kilometers down the road from our place. I stashed the bike alongside an old logging trail. The dog and I proceeded happily through the bush in search of interesting camera shots. It wasn’t until after we were back on the road again that we saw the bear.

The large black blob was in the middle of the road about 100 feet away. It seemed to be intent on moving a piece of road kill and did not see us. For a minute or two I stood absolutely still, rigidly clutching the handlebars of my bicycle and hoping desperately for a car or anything with four wheels and an engine to come along and clear the way.

My bicycle, even propelled by high-octane adrenalin (produced from fear) would not be fast enough to dodge an aggressive bear. The dog stood still too. She looked at mewith a puzzled expression on her face. I knew she was thinking, “What’s with this cowardly woman, anyway? It’s just a bear!”

The bear looked up from whatever he was chewing on. Bears are supposed to be short-sighted, but so am I. And even without my glasses I would have no problem spotting him. Flinging my bicycle into the ditch, I proceeded to wallow, burrow and straddle my way through a thick forest of rose bushes, briars and brambles to my neighbor Sindee’s house. Our dog ambled disgustedly behind. But she quickly forgave my cowardly transgressions when Sindee offered us both a ride home in her truck!

1999  Sense and Nonsense

The other evening my friend Donna related a “comedy of errors” tale concerning a recent trip to the Coast. Her journey, as were those of her two daughters who flew in from various parts of the province to join her at the Vancouver airport, was complicated by delayed flights due to weather conditions, an automobile fire, and a misunderstanding as to what was their ultimate destination. When the three gals finally got to meet at the correct hotel, Donna recalled that everyone had a good laugh.

I shuddered inwardly as Donna related her story. Our family almost never laughed at any of my foiled travel plans. Not right away, anyway… My youngest daughter has yet to giggle about how I once lost Vancouver’s Granville Street—not once, but twice on the same day.

It happened during our trip to Expo in 1986. She was eleven years of age. We had already survived a comedic “error” or two on the train ride down from Prince George, as well as a close encounter with a missed ferry on a side trip to Saltspring Island.

Prior to that excruciating mother-daughter bonding experience, she had believed her mother to be a reasonably intelligent human being and not inclined to make stupid mistakes. So much for childhood illusions. If I had ever been on a pedestal I fell off it during that trip.

It was nine a.m. when we departed from my aunt’s place in the Vancouver suburbs. In my hand I clutched a detailed set of instructions as to what buses to take to reach the Expo grounds. Number one thing to do was to get off the eastbound at the Granville St. intersection. “A piece of cake,” I thought happily and relaxed in my seat. I had noticed Granville Street on previous trips to Vancouver. It was big. It was probably the biggest street in the city.

As I have so often pointed out to my daughter, however, Granville street is really quite small where it starts out in the toolies.  It doesn’t get large and distinctive with traffic lights and other decorations until just before it enters the downtown area. How was I to recognize it when it looked exactly like all the other streets? Besides if we hadn’t ridden the bus all the way to the end of the line–in Burnaby–we might never have had the opportunity to ride the newly installed Skytrain. After we found it, that is.

The second time I lost Granville Street we were on foot and leaving the Expo grounds. We had walked upon it. Our sneakers had actually touched the cement sidewalk…and then, Presto – it was gone!

I had only left it for a few minutes to lead my daughter under a bridge and down a few side streets and alleys. I hoped to find a short cut to a bus stop instead of having to walk about a half mile to a crosswalk. I was out of luck. By the time we returned to where I thought we had been, Granville street had disappeared!

It is now thirteen years later and I believe my daughter has forgiven me for my Expo indiscretions. She now has a small daughter of her own who will soon learn the awful truth: Just when you think you can depend on them, mothers are capable of screwing up–big time!!

Circa 1997 Sense and Nonsense

It is a strange world that we live in at the present time, especially for those like me who have survived the era of one-channel television (and even that was blurry!) as well as the Volkswagen beetle in winter–before they came equipped with heaters that actually worked.

Back then the choices were few. The main factor to consider when making a purchase was “Can we afford it?” The correct reply to that was usually “no” but that was often ignored, perhaps because such frightening phrases as the bottom-line, high interest rates, and inflation had yet to be invented.

These days the choices for acquiring anything at all, even everyday insignificant items, are manifold. Whenever a typical housewife (or house husband) ventures from his/her home and into the business area of town, a carefully composed list of necessaries clutched in hand, the usual first stop is the post office.

Perhaps there will be a letter from a daughter or a son? But no, these days they are into e-mailing across the world to strangers in Ecuador or New Guinea, sometimes twice a day. Mother and Dad reside downstream on the same river but they do not receive even as much as a message in a bottle!

Oh well, there is plenty of mail in the post office box. No cheques though… These are deposited automatically in the bank without benefit of having been touched, caressed, or even endorsed, by the one whose name appears upon them. But the envelopes with bills in them stand up crisp and erect amongst the stack of junk mail.

Actually the bills themselves are junk mail. The phone bill contains deals on telephones which do everything but wash the dishes. Bank statements include advertisements for RRSPs and life insurance. Cable T.V. is offering yet another tier of channels. All within the same envelopes as last month’s invoices. You can’t just fling them into the post office trash barrel which is already overflowing at half-past-nine in the morning.

So many choices these days! The consumer’s shopping list probably begins with a trip to the drugstore. Sometimes it ends there too. Our pharmacy has so much food on its shelves that I can sometimes skip my daily excursion to the grocery store. On the other hand, the prices on those generic brands of personal care products at the grocers are tempting…

“Personal care products” is a modern day term that describes what used to be soap, shampoo and women’s (shh) “stuff”. Nowadays the value of each of these requires the assistance of a Philadelphia lawyer, a dermatologist and a cosmetician to help you choose between the rows and rows of similar products.

Plain old ordinary shampoo now comes in 20 different selections, each color-coded and numbered according to hair and scalp conditions; whether your hair be permed-dyed-thick-thin-dry-oily-sensitive-young-old or various combinations thereof. There are also “natural” shampoos that contain fruits, vegetables and/or egg white. Hair conditioners, gels, mousses and sprays are similarly graded.

Moving down the aisle toward soaps, lotions and feminine hygiene, one encounters similar or greater dilemmas when it comes to making choices.I have heard horror stories of women locked in agonies of indecision over whether to purchase a #19 Salon Selections shampoo; an Oil of Olay moisturizing body wash that may or may not contain a chemical beginning with the letter “d” that can be harmful to white mice; a box of Kotex with wings, or any one of umpteen different alternatives.

Men, with their purported left-brained agility perhaps do not have a problem with decision-making? Selections of personal care products for them seem to be far less complicated anyway. The only important thing for them to remember is that disposable razors come in pink for gals, and blue for guys. But I do have a problem with a talc that is being advertised (constantly) on television for male itch. In this day and age of equality, where is the feminine equivalent?  There are also similar products advertised to combat foot itch, and winter itch. What if your elbow itches in springtime? Oh well at least there is no gender bias there.

Purchasing personal care products for animals is becoming confusing. I have heard there is a now a shampoo that has been specially formulated for both people and their dogs. (It better be cheap. My dog is extremely hairy!) Last winter I went shopping for some Kitty Litter. We do not have a cat, but I thought I would sprinkle it on our icy walkway to provide traction underfoot. But cat hygiene in the nineties has been upgraded. The stuff now comes in three choices: clumping (whatever that means?); deodorized and non-deodorized. Making the decision was too much for me and I left the store empty-handed.

 

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