Wednesday, September 27, 2006


It was dark and cold and a man in the river valley bushes was shouting gibberish at 9:00 Pm when Mark got home.   So he put on his hiking headlamp, took tattered blankets from my closet, packed a lunch from his kitchen, tucked his cellphone in his pocket and went back out into the cold.  He said he preferred to go alone.  After all, he had a phone, and could run very fast if he needed to.  The man he was seeking was in shouting distance from the house after all.  He never saw the man, who preferred to remain hidden.  He shone the light on himself and talked softly, and told the man he was leaving the bag with the food and blankets.  The shouting stopped.


I had been thinking of calling the police for the past hour, knowing it was not quite the right thing to do, not knowing what to do if not that.  The river valley is the sheltering place for many people like this.  They are needy, dangerous maybe.  


Mark shunned the church at age fifteen, limiting future attendance to funerals and family gatherings on Christmas Eve.  Still I cannot help but think that Jesus would probably have been pleased. 


Monday, September 25, 2006


Abbey is doing the Terry Fox run for the first time.  Abbey is six.


Mark is taking his first university course.  Mark is twenty-six.


Margaret has published her first article in the Western Producer.  Margaret is thirty.


I am making digital recordings and sending them to a student in Australia. 


September 2006 is truly a month of firsts. 



Sunday, September 24, 2006


Is grieving ever simple?  A year gone since your leaving.  I try to hear your voice and find I simply can’t recall the way it sounded.  On other days it comes to me, when I am standing at the sink or walking quickly down the street saying nothing in particular.  We were never close.


And yet you must have left your bed several hundred times to put your foot upon the freezing floor because I called your name.  I cannot forget the way your tender fingers curled my hair, or how you baked a birthday cake with money for my friends. 


We were never close.  You sent me off to boarding school and I was never angry.  How could I be?  You sent me off with chocolate bars, homemade cookies, lozenges in case my throat got sore.  And if you did not recognize the older girl who stepped back into your house, you muddled through as best you could, knowing she had grown too old for the dolls you bought for Christmas.  


We were never close.  I did not tell you when I met the man who was to be my mate.  I waited till you heard it through the grapevine, and knew that you were hurt but offered no apology.  And I recall the way you made my wedding dress without a pattern, improvising every tuck to get the dress I wanted, though you had no time for anything because I had not left you any.  You bought me a piano, just because I wanted one.


We were never close.  You rarely phoned, so I called you, but never spoke the details of my life, my work, the things that mattered most to me.  You would not understand.  And I recall the raspberries you grew, and picked, and canned for me in little jars.  You never said that I should grow and pick and can my own now that I was grown.


We were never close.  I shook my head in disbelief the day you suddenly began to act as if your mother needed you.  For you were never close to her.  She embarrassed you; you used to say, by having babies year after year, long after you were having babies of your own.  So why now were you serving her, helping her, when you were tired from doing all the other things you had to do?


We were never close.  But then one day you could not walk and every day was worse for you, and I recalled the things you did for mothers.  So I set aside my plans because you wanted me.  We laughed and cried and cheered and pined.  I’d never been the nursing kind.  Through all the months we fought only once, not a new fight,, a re-enactment of an old one, shorter than any other.  There was no time to hold a grudge. 


And I remember many nights when you would call and I would will you back to sleep, then rise to sooth you lest you come fully awake and stay that way for hours and hours while I recited poetry and sang you songs and stroked your hand and rang your bell to bring the nurses to your bed.  And I remember one last night when I had been away a while.  You were waiting there for me, just to see me one more time, just to say my name again, with a tongue that could not form a word, through lips as dry as autumn leaves, as dry as prairie dust.  We were never closer than that night.  I stayed with nothing left to say, you willed yourself to go.  


Today I pause to think of you, the quilts you made, the flowers you grew, the voice that read a book to me, the fears that never set you free.  A year gone since your leaving, and I am simply grieving.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


It takes so long for things to change.  Back in the days of King Arthur’s court, say around the year 500, an ugly hag named Dame Ragnell is said to have saved King Arthur’s life by giving him the answer to a question.  A thug on the road had promised to kill him if he could not provide the correct answer.  The question he must answer was, what do women want?  Although others had said that women wanted jewels, or exciting lovers, Dame Rangel told Arthur that women want to have the power to make decisions.  That, as I say, was somewhere around 500.  A little over 1,400 years later, the British government finally got the message.  In 1929, women were at last permitted to vote in Britain’s House of Lords.  Like I said, some changes take an awfully long time.  But that doesn’t mean they are never going to happen. 


Margaret Atwood started a little story in a radio interview that has stayed with me a long while.  A scientist, she began, places a single cell, an amoeba, in a test tube, knowing that the cell will double in bulk every minute.  She knows that the test tube will be full at midnight, but when will the tube be half full?


Surprising to many, the tube will be half full at one minute to midnight.  More astonishing, this will be true if the tube has been filling for fifty thousand years, and also if the tube is as large as the universe.  Imagine the perplexity of a casual observer who views the tube at, say, five minutes to midnight.  “This thing has been filling for fifty thousand years,” he might say.” There is hardly anything in it.  It will never be full.”


But in only five minutes that tube will have filled completely.  It is hard to tell how quickly things might change. 


Sunday, September 17, 2006

A heart Warmed Gently

could anything warm the heart more gently than passing an hour beside three-month-old Morgan and her mother Jane?  Morgan spends the first fifteen minutes scanning the scene from her carrier.  Then when she whimpers, Jane whispers "Sh," and rocks her into peaceful sleep. 
In her pre-natal classes Jane listened patiently to the mothers who worried in advance about getting out of the house, pre-planning the days of dropping the baby at Grandma's.  She, in contrast, was thinking of taking her baby to the playground or the zoo. 
Today Morgan catches forty winks in church.  So far she is everything her mother had wanted her to be, the fulfilment of that age-old dream, the dream of being a parent.  

Saturday, September 16, 2006


They are going to study the development of vibrators to improve sexual enjoyment for people with spinal cord injuries, according to today's Edmonton Journal.  they are acting on the results of a study that says people with spinal cord injuries want sexual function even more than they want bowel and bladder restoration.  A step in the right direction, I do believe.  In the past, It has been rare to ask people with disabilities what they prefer, and even more rare to act on what they said. 
years ago I was summoned to a meeting where an engineer unveiled a fancy machine that enabled blind people to read the value of money.  He came with the blessing of the Bank of Canada.  the machine did tell you whether a bill was a ten or a twenty.  
over and over I heard blind people tell this man that they were unlikely to stop everything to pull out a machine in store line-ups, in taxicabs, at tourist attractions.  The man acknowledged the truth of this, and went merrily on his way.  he made it clear that he did not think bills should be different sizes for instant machineless recognition, as they are in other countries.    Nor was he in favour of printing Braille on bills. 
The Bank Note Reader went on the market where it languished for years.  Somebody probably used it, though nobody seemed to know who.   
Many years later they developed a plan to put raised symbols on bills.  People think these symbols are Braille, but they are not.  blind people have to learn what each symbol means.  It is a sort of secret code that has nothing to do with letters or numbers.  Braille readers have no advantage over anybody else.  It is my experience that, after one or two uses, the raised symbols cannot be felt by even the most practised hand. 
This story could be enough to make me wring my hands in utter hopelessness.  but today's news about the active, funded recognition that people want a satisfying sex life, tells me that it is still possible to be heard.  Only sometimes it takes a while.   

Friday, September 15, 2006


    David and I have been starting new geraniums.  They will give us some cheerful flowers for the winter, and some large plants to put outside next spring.  At least that is what I thought we were doing.  Turns out that I was starting new geraniums, and he was saving refugees.  I have been clipping off healthy new growth and rooting it in the shady soil behind the lilies.  He has been sticking long, woody broken stems into the ground instead of throwing them out.  They have rooted too.


My cuttings are short and leafy, trim and neat.  His are long and gangly.  “We do not want those ugly things in the kitchen all winter,” I cry.  “They have only a few leaves, and they require huge pots to hold those long crooked stems.  Get rid of them.” 


He wants to pot them anyway.  This is not our first encounter with the problem of saving refugees.  Many years ago we boarded a summer exchange visitor from Ethiopia.  When the date of her expected departure came and went without any indication of heading for the airport, it dawned on us that we, and the exchange program that brought her to Canada, had been deceived.  Having promised to stay for only a few weeks, She had likely never intended to go back. 


Now things became difficult.  We said she had to go.  Instead of leaving, she came to us with a proposal.  She would work for us in return for food and shelter while her legal situation was addressed. 


“No,” we said.  “You were not honest with us.  We would be breaking the law, keeping you illegally.”


For a while we saw our decision as the right one.  We knew little about the world at that time, how impoverished Ethiopians were, how tortured, how trapped, how desperate.  She, knowing all of this, did not go home.  She sought out other options.  She disappeared into a local Ethiopian community of which we had previously been completely unaware. 


Though we received a lot of support for our firm position, we were ultimately sorry for what we did.  That regret came later, when she had won the right to stay here, when she made a special trip to our house to thank us for the help we had given her. 


“I will take one of your refugee geraniums,” I say to David, “and put it in a large pot even though it has only three infinitesimal leaves.”  I will keep it out of the bright light until it gets established.  I will give it the same loving attention given to my neater, trimmer cuttings in their small efficient containers.  But only one.  The rest have to go.”


I feel guilty about the ones that have to go.  But I am more generous than I used to be. 

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Response To The Dawson College Shootings

This week I took a stand against bullying.  i am glad I did, because the Dawson College shootings have everyone talking about the dangerous effects of bullying and exclusion.  It is easy to wring your hands and believe there is nothing we can do about bullying. 
My stand was a small stand, preceded by an uninvited act of hope.  The act of hope was  a letter of support to a teenager who was beaten at a party.  Not knowing what to say, I simply said that I was sorry, and that I believed those same bullies would treat him better once he has passed into adulthood.  David added some notes about famous people whose talents were not appreciated in high school.  We had heard somewhere that Charles Schultz never got a cartoon published in the yearbook.  It was a short letter.
I told somebody about the beating and he said to me: "These things happen.  You just have to accept that."
I begged to differ.  I am not inclined to accept it.  There are things we can do to help victims, and things we can do to stop bullies.  Imagine how much closer we could be to solving the problem if everyone did something.  I don't know if that little letter will change anything for the teenager.  Chances are I will never know.  But I do know that it changed something in me, turned me for a moment from being a helpless hand-wringer to a woman of action. 

Monday, September 11, 2006


How sweet it is to bemoan the things I cannot do.  One day I woke up and realized that, at the age of 26, I was now officially too old to qualify for the Miss Canada Contest.  Never mind that I wear no makeup, have no discernable bust and tend to be a little thicker at the bottom.  I grieved anyway.  Here was one more possibility closed off, one more thing I would never do, one experience I could never embrace, like being a waitress. 
And now this!  Opportunity knocks.  Today's Edmonton Journal reports on a new restaurant in Montreal, O Noir.  No kidding!  the place is dark and the servers are blind.  Customers have to ask for their help if they want to find the bathroom.  Similar restaurants in London and Europe require two weeks notice for reservations.  the fad has crossed the pond.
Would I dine there?  Well I am not too sure.  Would I want to work there?  of course not.  I would hate waiting tables even more than I would hate flouncing onto a stage in a bikini.  but it is nice to think I have options.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Susan no longer eats meat, though she likes meat and has no particular affection for animals.  But she has decided to be a leader rather than a follower in a world where 840 million people are undernourished and the population is rapidly growing.  It takes much less water to raise grain than to raise animals for food. 
A kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least 15 cubic metres of water
A kilo of lamb from a sheep fed on grass needs 10 cubic metres
A kilo of cereals needs from 0.4 to 3 cubic metres
The world will not have enough water to feed its population on meat.  So, at the age of 22,  susan became a vegetarian, her gift of water to the world, her gift of leadership to the rest of us. 

Saturday, September 09, 2006



There are seven yellow roses on the rose bush on the front porch

On the ninth day of September

I am sure I can’t remember budding roses in September

In Alberta where the summer tends to end

A little sooner than we lovers of the summer recommend.


May I think back to this morning and recall

That unusual things do happen, after all.


Monday, September 04, 2006

To Read Is To Swagger

I never dreamed it would be possible for me to read the newspaper—and then suddenly—it was.  I couldn’t see the newspaper, never had been able to.  But seeing and reading are, after all, not the same thing.

What can I say about how it felt?  It was like throwing a chocolate lover into a vat of chocolate.  It was like a January thaw!  It was like winning the lottery.  To be more precise, it was just plain wonderful! 

Computers were the thing that made it possible, computers and humans who knew how to make them work and cared about making them do amazing things.  It was the perfect collaboration.  Newspaper publishers wanted their papers on the Internet.  Computer nerds had invented ways of making computer screens accessible to blind people through speech and Braille, and organizations for the blind, like the CNIB in Canada, were there to put it all together.  

What’s it like to have the newspaper read to you by a program called JAWS in a voice created by crossing a man with a computer chip?  Well, it’s not quite like spreading the whole paper mess over the table so that anybody who comes to breakfast has to set their coffee on it.  The sections come up in alphabetical order.  Body and Health always comes before the City section, and News is way down in the middle, after culture, after driving.  It’s not quite like curling up with the paper in a sunny living room chair, or the swing on the back porch, though the wireless laptop is moving it out of the office chair.  And it’s not quite like reading the paper version because the business ads, the comics, the personals and the classifieds are missing.  But it’s still wonderful!

To understand how wonderful it really is, you have to understand how blind people used to read the newspaper.  They read it through a filtered lens, the filter of the people who loved them.  The people who loved them chose the articles they thought would interest the blind person, and then, if nobody had to leave for work, and if the reader didn’t develop laryngitis, and if the phone didn’t ring, and the dog didn’t throw up on the rug and the kids didn’t interrupt, and the blind person didn’t insult the reader by making some tactless comment about the reading, then the reader would read some of the newspaper out loud.

Reading the newspaper makes me want to swagger.  What’s it like for a blind person to swagger into somebody’s office and announce: “I read in the Edmonton journal today that begonia bulbs need not be brought in until after the first frost?”  Well, it’s like dropping a hint that the person’s socks might not be exactly a matched pair, or observing that a person’s breath is better today than it was yesterday.  You get a brief silence, and people don’t quite know how to respond.  They don’t know exactly what you mean when you say you read it.  But you know you read it.  For just one moment, you are powerful, so powerful you just might be able to do anything in the future, and maybe there is nothing that can really hold you back. 


Wendy Edey