Saturday, March 20, 2010


Eight flowery orchids blooming in the window
Purple to pink, to yellow, to white,
Everyone thinking Wendy is a wonder
An expert on orchids to grow them right.

Here sits Wendy, the orchid imposter
Keeper of a shelf neath a rare possession,
A perfect window
For growing orchids.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Today I heard something really interesting, something truly inspiring. I heard that the town of Tofino BC, a Vancouver Island town that receives up to a million tourist visitors every year, is about to enact a by-law prohibiting big box stores and fast food outlets from setting up shop. Such a thing is possible because they don’t have to throw any stores out. Even though it’s already 2010, they don’t have any box stores or fast food outlets because for several decades the discouragement of chain outlets has been part of their municipal vision.
I think I might have to join the million annual visitors heading for Tofino, even though the weather, by all accounts is wet and generally lousy. Most of them go there to surf, to watch whales and migrating shorebirds. And even though I love a sunny vacation, will never mount a surf board and find watching birds and whales to be occupations beyond my ability, I think I might have to go to Tofino, just to experience the surprising novelty of it all.
I can picture it now. There I’ll be, wanting a Tim Horton’s and having to discover the delights of a local coffee shop, craving the fragrance of Canadian Tire and having to settle for an afternoon of hanging out among the nuts and bolts in an ancient hardware store. What an experience! Something you can’t find anywhere! Imagine that!
Though the big cities sometimes seem like clones, I think it’s the little cities that have suffered most from our chain-store obsession. Every one of them is now a mirror of the others. Even the museums are virtually identical. The highway in takes you past Superstore, Canadian Tire, Costco. You stop at the fast food restaurant you patronized in the last town on the highway and order the same thing you ordered yesterday from a menu you’ve memorized. In American cities it’s the same scenario, different businesses. In the heart of each of these centres there is a sad old business district trying to be an historic tourist area. The former shoe store now sells candles. The former hardware sells sunglasses. The former drugstore is a candy store. Almost any business that is not a chain is either posting a shiny new sign, or an older sign not taken down when the business closed last month, or last year.
I might have to visit Tofino, might need to check on the mental health of its citizens. I’ve heard that, when a major event is on, most of the businesses close so the owners can attend the event. They also feel free to close when the owners need a vacation. With no chain stores to set the frenetic pace and steal the business, the locals can do whatever suits them. Could this be madness, or might it be a very healthy trend?

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Last week I took a walk with a rabbit. It scurried along beside me for half a block or so, making little purring sounds, sort of like a cell phone on Vibrate. It talked the whole way.
I’ve only ever been spoken to in the past by one other rabbit and that was Ruth’s pet rabbit, Satin. But I do recall the things we talked about.
Me: “Come on Satin, it’s time to get into your cage.”
Satin: (scurrying into a corner) “No thank you. I’d rather just stay out and chew up the electrical cords”
Me: “Please come to me Satin. I have to go to work now and it’s not safe to leave you loose in the house.”
Satin (heading for the place where I was standing when I first started chasing her) “How do you know it’s not safe?”
Me: (Heading for the place Satin headed for when she left the last place she left) “I just know, Okay.”
Satin: (sprinting a diagonal across the room) “Why should I believe you? Have you ever heard of a rabbit not being safe alone in this house before?”
Me: (Laundry basket in hand) “No I haven’t. But you are the only rabbit we have ever had. You’re the last one we’re having too, just in case you were wondering.”
Satin: (from under the upside-down laundry basket) “This isn’t fair. You’re bigger than me. You’re a bully. Ruth wouldn’t let you treat me this way if she were here.”
Me: “Me a bully? You’re the bully! You bit me the last time I had to catch you before I could leave for work, and you scratched me the day before that.”
Satin probably said more after that, but I didn’t hear, seeing as how she was under the laundry basket, and rabbit talk is pretty quiet and I was already running for the bus.
Forgiveness, I have learned, can be a long and slow process. The lifespan of the average human is quite a bit longer than the lifespan of the average rabbit. That is to say, it’s a long time since Satin and I last spoke and I haven’t been much inclined to speak to rabbits since then. You can’t be too careful. You never know when a rabbit will want to come home with you. I’ve heard they’re all pretty nice when you first meet them.
But last week I actually took a walk with a rabbit. It scurried along beside me for half a block or so, making little purring sounds, sort of like a cell phone on Vibrate.
Said the rabbit: “It’s a great day for a walk, don’t you think?”
And I said it certainly was a great day. Sometimes you just have to bury the hatchet and move on.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


We planned a party for the neighbourhood,
Delivered invitations,
Made bean dip and butter tarts.

We secretly worried that no one would come,
Invited by strangers?
We all need privacy.

We opened the door to seniors and toddlers,
Singles and couples,
Left wing and right.

Then over the din of kitchen chatter
And bursts of laughter
Of plate against wine glass

A simple truth revealed at a party
Call it imprompptu anthropological research
People like to gather with neighbours.

Friday, March 12, 2010


The Paralympics begin today in Vancouver. These will be the 10th winter Paralympics. Five events will be featured. And even though you’d think the good citizens of Vancouver would be Olympicked-to-death by this time, the news says that some of the events are already sold out. Could it really be that, after thousands of years of isolation, people with disabilities are truly coming into the mainstream? There’s certainly some amazing evidence for that. And then...
I went to a professional workshop. It was a workshop about disabilities, about amazing professional approaches in highly complex situations. It was all positive except that...
Well, it started out to be marvellously accessible. I read about it on the Internet using the screen reader that reads out loud, thus making my computer very accessible for a blind user. I registered on-line, using a website that met accessibility standards. It was offered in a building I had never been to before, and I might have taken a taxi for that reason, but I didn’t have to. David simply looked up the streetscape photos on the Internet and then described the street to me. He could tell me exactly what my white cane would find in searching for the door. Everything was just as he’d said it would be. The door was easy to find. I felt competent and independent, almost like a sighted person until...
I got off the elevator and somebody asked me if I needed help finding anything. I was greatly relieved because I really didn’t know if there’d be any way for me to find the room. Finding specific rooms is not easy for a blind person. I thanked the volunteer helper and headed right through the door he said was mine. I asked if I was in the place where the workshop was being offered and somebody said I was. I felt awfully pleased with the whole thing until...
Well, nothing happened after that. I stood there with my cane for the few seconds it generally takes for somebody to offer assistance in finding a seat, but nobody did. So I made my best guess at what the room layout might be and took a step forward. A woman coming through the door behind me must have seen my cane from the back. She asked if I would like some assistance finding a seat. I thanked her and she helped me find a seat. She told the other people in the room that she had made the coffee and done all the other things they had asked her to do, and then she left and said they could call her if they needed anything else. I was happy until...
Somebody announced that the coffee was ready. From the noises I could hear, I gathered that the coffee was on the far side of the room from where I was sitting. I waited for somebody to ask if I’d like a coffee. Nobody did, so, seized by a terrible longing for caffeine, I got up, unfolded my cane and started to make my way across the room.
It’s not easy to navigate in an unfamiliar conference room. Nonetheless, I didn’t knock over any machines. I found the counter and the thermos and felt around for cups. It took a while for me to find the cups. They were quite far away. The people in the room had kept talking amongst themselves while I navigated the maze, but when I started searching for cups the room grew silent. There were about five people there, all of them sighted as far as I know, all of them silent, all of them workshop organizers as far as I know. I had arrived about 20 minutes before workshop time. After I’d poured my coffee and started back across the room they started talking to each other again. I sat in my chair, far away from anybody else, and felt more or less happy sipping my coffee until...
The speaker started speaking. Turns out that the helper who had seated me and then left the room forever had seated me behind the speaker. I presume this was because she hadn’t known where the speaker would be located. So far as I know, everyone else was in front of the speaker. That helped to explain why all the people who arrived after me sat far away from me. Even so, I didn’t feel too badly because...
The workshop was a great workshop, the speaker gave a lot of excellent information about how to treat the people with these complicated disabilities. I could tell the presenter really knew what he was talking about. At the end we were instructed that, if any of us had failed to sign in when we arrived, we should do so before we left. They wanted us to sign in so they could send us evaluation forms.
I headed for the door. I didn’t sign in. I just couldn’t bring myself to do whatever it would have taken to find out where the form was and get somebody to write on it for me.
That was yesterday. I’ll admit, after that experience I was more or less hopeless about the prospect of people with disabilities ever being treated with basic respect. If it couldn’t be done by a group of professional trainers at that workshop, how could it be done anywhere?
That was yesterday, a lousy day really, despite a great workshop. But today I feel a little better. The Paralympics are starting. People with disabilities have come a long way. Rick Mercer will be featured on television. He will don a pair of goggles, follow a guide and ski down a mountain like a blind Paralympian. Because of his educational efforts, CBC watchers will soon now understand what it’s like to ski down a hill as a blind person. And that will be a good thing. We’ll all have a great laugh at Rick’s antics, and laughter is good for all of us, maybe as good as an education.
Perhaps I was supposed to learn something from yesterday’s experience. Maybe I was supposed to learn that if I want a seat, if I want a coffee, if I want to sign I just have to interrupt other people’s conversations about nothing important and ask for it. But this is not a lesson I want to have to learn. So I’m looking for another way.
And now I’ve started wondering, in the spirit of education, if Rick Mercer would be available to pick up a white cane and attend one of those workshops. Even though I’m feeling better today, I could really use a laugh.