hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Door

Another door knocked on (at least metaphorically), another door opens, and behind it is an engineer from Minnesota who works on airline safety issues from Pt. Roberts. I don’t exactly know how he and his wife came to be in Point Roberts. If only the P.R. Historical Society had all those stories, I’d just be able to read it and find out or maybe be reminded of what I once knew. There are a lot of engineers here in P.R.: I can think of4 without even thinking much and I don’t even know that many people well. But when I think of the word engineer, I do not next think of the word musician.

But this engineer is a musician: a talented keyboard player, pianist, and composer. And he has started an AV blog with photography and music. The Vancouver skyline with an edgy musical counterpoint (reminds me a little of Phillip Glass) behind it? In front of it? Swirling around it? Or the moon in our Point Roberts sky, wafting in and out of clouds, like a game of hide and seek, with ethereal music choreographing its moves. And more; and, I trust, more to come.

What a gift to us all! You can find it, see it, listen to it here.

Thanks, Vic!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Canadian Do-Over?

My son reminded me the other day that his Canadian relatives used to joke (even if not quite correctly) that Canada could have had English law, American know-how, and French culture, but instead, it got French law, English know-how, and American culture. And now it looks like it gets Italian politics, what with its too-many political parties. Although there was a federal Canadian election only six weeks ago (one in which the Conservatives won slightly less than half the seats in Parliament), that ‘minority government’ is on the verge of losing a ‘vote of confidence’ and if it does, then there could be another federal election in only a few more weeks. Or, the other parties in the Parliament could try to create a coalition to run the government.

Four things there worth explaining to the Americans:
1. No party won a majority of seats in the October election. There are five parties. They are/are called (neo?)conservatives/Conservatives; centrists/Liberals; separationists/P.Q.; environmentalists/Green; and progressives/NDP. The conservatives almost got a majority, but the other four parties, all of which are more center-ish, together have an actual majority of the votes/seats. To get to that majority, however, the Liberals, NDP, and PQ would all have to join forces. No other combination works.
2. The party who gets the most seats in an election is asked by the Governor General (whose office is largely ceremonial) to form a government. If that party (currently the conservatives) can get its bills passed, it holds the government and its leader is the Prime Minister. If it can’t, then the government falls.
3. When the government falls, the Governor General is informed and she can either call for another election (a ‘snap election’) or can invite the other minority parties to form a coalition government; a non-ceremonial function.
4. The four parties not currently in the government are to the left of the conservatives so there is potential for a coalition grouping, but the PQ’s raison d’etre is to have Quebec separate from Canada, which may make them an awkward partner in a national coalition government, but they could 'support' it without being an actual member of the coalition.

The conservative government bill that produced all this was, of course, the legislation that addressed the global financial collapse, which is clearly affecting Canada despite the contrary claims of Sunny Steve Harper. The problem with the bill, from the perspective of the other parties, is that it didn’t deal with the collapse. All it did was eliminate any financial subsidies for the political parties (a relative small dollar amount). The conservative response was to advise the opposition not to worry their pretty little heads about economic collapse because they’d get a real bill out to address the financial thing in the spring.

So, now Canadians await the next shoe fall. Harper has already withdrawn the subsidy-elimination legislation and has insisted that a comprehensive financial bill will be produced very shortly. It is always difficult to remember that Harper is, in fact, an economist, since he doesn’t talk as if he has any expertise in the area. It could be a few days, it could be a week, but some kind of do-over looks to be in the works.

Wouldn’t the GOP die to have that kind of opportunity, only six weeks after an election that they didn’t win by enough or at all?

Note: this post has been corrected from its original form in response to reader comments about several factual issues.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Playing Poker

I don’t actually play poker, largely because my older brother taught me how when I was a kid and that means I think of poker simply as I game in which I will lose. But I vaguely know the rules even now because my grandchildren, when visiting, are avid poker players, their stakes the bowl of foreign coins that we have collected over the past few decades when traveling. So I have up-to-date observations of a lot of games, a lot of talk about what beats what.

In any case, here’s the hand. Of recent days, I have written of my bear, my deer, my owl. They would appear to be my bet. Today, though, my son tells me that today at 10 a.m. in his yard (in central, semi-rural California) he has a cougar with a chicken in its mouth. And yet later today, my older daughter reports, from a small town in New Mexico, that she and her border collie spent some time along the riverbank with a gray fox. The fox gave her and her dog a mildly interested look and then went about his fox work in plain view for some time.

So, what I need to know is this: Does an bear eating compost and a separate deer eating grass (the latter combined with a sleeping owl) beat a cougar with a chicken in its mouth? Or even a gray fox in a small town with a collie in plain sight? Not only that: I knew there were bear, deer, and owl around; he didn’t know he had cougars, and she thought the local gray fox had all been killed. Am I winning or losing? And if I’m losing, what do I need next? A raccoon in a Santa Claus suit?

Or is this just another piece of evidence, somehow, that the financial system is getting worse?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Here's to You

The little bird's in the oven; looks like it will be okay. The apple pie, complete with carmels cooked in with the apples, is on the sideboard; everything else is set to go, including the table and the fire in the fireplace. A busy day, a kind evening ahead. To all those who are celebrating Thanksgiving today, our best wishes. And to those of you who aren't, our best wishes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Holiday Abroad

Fast approaching the National Day of Thanksgiving, although it’s a little hard to be thankful for the financial news in the past 2.5 months. But, of course, there are many other things to be thankful for, and I'd like to insist upon our general thankfulness. Very grateful, and all that.

We have, in fact, sort of missed Thanksgiving for the past decade or so. Because of the way our schedule works, we are normally in the U.S. at the time of Canadian Thanksgiving and in Canada at the time of U.S. Thanksgiving, so it has been easy enough just to pass on both and to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and vegetable soup on those occasions, and be thankful enough for them and for one another. Our children all live far away from us and from one another so for the most part, they do a traditional thanksgiving in an untraditional manner: none of this ‘home for the holidays.’ Maybe all for the best considering the way in which these occasions are alleged to be a source of great stress.

However, however, last month, for unknown reasons, Ed said, ‘Why don’t we have a regular Thanksgiving dinner this year, even though we’re in B.C. And invite the neighbors.’ Presumably he mentioned this to me before noon and I said, ‘Sure, sure, whatever you say, dear.’ Later in the day, I might have at least thought about it. But there we were. He invited the neighbors, they accepted, and I put this anticipated event on the schedule and in the back of my mind.

However, however, it is now in the front of my mind. The very front. Yesterday, I betook myself to the grocery store to acquire a turkey and assorted Thanksgiving Stuff. I assumed there would be a turkey because there are a lot of Americans up here and the grocery is doubtless willing to accommodate their needs. However, after walking back and forth along the meat counter about eight times, I finally located the one and only Thanksgiving Turkey: about 14 pounds and $45.00. Even Canadian, that’s a lot to pay for a turkey I don’t particularly long for. And I doubt if the neighbors were longing either, since they’d had their own turkey just a month ago. I contemplated the turkey; I tried to admire the turkey; I lifted the turkey in my two hands to see if it felt like a $45 purchase. It really didn’t. So I put it back and thought, ‘Lasagna?’

No, you can’t have lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner; we have had it, as well as chile, for Christmas, but not for Thanksgiving. For Thanksgiving, it is a turkey, alas. Or maybe a …chicken? A nice, big, roasting chicken that I can pretend is a small turkey, if only to myself? An organic-y chicken (not really, because the closest this market comes to organic chickens are those referred to as ‘antibiotic-free specialty chickens’, whatever specialty may mean). There were a bunch of those. I took the biggest one, a little over five pounds, and only $16. (My younger daughter reports that their entire turkey cost only $16.)

So there we are. There will be only a small amount of stuffing, of course, but there will be no mashed potatoes because the chicken does not give good enough gravy (in my view) to justify mashed potatoes. I am asking Ed to roast a big pan of root vegetables, including russets and sweet potatoes, parsnips, rhutabaga, carrots, and onions, and today I made a large quantity of pickled beets for salad. They had no fresh cranberries at the grocery, either, but I still had a bag of them in the freezer from last Christmas, and they will do. A friend has recently given me a bunch of leeks, so we’ll start it all off with vichysoisse, and we’ll end it with apple pie and whipped cream. I think Squanto would be happy to attend. And I think that next year, I’ll go with something more traditional: grilled cheese sandwiches and vegetable soup, and very thankful for both.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Bear Comes to the Market

The other bear; the other market. This past week, a bear dropped in on the dumpsters at the back of the supermarket at the mall in Gibsons. It was evening, but not late enough in the evening that everything was closed. There were cars in the parking lot, people in the mall and the parking lots, and now a bear had joined the mix. The bear was just after the food potential in the dumpster, but somebody called the police; the police notified the bear conservation officers. Somehow, that notification got lost and it was the police (in this case, the RCMP) and the bear and the parking lot and the public that wrote the story.

The police were obviously concerned about what the bear might do. At least some of the people in the lot were concerned about what the RCMP might do. And eventually, the police did it. I would have thought that they would have tranquilized the bear and carted him off to sleep it off up in the mountains, but apparently when a bear is hit with a tranquilizer dart, he doesn’t obligingly fall down to the ground in a comatose state. Instead, he runs around with a strong sense of irritation and of having been violated. Not a good idea when there are a lot of people around.

Lots of concern after the fact. The bear conservation people say they wouldn’t have done anything differently; the police say they couldn’t just leave and hope for the best; the unhappy observers felt there must have been some other way to handle this than the way it was handled. The police suggest that it’s the mall businesses’ fault for leaving food in the dumpsters, just as they regularly tell the public that they are at fault for leaving food outside their houses, whether in compost bins, garbage cans, or on trees. I have a vague sense that lots of people think it’s the bears’ fault for not staying up on the mountains. Whoever is at fault, the bears have paid this year for their deeds. According to the local newspaper, 10 of them have been killed for bad behaviors in the face of over 600 calls from the public concerned about bear appearances.

The fact is, we can’t live with them and they don’t see any need to move somewhere else. Or maybe that’s, they can’t live with us and we don’t see any need to move elsewhere. In either case, we always have easy food and much of the time they don’t. And then they want our easy food. And we don’t mind all that much sharing it with them, but we want them to be grateful. And they aren’t.

I’ve never called the police about our bear but our bear has never shown particularly alarming tendencies, although he is not afraid of us, which is not a good thing. I get the fruit off the trees before it ripens, but we have an acre of wild blackberries that both bear and we eat, and there’s no way in the world that I’m going to be able to get rid of all those blackberry bushes, even if I wanted to. He rarely messes with the compost bin, but it does occasionally happen and that is a black mark against me for having failed to get it mixed up enough with leaves and previously composted vegetation. Mostly, I freeze such material and deliver it to the garbage can about 15 minutes before the garbage truck arrives.

That’s not a viable solution for everybody. You've got to have enough freezer space; you've got to be around 15 minutes before the garbage truck comes. The individual public can do more to discourage bears, certainly, but the common public (what we call the local government, I mean) is going to have to make it more possible for individuals to act responsibly. Otherwise, we’ll just be killing the bears one by one until they are all gone. We did it to the buffalo, we did it to the passenger pigeon; we can surely manage to do it to this small population of black bears on the Sunshine Coast. And then we'll be sorry. And then, after awhile, we will have forgotten that there used to be bears here. That's how we tell the story.

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Rain for Canada?

At least not today on the B.C. coast and not in the Canadian economy more generally, perhaps. There’s a notable difference up here--in my experience--in people’s preoccupation with the infamous financial meltdown. When I’m talking to people in the U.S., it would appear that they are really cringing at what lies ahead. When I’m talking to Canadians, not so much. They know about what’s going on (at least as much as any of us knows), but they don’t appear to be shaking in their boots. On the other hand, when I went out to our field yesterday, there was a big, barred owl looming above me in a tree branch. It looked like a ‘bird of ill omen,’ although I think that’s traditionally a raven. Maybe the owl is the bird of financial ill omen.

Last month, when they were having an election, the Progressive (correction: Progressive Conservative) Party leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, didn’t seem to think that Canada was going to have any trouble with economic problems at all. The leaders of the other parties unsuccessfully tried to make the case that problems lay ahead and Steve wasn’t the boy to be in charge in such a case. Day to day, the headlines since the election--which Harper won--have had him on an erratic course: one day acknowledging that there may indeed be a storm ahead, another day that he’s prepared to do whatever it takes, and then the next day, it’s sunny Steve back in the news.

I, of course, have no idea of what Canada is likely to experience. The Governor of the Bank of Canada recently announced that Canada has the finest banking system in the world and that virtuous Canadian banks weren’t involved in those dirty deals that are causing the U.S. banks to come crashing down upon us all south of the 49th parallel. I think, when I read this, of all the U.S. dignitaries who are always saying that the U.S. has the finest healthcare system in the world, even though all it has is the most expensive healthcare system in the world. Maybe Canada just has an expensive banking system. Canadian financial stocks are being hit in the stock market gyrations so they must have been doing something dubious in their spare time. And this morning, the Finance Minister said that there had been some shrinkage in the economy in the past two quarters and that would suggest Canada was now, by definition, in a recession. But, by afternoon, he was a little more iffy about this.

On the other hand, Canadians have had the unpleasant experience of having their dollar weaken very suddenly and dramatically over the past 8 weeks as the U.S. dollar has strengthened. No justice here, one must say. If the U.S. has behaved badly on the economic front, how fair is it that the Canadian dollar is punished? Last summer, a U.S. dollar check for $1,000 would buy you only $960 Canadian dollars; this week, it is more like $1,290; or at least it was on the day that the Canadian dollar rose to $1.29 against the U.S. dollar. It bounces around a lot: one day it will be $1.29, the next day $1.23. It’s like the stock market itself in that respect. In all the years I’ve been watching dollar values, I’d never seen it move more than a penny or two in a day. Canada buys a lot of goods from the U.S., and those goods all increased in price by at least 20% in a matter of weeks. Something else to be amazed by and worried about.

The housing market up here on the Sunshine Coast is said to have come to a dramatic stop, after a frenetic run-up over the past few years. And stores in the malls are starting to disappear. Yesterday, when I was at the grocery store, I noticed that three stores were gone and in their places were three temporary stores…that is, short term leases (two Christmas goods stores and a jewelry liquidation place, which might really be three Christmas goods stores). I have a friend who owns a consignment store and she says business is better there, though. Maybe at the thrift stores, too.

Canada’s too close to the U.S. not to catch cold when the U.S. sneezes, but it looks like they’re hoping it will be only a light cold, nothing a little extra Vitamin C won't deal with. I’m wishing them well, but I don’t think the U.S. can be having the same kinds of hopes. No Sunny Steve for us.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Something Entirely Different

This morning, I was reading an article by Henry Paulson in Foreign Affairs, and was so irritated by it that I sat down to write some kind of reply, if only to myself. Then I decided I'd post it as a diary on Daily Kos, the left-political group blog. So today's blog is over there, if you are interested in reading what I think of Henry Paulson, Sec'y. of the Treasury, as a writer. You can find it here.

Back tomorrow with the wind and weather from the Sunshine Coast.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pardon Whom?

We’re down to the last six weeks before the changing of the guard and now facing one of the last awful parts of all presidencies: the pardons. The blogs and the political droners all have lots to say about who needs a pardon and who is likely to get one. There are said to be 2,300 applicants already for this honor (or dishonor, as the case may be). The Washington Post, last night, had a poll up where we brainless readers could provide our opinion as to whether Bush would in fact pardon those on their list of the top six: Edwin Edwards, Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham, Michael Milken, Marion Jones, Ted Stevens, and Scooter Libby. I made up an opinion so that I could see what my fellow Americans had to think on this topic about which they have no information and it turns out that Scooter Libby is very high on the list of those whom we expect to get a pardon. A potential two-time winner: not only a commutation of sentence but also a pardon. What a guy.

Over at Slate, Dafna Linzer has a longer list of potential pardonees, as well as an estimate of their probable success in winning Bush’s heart. Her list is long enough that it needs to be divided into six categories including Sports Felons, Texas Felons, Bush Team Felons, Congressional Felons, Team Abramoff Felons, and White Collar Felons (including Martha Stewart). (Regardless of category, there are an awful lot of Republicans on this list.)

With respect to the success of all these requests, my position is largely that of Luke 12:48: For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. And I don’t think that includes asking for a pardon when one has been convicted of a crime. The idea that Michael Milken will be pardoned (considered a very good possibility by Linzer) is a drag upon my spirit. To err is human; to forgive, divine; to forget, impossible. I don’t want Milken forgetting what he did or being able to pretend it never happened, and I’d just as soon nobody else forgot or pretended either.

However, with all this talk of political felons and potential felons (such as all the torture planners and law debasers in this administration) being pardoned, there is one felon not much discussed in the U.S. but of great interest to Canadians. Google ‘Conrad Black’ ‘presidential pardon,’ and you get the usual billion links, the first page of which is all Canadian sources. And that is because U.S. residents and citizens would mostly be saying, ‘Conrad who?’ Canadians, would not. They know Conrad well. He’s a former Canadian business mogul from Winnipeg, the CEO of Hollinger International which controlled newspapers in Canada and all over the world (including many U.S. community newspapers).

What the Canadians have against Conrad (and why they are interested in his pardon request) is not that he was rich and powerful, nor that he was found guilty in the U.S. in 2007 of using very large amounts of the company’s funds for his personal use, but rather that, in 1992, he gave up his Canadian citizenship in order to get a seat/title in the U.K.’s House of Lords. (Canadian citizens may not hold titles in another country.) And insulted Canada and Canadians on his way out. Eric Reguly wrote in The Times, "The great man fled his native Canada for Britain. He couldn’t wait to leave, he said, because Canada was turning into a Third World dump run by raving socialists." He is Conrad Black in Canada, but in England, he is Baron Black of Crossharbour. Nevertheless, he is currently residing in a U.S. prison (in Florida) serving a 7-year sentence that was accompanied by a $6 million fine. My sense of talking to Canadians is that they are okay with him being in the U.S., but prefer it to be without the pardon.

So here’s another difference between Canadians and Americans that I wouldn’t know about if I didn’t live here. The Canadians couldn’t care less about Scooter Libby; by contrast, the Americans couldn’t care less about Conrad Black. Caught in between, my advice is pardon none of them, none of the rich and famous and well-placed: God will recognize his own.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fear Not!

Yesterday, I received an email from an old California friend who moved to Whidbey Island about six months ago. We’ve been trying to find a time to go visit her, but it’s been hard what with one scheduled event or another. She writes that they will be in residence in December unless they have called a moving van by then, responding to their neighbors’ warnings of fearful power blackouts and gray skies and relentless rain. I doubt if she is actually thinking that there will be any call to the moving company or is fearful of gray skies or rain because she is a stalwart trouper, but I think that is how people feel that city people are likely to respond to life in the rural (or sort of rural) northwest. It is true that there are regular power outages, it is true that the skies are really gray in these dark months, it is true that it rains a lot (this morning, for example, when it was hard to believe that anything but staying in one’s pajamas, in one’s bed, in one’s bedroom, with one's engaging novel ought to be happening, never mind those scheduled events on one’s calendar.

Still, you can buy a generator if you are too worried about losing power; and you can put up some cheerful LED light strings and buy sunlight-corrected light bulbs to fend off the gray days, and you can buy a nice raincoat or a sturdy umbrella for the rainy days. It’s not like living in, say, Minnesota in the winter after all. It’s not dangerous. Hardly anyone I know has a generator, when it comes to the fact. A friend who lives on Salt Spring Island just bought one because there, he says, they have periods of a week without electricity, and if it’s going to be a week, you are going to lose whatever is in the freezer. That’s a reason not to live on Salt Spring Island, maybe, but it’s not a reason not to live on the mainland, where the power, at least in my 16 years up here, has never been off more than 48 hours, which a refrigerator/freezer can manage if you are not opening it all the time. In neither Point Roberts nor on the Sunshine Coast are we in danger of flooding from excess rain because everything runs very quickly into the ground, down the ditches, and into the ocean. We don’t have local rivers that overflow. (Flooding can (and does) happen from the ocean, of course, if the tides are high and the wind is strong and from the wrong direction, but even that is pretty much restricted to houses proximate to the beach. And that’s a reason not to live too close to the beach, I guess.)

Overall, however, there’s not much to worry about, or at least not much that is within one’s control (as contrasted with, say, earthquakes). I don’t know what will be the effect on the northwest if the Big Three auto companies fold, but I don’t suppose that any of us has much to say about that outcome. But this is life in the time of fear, which has become the U.S. brand; but it’s also life in the time of a big belief in personal control of one’s life. We’d be better off it were Life in the Time of Stoicism. The Stoics thought that the goal of life was to live in agreement with nature. I’m pretty sure that would include gray skies, lots of rain, and power outages. Californians! City People! Be Not Afraid!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Please! Help! Or Not?

Two weeks ago, the Point Roberts Garden Club people sent out a notice on the Point Interface Email List to inform their neighbors that it was time to come down to Tyee Drive and plant this years’ new daffodil bulbs in the easements so that next spring we will all be gobsmacked by the sight of 20 dozen or so daffs smiling up at us day after day. They were planning the planting for two hours on each of three days the coming week. Monday didn’t work for me because I had a quilting student, but I planned to go down on Tuesday and Thursday to help out. Monday afternoon, I drove by and saw that they had gotten a good start because all the beautiful pink cosmos on one side of the street had been unpended and were lying behind the now-bare raised beds.

But Tuesday morning, the rain was pouring, and I figured that there would be no bulb planting that day. Thursday was no better: more rain. By the weekend, another notice came out as to when they needed help. But that week had its own problems with everyone’s rain and my previously scheduled activities. And, as it happened, the bulb planting still didn’t get done. Finally, a third notice of times came out and I planned to go on the third day. But when I drove by in the afternoon of the second day, it looked like it was already finished, so I didn’t show up on the third day. And it turned out that that was the day they actually finished.

So, what we’ve got here is a failure of communication, or something. The bulbs are all in the ground and I did nothing to help that happen. And that’s okay because other people did manage to get there to make it happen. But I think I need to be either harder on myself, or more generous with others when I notice that they are not showing up for some community work that I did manage to get to do.

I can imagine that one of the conditions for living here would be doing community service. Sort of like military service. Everyone would be required to do five units of community service each year. Okay, I can see right away that that is a genuinely crazy idea because who would decide what constituted a unit of service, who would keep track of laxness, what would punishment be for failure to do service (eviction? exile? who would enforce that?), who would decide who could be excused on grounds of …well, then also who would decide what conditions would be grounds for an excuse? Obviously a bureaucratic nightmare. Better just personal responsibility. It would be a good thing, indeed a morally good thing, if everyone tried to do something for the community each year. But it’s up to each of us to make that happen. The alternative is not a good choice.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Christmas Decor

I was driving east on Benson the other day and turned to look through the Drewhenge Arch as I passed it. I usually do this because I am interested in discovering where Mr. Drew’s black-and-white-spotted metal cow is pasturing from day to day. This realistic objet d’art sometimes is facing the road, sometimes has his back (or side) to passersby, sometimes is close to the arch, sometimes is far back. I imagine that at night he crosses the road and crops the grass closely in the field opposite. I imagine this because that field is always close-cropped and I’ve never seen people or machines cutting it. Must be the work of an artistic cow.

Anyway, there was the cow. But, on the other hand, the cow was not exactly the cow I expected to see. Today, the black and white spotted cow has become a Christmas cow. He is red and green spotted. Not a bright and garish red and green, but instead a subdued, tasteful red and green, the kind of Christmas colors you see in high-end stores.

I have to laugh to think of Mr. Drew thinking to do this. If I had a metal cow, I probably wouldn’t move it around, and I probably wouldn’t change the color of its spots to celebrate the season (will they be yellow and lavender for Easter?). But I am glad to know that he is thinking of these things, and now he is making me think about them, too. I am wondering what else he could do. Will the cow have a mortar board with tassel when we come to graduation time? Will the cow get a parka for the winter? Will the cow ever get a friend? Does Mr. Drew need outside help in thinking about this? I am also thinking of knocking on Mr. Drew’s door and asking him what he’s about. Probably an inventor not only of locking stones but of something even more amazing. Something to do with cows, I imagine.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Knocking on Doors

Sometimes I think that what I might best do is just knock randomly at doors in Point Roberts and ask the occupants to tell me about themselves: what they do and why they’re doing it here. A couple of days ago, we did approximately that and did we get a story! It wasn’t entirely random, of course, and we were invited to come to hear the story, but it wasn’t anyone I knew, although I had been introduced to him at a party once.

The P.R. resident in question lives over on the bluff on the east side of the Point, which means that his front room windows open onto a grand view of Boundary Bay, as well as the far shore down south to Bellingham, and across to the majestic Mount Baker. The sunrises, he confided, are beyond beautiful. As a late riser, I’m likely never again to see a sunrise, but I could surely imagine how beautiful they would be from this perch.

Our host is a gentleman in his mid-80’s, a retired physician (cardiac research) with a British accent. Ed first came to know of him because he is the only person on the Point with his own helicopter. Next to his house was a funny, helicopter-shaped shed where the machine was kept when not in the air. It’s empty now because he has exchanged it for a small, fixed-wing plane over at the P.R. airport. (I’m thinking about the perfect purpose for this long, thin, and now empty shed/hangar.) I first heard of him because a quilting acquaintance was working with him on his post-retirement work, which was inventing an electric car. Which he has done, complete with patents and business. You can read about his work at his company’s website.

What he’s got going is a modular car. It has two parts: the upper part with the seats, enclosure, steering, etc., is called the Ridon; the bottom part, which has the wheels, the mechanical aspects of a car, and the batteries, etc., is called the Modek. Together, they form the Ridek. The idea is that you buy the top part (which can be as stylish as you’d like it) and you lease access to the bottom part (this lower module is not really visible except for the wheels and the module has a life of about 30 years). When your battery runs low, you take the whole thing to a battery station and they exchange the bottom part of the car for a newly charged one. The bottom and top are connected by latches and the whole trade out takes a matter of minutes because, other than the mechanical connection of the latches, the breaks, and the steering, everything else connects wirelessly.

Now, this all sounds like leggos to me given my total lack of knowledge about cars and how they work, but after a couple of hours of explanation, I got it. One thing is that a battery-powered car is a lot less complex mechanically than a gas-powered car, so a lot of the parts that I vaguely think of as essential and complex would not be there…carburetors, pistons, intakes, gas tanks (certainly the last—even I can figure that out). Thus a modular mechanical car isn’t that complex a deal.

He already has an agreement with a Peruvian who wants a fleet of Rideks for use as taxis in Lima. That’s a perfect starting point because it’s a contained use: one company that owns all the Rideks and can create all the battery exchange places, with uses that involve single trips of relatively short distances. The infrastructure has to be available only in Lima. Point Roberts might be another perfect place. An entire country, though: well that’s another matter. But as we talked, I saw/I heard that he is decades ahead of me in his mind, thinking not only about how to make this happen, but also about how this will happen, whether with the Ridek or something else very much like it. I looked at the model (which includes solar panels on the roof to power the air conditioning), and thought, ‘but it doesn’t look like a car.’ And then I thought about the Model T and the SUV and how little they look alike, and the way in which change happens and happens. We live through it incrementally, but it happens over the long run, too. That is the change that he lives in, while I’m here back in the little day-to-day change. Some door to knock on!

(A final benefit of this visit is that I can now talk (if only vaguely) about V2G, which means ‘vehicle to grid.’ This is a much discussed proposal in which a world of battery-powered cars are sitting around with power stored in them that is not, at the moment, needed by the car. If they were all connected to the national power grid when parked, it could help to deal with the electricity companies peak load problem, not least because the greatest draw of power for the utilities is during those periods when the cars are likely to be sitting unused, with stored power (i.e., at night, and during work hours). Well, I said ‘only vaguely.’)

Monday, November 17, 2008


Early last week, we went over to the houses of a couple of absent friends—one gone for the winter, the other gone for the week—and cleaned up their apple trees (with prior permission, of course) to prepare for the Fall Juice Event. Many years ago, good friends of ours on the Point managed to barter a quilt for a home apple press. It’s not a terribly big machine, as the picture shows, and only the hopper part is electrical--the small motor is there on the left of the flat top. The rest of it operates by hand. We had picked about a 100 pounds of apples for the event, and others had brought as much again. An evening’s worth of diligent work lay ahead with the promise of an excellent product from our efforts.

Our friends got the press 8 years ago or so and they juice on several nights in October and November, every fall. We usually manage to get to at least one of these occasions. There are five or six discrete jobs involved in this process, so it’s good to have at least that many people, although if you have more than that, everyone can take a brief rest now and then. It’s not hard work, but it does involve standing on a concrete floor for three or four hours. The floor leads to a certain need for respite among the older crowd, especially.

On Saturday night, we went over early with apron in tow. It’s a sticky business, this apple juicing. There were five of us working. Here are the six jobs: washer, cutter/culler, plopper, barrel changer, presser, and bottler. The barrel changer can also double as bottler. First the apples are washed in warm water; then they are cleaned up (the bad parts cut out) . Next they are cut into reasonably-sized pieces. Finally they are plopped into the hopper of the machine. (There are pictures here of the process and the workers.) At that point, the serious pressing begins.

I always work as a plopper. This means I take the cut apple pieces and drop them one piece at a time into the hopper. If you get them in the hopper too fast, they will clog and then the whole process gets slowed down as the grinding has to stop to unclog the machinery. I throw them gracefully into the hopper. I like to throw things, generally. However, I don’t get much opportunity to throw in this life because I can’t catch anything. I can’t catch because when an object comes at me, I close my eyes. So I never get to throw because virtually all throwing also requires one to be willing/able to catch. I toss the apple pieces into the hopper with the intent of hitting a particular spot and then they get crunched up, and I never have to catch them because they don’t come back to me.

I don’t know that it’s the best job, but it’s the best one for me. Of course my co-workers may also think it’s the best and may think of me as a terrible plopper-hog. The plopper also has to sense when the small barrel under the machine is almost full of smooshed apples. You can visually check this, but it isn’t easy to see and you don’t want to keep checking because it requires you to get in other people’s way. Once that barrel is full, you turn the motor off, and the barrel is moved forward so that the presser can take over. He turns a handle with a screw mechanism that presses the juice out. The juice flows down into a bucket. The bottler takes the bucket and fills and labels the bottles (ie, date and to whom the juice belongs). The barrel changer is the person who disposes of the apple mass that remains in the small barrel after the juice has been pressed out. This mass is called ‘pomace’ and it can be fed to chickens or composted. The barrel changer replaces the once-again empty mesh bag into the small barrel and puts it back under the hopper. And then you repeat the whole process. (This is beginning to seem like a Wiki-How.)

By 10:30, we were done with many, but not all the apples, and we called it a night. There’ll be another juicing yet to come with different workers, different apples. We made maybe 15 gallons over the course of the evening. Could have been more, but I wasn’t counting. Some of it will go to the P.R. Food Bank, some will go to one of the descendants of the first Icelandic families (who remembers when some of those strange, now wild, old apple trees were planted), some will go to us, some to the press owners, some to people who come around and long for a draft of fresh apple juice. You bring apples, you work the press: you’re guaranteed juice like nothing that comes from a grocery store, not even Whole Foods.

It’s not only different from what stores offer, but it’s also different from itself. Each small lot tastes different than the next one because each lot uses different kinds of apples or has a different mix of apples in it. Some juice is very sweet; some is spicy, some tastes more fruity, some is slightly astringent. We all have little sips, little tasting glasses of each lot, and note that they are different, but we still have no language for the experience. The wonder of apples: we are rendered speechless.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Very Crafty

Today was the Christmas Craft Fair, brought to us here on the Point by a group of extraordinarily hard-working volunteers. I went over this morning early while the people were setting up in order to drop off some donations (quilt stuff) for the raffle, and it was not clear whether these tireless organizers were seeking sainthood or martyrdom (or perhaps were just garden-variety masochists), given the difficulties of getting lots of people organized once a year for a complex but short event in a confined space. The Point Roberts’ Food Bank, which is the financial beneficiary of their work, surely thanks them in any case.

Seeing an event like this when it is empty of attendees and just about half put together by the participants is an interesting kind of sight. For me, it is actually possible to see it at this point, because when every thing is in place and the rooms in the Community Center are filled with sellers, buyers, and great quantities of goods, I am so overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and movements that I retire to the corners and close my eyes. But this morning, it was just about right: all sparkles and not too much sound or motion. The sparkles, of course, are because it is a Christmas event. For Easter, e.g., you wouldn’t get near so many sparkly things. Maybe that’s because Christmas and the Solstice are sister events. Easter, more related to the equinox, is a less sparkly kind of event.

I went back in the afternoon, when the sights, sounds, and motions were at a pretty maximal level, and did not manage to stay long, though I did manage to buy some sweet treats from three pre-teens who had a table full of home-baked goods. There were beautiful jewels, garden ornaments, knit and crocheted goods, plants, scented bottles, soaps, and candles, Christmas goods and ornaments, lovely objects d’arts—and especially the painted gourds--and more than a few food tables that weren’t going to make a big contribution to that ‘heart healthy diet’ so much not-discussed at this time of year. I also bought a little bag of scrumptious candied orange-peel made by a woman who lives down the block and around the corner. In addition, you could buy a fine-smelling lunch to keep up your energy during the event. The parking lot of the Community Center was full, fuller than I’ve ever seen it, and I ran into lots of people I know. All-in-all, it appeared a very successful event. It’s the first of the Christmas craft fairs I’ve been to this year, and the first is, of course, always the best.

There were something like 32 different tables, most of which were personned by people from Point Roberts. We do a lot of things here by hand; there is a lot of interest in art; and we are a community concerned about being a community. It is doubtless that which leads to our complex blend of communitarian impulses and libertarian orientation. We reach out to one another, we pull back into ourselves. Today we had on display the best fruits of both tendencies.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Big World

We went out to the big world tonight. Point Roberts is thirty minutes from Vancouver Airport, thirty minutes from Richmond with all the malls that Vancouver’s Hong Kongese immigrants could ever want or imagine, and thirty minutes from Steveston’s Silver City, an 18 or so screen movie complex. Also, we are 45 minutes away from Bellingham’s world of shopping and medical care. Thus, we can talk about our isolation, and we are isolated down here, but an end to all that is very nearby if one chooses to go there.

I am occasionally chastised by friends and acquaintances who feel or perhaps even think that ‘I don’t get out enough.’ But, I think I get out just about enough. Somehow, traipsing back and forth between two countries seems quite a bit of ‘out” to me, even though Roberts Creek and Point Roberts share the same sense of isolation. But today, we did make it to the world of art and culture because we made the thirty-minute drive to the Richmond Art Gallery (The RAG). We were there to participate in the big trading night following the one month exhibit of artist trading cards from all over the U.S. and Canada.

I’ve described ATC’s here, but in brief, they are like baseball trading cards in size (2.5"x3.5") but instead of cards picturing guys with chewing tobacco, they are each a little bit of handmade art. They can be in any conceivable medium—oil or acrylic paint, collage, pencil, crayon, watercolor, fabric (not so common), metal (even less common), toothpicks (very rare); and they are traded not sold. The RAG has an open exhibit each year: you send them nine cards in a regular trading card sleeve, and they put everything they get up in an exhibit. It is wonderfully interesting to see hundreds—actually thousands--of these cards, each one different, each one worth looking at for a bit. But of course, you can’t look at them each for very long or you won’t make it very far into the exhibit and your brain will close down from sensory/response overload.

Nevertheless, some of the cards are particularly noteworthy. At the end of the show (which was tonight), everyone who exhibited cards offers the cards up for trade. Even if you aren’t from nearby, you can have someone at the gallery do the trading for you. Last year, I didn’t make it to the trade, but this year I did. My cards (one of the themes, this year, was 'Life As Art’) had a series of fabric elephants who wore their art on their sizable sides.

We arrived just as the trade was about to start. There were maybe 30 people trading their own cards, plus the many cards from the show that were being traded but not personally because the people who made them were from far away. The trading is always a little intimidating. You have to walk up to people and thrust your cards out and while they peruse them, you say, ‘Want to trade with me?’ Everyone always says YES, but there’s always the feeling that someone won’t and I just don’t know quite how I’m going to respond to that if it happens. Probably, I’ll just say OK, and move on, but still.

Tonight, most of the traders were adults, but there were a number of kids with terrific cards. One card I came home with was a brush painting of mandarin oranges, done by a 12 year-old Chinese-Canadian. The kids’ work at every trade I’ve ever been to is the freshest, the most spontaneous, often the best, if not the most technically skilled work there. Another card I brought home is a lovely little painting of a woman holding a cat. That was particularly pleasing not only because it was beautifully executed but because it was made by a woman who lives in a small town in Missouri, right next to the small town in Missouri where my younger daughter lives. I’d been to the cat-painter’s home town, in fact. I’ll probably email her to thank her. Most of the artists include their email addresses and home towns on the back of the cards, along with their names.

People were trading not only their exhibit cards but also other cards that they had brought, so I came home with 24 new cards. Not only that: I got to see the two other exhibits at the gallery. A veritable banquet of art and culture, enough to last me for awhile. Thanks to all the traders and to the very idea of ATC’s itself!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sign of the Times?

This is the colorful, attractively-designed sign at the border station coming into Point Roberts. We all see it every time we cross that border, which is thousands of trips (cumulatively) per month. In fact, last month, the border crossing figures into Point Roberts were thus (with the October, 2007 comparison figures in parentheses):

Total Vehicles: 56,980 (58,673); Nexus Vehicles: 29,932 (16,299). The Nexus lane vehicles are a part of the ‘Total Vehicle’ numbers, but obviously there’s been a very big increase in Nexus lane crossings, even though overall crossing numbers have gone down slightly.

Now, back to that sign. At the border crossing there are, I believe, four lanes. The Nexus lane is #3; the sign in the picture is on the far side of lane #4. Which is to say that it is more visible from the Nexus lane than from the first two standard lanes. So those almost 30,000 vehicles that pass close by the sign every month have a very good view of it. Despite this fact and despite the fact that people in Point Roberts discuss the border on all social and business occasions, I have never heard anyone inquire or question or comment on this sign. At no time has anyone, to my knowledge, mentioned the parrot.

The sign orders us to declare fruits, vegetables, plants, and meats. It shows us, as examples of those categories, a tomato (perhaps), an orange/lemon/grapefruit, a philodendron, a ham, frankfurters/cocktail sausages, …..and a parrot. Surely not a fruit, a vegetable, or a plant. Surely not, well, …..I mean, What about the parrot?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Information and Freedom

‘Is it possible to blog for years about Point Roberts?’ my daughter inquires, and then answers the question herself: ‘I guess so. After all, while the rest of us will always have Paris, you will always have the border.’

Alas, she is probably right. I met a fellow recently who had experienced the border people’s refusal to renew his Nexus card, the card that gets you through the border with some speed. The point of such a card, for those of us who cross the border frequently, is that since you have do it all the time, you ought not to have to wait for hours each time while they decide, each time anew, whether you are a decent person. With Nexus, you pay them some money, they check you out, you get a card with your picture on it, and then you can go through the fast lane. You still have to declare goods, there are a whole set of rules you must master in order to use the card, and you still are subject to random searches. It’s just that most of the time, it’s a quick experience. They look at you, they look at your card with its picture of you on their computer, they see that it’s okay, you tell them what you need to, and they send you along. Good process, good idea.

The Nexus program thinks of this all somewhat differently, though. They refer to it as ‘The Trusted Traveler Program,’ so in some unclear way it depends upon whether they trust you. Having a card doesn't mean they trust you. At least that appears to be their view. Thus, the border people had refused this guy’s renewal on the usual unknown grounds. (I run into these people regularly: people who've had renewals or initial requests denied for no reason given.) ‘No,’ they say. ‘We don’t trust you and we don’t give information to people we don’t trust. Additionally, we are not going to tell you why because we couldn’t possibly be wrong, so there’s nothing you need to say to us and nothing that we need to hear from you.’

Some people lose their Nexus cards for actual reasons: a daughter’s jacket left in the car, something in the car that the Nexus rules declare you ought not to have in a Nexus lane. We could argue about the appropriateness of these reasons, but you can’t argue about whether ‘No Reason Given’ is an adequate reason to deny you your renewal. This guy had had his renewal refused for no reason, had requested that the decision be reviewed, and after a review, they refused it again for no reason. Next, he decided to put in a Freedom of Information Act request for information the border was holding about him, presumably information that was being used to justify their refusal.

I’ve never seen a FOIA letter and when he showed the papers to me, I was pretty interested. It included a half dozen or so pages relating to individual border dealings, and almost all the information on the forms was redacted, other than the guy’s name and the bottom line that all searches, whatever their occasion (and no reason for anything is specified), were Negative. Some guy in Washington gets to go over each of these pages and black out sections and give a number for each black-out. (Now, there’s a job you wouldn’t much want to have.) The number is to tell you one of the dozen or so possible reasons for this redaction. In this particular case, every redaction seemed to be justified by the page’s naming specific border agency people or specific border protocols.

So, he concludes that Nexus has no reason to find him untrustworthy. On the other hand, it must be that somebody, somewhere else in the government, has decided he can’t be trusted. And if he can just figure out who that person is, and where that person works, then he can, I guess, make another FOIA request. There are other alternatives, of course. He can never leave the Point, can come and go only in the middle of the night when there are no lines, or he can burn up a lot of gas waiting in the long lines of the regular lanes during normal transit hours. Or he can just sit down with a nice copy of Kafka's relevant work, and get over it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Change, Plus Change

We were at a Point Roberts party this weekend when I had a brief conversation with someone I had just met who told me that, although he now lived in Vancouver, he used to live in Point Roberts.

“What a loss,” I said, extending my sympathies, as it were.
He didn’t seem so sure although he acknowledged that “it was a nice house.”
“Where was it?” I asked.
“Down by the boondocks,” he responded.
“Well, the whole place is pretty much the boondocks,” I countered, asking for something more precise.
“No, The Boondocks,” he explained, making it clear that it was a place name, not a description.
“Where was that?” I asked.
“Down at the foot of South Beach.”
“But I live near South Beach…and there’s nothing named that there. Or at least not for the past fourteen years.”
“God! Has it been that long?” And we went on to talk about what had replaced The Boondocks, specifically a restaurant named the South Beach House, run by Max and Diane who, apparently, also ran The Boondocks.

I’ve never heard of The Boondocks. Although I’ve eaten a dozen times or more at the South Beach House, and have talked some to Max and Diane and their grown children as well, nobody has ever mentioned The Boondocks. And that’s not because it wasn’t a wonderful place, as this fellow assured me it was, but because life in Point Roberts is very transitory. People, and places, come and go. Well that’s true anyplace, of course, but here it is the more notable because there are so few people, so few places. And the places do occasionally come but mostly they seem to go. Since we’ve been here, The Breakers (a bar beloved by apparently everyone in Vancouver) has gone, as has Blackberries clothing store, the prom dress shop, The Secret Garden (tourist gifts), The Roof House Restaurant, and the Maple Beach general store. What has come includes a kind of dollar store called McFrugals, and The Big Maple Studio and Gallery which has mostly hand-made goods of various sorts, and the Café Cappana. What has come AND gone includes The White House (a thrift/recycle place), Christie’s (interior décor), the Maple Beach Restaurant, Sunflowers (another craft gallery), and Brewster’s Restaurant. So just add The Boondocks and all the other places that gave it up before I got here to that list.

Of course, there are lots of places that were here before we got here and will probably be here after we leave. Perhaps the most likely of those stayers to keep on staying is The Liberty Wine Shop, a purveyor of fine wines, a place I never even remember is here, probably because I am not a consumer of fine wines. I was reading an article in the New York Times today about some guy whose house was ‘under water’ (meaning it was now worth less than he owed on it) and he was talking about how he was holding tight right now. However, he said, there were limits: he was not about to give up his $24 bottle of Petit Surrah. Well, I just stand astounded and astonished. But that’s why The Liberty Wine Shop will probably always be here in Point Roberts.

I have less tolerance for change than I used to, of course, because I’m an old person. I think that we all have in our genes only so much ability to cope with change and by one’s 8th decade, the ability is likely to be running low. So, I’d like the places that are here to hang on for awhile in order to outlast the comings and goings of the current people, especially me. The old timers talk about Ben’s Store as if it had closed a few weeks ago, not a few decades ago and doubtless if I last another ten years, I’ll not only be talking about Brewster’s the way that fellow was talking about The Boondocks, but also talking to people who don’t know what I’m talking about. Well, la plus ca change, etc.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Keeping in Touch

So, how do we do it, when there are so few of us down here over the winter? There are lots of ways. There are events like the Christmas Craft Sale and Community Dinner. Usually those are both in late November or early December, but this year they've been separated into the Craft Sale in mid-November and the Community Dinner in January. It's a lot of work to do these two events (all volunteer efforts) and the decision was made to separate them so it wasn't so much work all at once. The Craft Fair is this Saturday and I donated a quilt to its raffle.

Then there is church every Sunday at the Lutheran Church where people check in on one another. There's the Wacky Walkers, who walk most mornings, even in the winter. The library (open on 3 days of the week) and the grocery store (open every day) are places where we see one another and find out what's up. The grocery store has a coffee bar, as well as a big bulletin board that is particularly worth attending to. Here, you can buy (or sell) a wood stove; rent (or sell) a cabin, a house, a boat, or a car; solicit baby sitting work; or advertise a concert. And most of the local groups, including the quilters, meet monthly throughout the winter. The quilters have a festive pot-luck dinner at Christmas. We had an intense discussion at last week's meeting about whether the husbands should be invited to the dinner this year. The final conclusion was they should come because they help to eat up the too-much food that we always bring and because some of them like to see the work we're doing and because some of them like to see the quilters themselves and don't very often do so. This is the kind of critical issue we are facing, now that the election is over.

The Cafe Cappana is open all winter and there is always someone there drinking coffee, eating lunch or breakfast, or using the computers. The Cappana is the kind of place that every small town has or needs. Lake Wobegon would admire it: good food, familiar staff, local, in every good sense of the word. There is nothing about the Cafe that feels processed or chain-store-like. And you can read the newspapers there, too.

So there are all kinds of ways of staying in touch. In addition, there is the electronic connection. For some years, one of the good citizens of the Point has maintained an email list called 'Point Interface.' People send her notices, ranging from meeting announcements to lost cats and dogs to misplaced electric drills to free furniture and well beyond these. When Ed finished his photos of the Point Roberts coastline, an announcement of their existence went out on Point Interface.

Anybody on the Point can request to be put on the list, and the list, according to its owner, is expanding considerably. For those of us who have kind of given up on the telephone (count me as one of those...remembering that we don't have much cell phone coverage here on the Point), this electronic line is extraordinarily useful. The amount of work involved in screening the items that people ask to have sent out to the list (the owner exercises sole and total discretion about appropriateness) and in keeping the list up to date is considerable, and I am very grateful to the list owner for doing all this. I imagine that someday, everyone on the Point will be on that list and it will become to the monthly newspaper something like what blogs have become to journalism: less hierarchical, less categorized, more spontaneous, in real time. To get on the list? Email your request to point-interface which is to be followed by atpointroberts and then dot net Of course, you do that in the standard email form: i.e., in regular type (not italic) using no spaces and with @ and .

So, through these gray days, we do keep in touch in many ways. We know we aren't the only ones left on the Point, even though it sometimes feels that we might be.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Anyone Here?

The days are short now; by 5:30, it’s effectively dark, and tonight there is an egg-shaped moon rising through the trees to the south-south-east (or something like that: I am direction-challenged). I went out for a longish walk this afternoon, a walk through what surely seemed a very strange landscape. It was darkening, but not yet dark, and it looked very much as if I had wandered into a setting for some Hollywood sci-fi movie, the vision of a town in which everyone had disappeared toward the end of an otherwise pleasant Sunday afternoon. House after house showed no signs of life, no lights of any kind. No cars were advancing or retreating down the roads. Driveways were empty. So inclined, I might have believed that The Rapture had happened, sadly—tragically—leaving me behind, and alone.

But, in fact, it is just Point Roberts as winter closes in on us. It wasn’t a very wintry day, today, but enough for Ed to get the winter lights up. These are not Christmas lights; they are not even decorative lights. They are lights attached to the trunk and branches of a mountain ash tree next to our porch. They turn on each night in order to communicate to anyone who might drive or walk down our street after 4:30 p.m. and until 11 p.m. that there is someone in Point Roberts, alive and well and wishing this/these other persons the best of an otherwise gray season.

After an hour of walking, I had seen one other human being (a man walked out of his door, picked up a big chunk of wood from his woodpile and returned to his fireside), as well as three cars in a row (a party I wasn’t invited to, I guess). There are only 1500 (circa) permanent residents here, but in the late fall, even that number drops as people drift southward. Of our ten quilters, one has gone to Mexico; another is heading soon to Florida, yet another is basking on the Hawaiian beaches for a bit. The folks who inhabit the marina have also headed to sunnier climates.

I don’t have much in the way of longings to be somewhere warmer, but I am always startled by the sense of desertion that arrives with November. And I wonder about the new people who have immigrated to P.R. over the past few years: what must they think when they see us in November? Or, more to the point, don’t see us in November. It is hard to convey the quiet, the stillness, the absence in such a walk. I mean, it’s not as if I were walking in some primal wilderness; I was on paved roads with many houses in view at all times. It’s a long way from living in Los Angeles, and I never feel it so much as during these November late afternoons.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Yesterday was devoted to cleaning up the almost-end of the apple harvest: making and freezing applesauce, making yet one more apple pie from our own apples. I’ve finally decided that an apple pie with only a top crust is just as good as (and maybe better than in some ways) an apple pie with two crusts. First, the bottom crust doesn’t get soggy if the apples are very moist; second, you don’t have to make two crusts; third, you cut the fat portion of the crust in half. Of course, I make up for that with having whipped cream with the apple one-crust pie, but whipped cream (like chocolates) is one of life’s small necessities. Or at least can be considered so if one is willing to use it in moderation.

I am still among the cooks that whip cream themselves because the stuff that comes in cans tastes funny to me. I used to think that people bought the canned stuff because they didn’t want to be committed to using an entire cup of whipping cream. But that can’t be the case because an entire can of pre-whipped cream (I know, it’s not really pre-whipped but is 'whipped' in the process of extruding it) also would have to be a commitment to the whole thing. I can only conclude that it is a trade-off: higher price and less good taste in exchange for not putting the 4 minutes into whipping it yourself. Seems like a bad bargain to me.

But, I was not meaning to talk about whipped cream. It was about the apples. There have been a lot of them, although not as abundant a year as most. My friends who press apple juice each fall usually have boxes of apples all over the cool parts of their house—brought in by friends and neighbors with excess—but the other day, I saw only a half dozen boxes at their house. So, less juice this year, maybe. Our Jonagold harvest has been the best of our 6 or 7 varieties this year: exquisite taste, juicy, crisp. I try to save them for eating, but we are now down to the last ten or so, so we will, sadly, soon have to shift to grocery store apples for eating. Within the next 6 weeks they start becoming noticeably stored apples. One of our trees has a few red delicious still considering ripening. The fall raspberry crop is also still thinking about ripening (no chance), but is settling for molding on the canes; the last red delicious will probably make it.) We’re all pretty conscientious about using up these apples. My neighbors, going away for a week or so, called us from the ferry to urge us to pick the end of the harvest from their tree while they are gone if we need apples. The apple harvest lasts for two months, at least, and it may be my favorite time of year just because it goes on and on and because apples are so shareable.

It is also time for the pecan harvest in New Mexico where my older daughter lives. She has a highly productive pecan tree and each year she ships us a couple of boxes, about twenty pounds each, of pecans in the shell. The first year she sent them, she also sent a pecan nutcracker of great ingenuity, called an ‘inertia nutcracker.’ It is sort of like a small log splitter, but only a picture will do, so you can see one here. (I am particularly fond of the fact that they advertise it as having been ‘invented by a medical doctor.’ Is that what they do in their spare time?) The inertia nutcracker, I believe, works only with pecans, but it really works. Even 80 pounds later, I still find the process entertaining. A truly fresh pecan is a wonder indeed; a fresh, toasted pecan even more splendid

When I get these boxes of pecans, I crack and use some and freeze the rest in the shell. Then, I take them out over the following year as I need them. Having twenty-thirty pounds of shelled pecans is one of life’s great riches, and when you combine it with those fresh apples? Why so much inclination to complain about life’s inadequacies? Today, I cracked the last of last year’s pecans because this year’s will soon be upon us. (At least I hope so.) I think of this as a day of thanksgiving: for the apples and the pecans. The Pilgrims landed in the wrong part of the country perhaps. Pecan pie: so much more everything than pumpkin could ever even dream of.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dressing Up

In 1967, Canadian children first saw what became a long-lasting childrens’ TV program, beloved by people now in their late 40’s, called ‘Mr. Dressup.’ Since I was not a Canadian child, I never saw it, but I always imagined it as being a program in which the main character dressed up in costumes. In fact, he did don an apparently endless array of costumes which were housed in something called ‘the tickle trunk.’ Except for the costumes, Mr. Dressup seems to have had a lot in common with Fred Rogers of ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.’ Fred Rodgers, of course, was not into wearing any costumes other than his Mr. Rogers costume. In any case, they were both apparently quiet, gentle men who urged children to be considerate and joyful in the world. Good advice.

I was thinking about Mr. Dressup and Mr. Rogers today because I spent a lot of time thinking about Michelle Obama’s dress from Election Night in Chicago. Well, not so much thinking about the dress itself, but about why the New York Times felt the need to publish an article evaluating it, why half the readers of the web-based version of the Times felt a need to have their own views about this vital issue preserved for the public record in the ‘comments’ section of the article, and about why the other half of the readership appears to have felt a need to forward the article to their nearest and dearest email list, said article now appearing in the ‘most forwarded articles.’

I understand why everybody, or at least every woman in the country, is so quick to have an opinion as to whether they do or don’t like this dress or any dress. We are brought up, tiresomely, to be deeply concerned about our clothes’ attractiveness and, by extension, our own attractiveness as the inhabitant of said clothes. But why does there have to be all this discussion? Why do we treat it as if it were a moral question that, with sufficient serious thought and broad discussion could be finally resolved. Was the dress good? Or bad? Was the dress good for Ms. Obama? Or bad for Ms. Obama? Was she too attractive? Not attractive enough? Did she ‘exhibit a rare lapse in taste,’ as the Times charged?

Since Ms. Obama was not trying to attract me or any of the respondents to the article, why do we care what she was wearing as long as it covered her adequately in a public setting and did not seem to be drawn from Mr. Dressup’s Tickle Trunk or the local Halloween store’s costume rack? Did we like Mr. Obama’s suit? Did we like Mr. Biden’s suit? Do we have much of any idea what their suits even looked like? No, we don’t. Why is that?

This election, they tell me, is transformational. I wish it would transform the press’ and the public’s snarky little habit of offering running critiques of women’s choice of clothes, especially women who really never asked to be in the public eye, or at least not as fashionistas. It seems to me that Michelle Obama is doing enough for us by agreeing to be the First Lady. It’s an honor and all that, but I can’t imagine that this is what she was looking for as the epitome of her existence. We could offer her the favor of letting her wear whatever she wants, without having to hear our disparaging comments. Mr. Rogers and Mr. Dressup would advise thusly: ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’ That's what we used to call good manners.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Next Time

I awakened this morning to find that Barak Obama is still President-Elect. And now, we get to see whether he and his team can handle this Leviathan of which they’ve won ‘control.’ I have my doubts, but not because of any personal inadequacies he may have, which are doubtless as legion as everyone elses’. No, it’s more a belief in human inadequacies. The whale is just too big and too complex, so good enough would be my highest hopes. And we’ll see.

Nevertheless, when I was driving about in beautiful, downtown Point Roberts today, I was impressed to see that the International Market’s main sign, one of those changing digital signs, instead of saying, ‘Pork Chops, $3.89’ and then rolling to ‘’Apple Juice, 1 gal.,$2.99,’ this morning said, ‘YES, WE CAN’ before it went to the pork chops, and then returned to the ‘YES, WE CAN .’ I surely hope we can and if the groceries stores are going to do their part, maybe we actually can, although it still is not quite clear to me what it is that we are looking to do. A lot needs doing, certainly.

I was also reading in Harper’s this morning, by chance, about Ken Silverstein’s conversation with a North Carolina Democratic political operative, Gary Pearce. Silverstein asked him about how issues affect a campaign like the one we’ve just been through. “There ain’t no issues—that’s the great myth of politics. . . Basically it’s about who you trust. Where do you think the country is heading and how do you feel about these two guys.’”

That had a real ring of truth to it. So, here’s one of the things maybe we can do. We can knock off elections like the one we’ve just been through ($2 billion according to NPR’s business program), get rid of position papers (except for the policy wonks who like to read them) and TV ads, and tighten it up to a kind of serial, reality show (much more popular with Americans than politics, anyway) in which the candidates appear on TV over a short period of time in several discreet programs designed for us to figure out if we can trust them. ELECTION 2012: WHO DO YOU TRUST? Presumably, the audience already knows how it thinks the country is doing. On these shows, the candidates will talk to people and they’ll do things. We could vary the format from election to election, but here’s some possibilities:

1. A session in which each helps aMedicare recipient understand the bills that Medicare and secondary insurers have sent to them and explains what they should do next. Specific bills will be available for discussion.
2. A session in which they negotiate differences between two angry people.
3. A session in which each provides counselling to a family in foreclosure.
4. A session in which each discusses with someone like Joe the plumber whether he’s likely ever to become a successful entrepreneur; which is to say, what it would take as compared to where he is now.
5. A session in which they describe their funniest vacation, their best vacation, their worst vacation.
6. A session in which they help us to understand what a specific losing sports team should and could do to improve its hopes of a winning season; maybe the Cubs, since baseball is the American sport.
7. A session in which they explain their tax returns to us (their returns will be available for print-out via the net before the program so we can follow along with the discussion).
8. A session in which each tries to entertain, for fifteen minutes, a small child whom they did not previously know, and then engages in conversation with a (similarly unknown) first-time voter between the ages of 18 and 20 for the rest of the program’s time.
9. A session in which each spends fifteen minutes with Katie Couric, Chris Matthews, Jon Stewart, O’Reilly and O’Hannity, or someone of that sort with the ‘that sort’s’ job to be not to interview but to try to intimidate the candidate.
10. A session in which each describes how he and his wife and his children managed to pay their college tuition. This can be a very short session, of course, for some candidates.

Now, I’m sure there are other, better ideas for these sessions (although I do think ten is a nice number). The trouble with blogging is that you don’t get to sit and think about ideas for a week or two. But the concept is what I’m after here. No way this costs two billion. The TV time is free: the public owns the airwaves; the stations only lease them. Everybody is required to wear the same outfit each time so we can keep their identities straight, so no large clothing expenditures are required. Everyone will be required to get a $400 haircut, however. Even counting the haircut, the candidates can be expected to pay for this out of their pocket change, thus freeing the public of lobbyists. And since issues don’t matter, the public won’t have to be working to figure out things that they find difficult to keep track of. And, very best of all, it will eliminate all need for PUNDITS during the election season. They can go vacation in France and vote absentee, and the rest of us will be pundit-free for ten weeks. Excellent!

Ten weeks at the most the final campaign will take and we will have to hear from them only for ten programs, which would be ten hours at the most. And we would surely be better able to figure out whether we could trust them from this, as compared to what we have just gone through which has largely made me want to trust neither of them. We can be easier on ourselves AND on the candidates. Yes, We Can. And that is change you can believe in, my friends. Or something.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day in Point Roberts

Cloudy today, with an expectation of rain most of the day, although there were occasional glimpses of sun. But it doesn't really matter whether it's raining or not with respect to its being election day because nobody in Point Roberts goes to the polls to vote. When we first moved to Point Roberts, you could choose to vote by mail. You didn't have to claim that you wouldn't be here on election day or anything. You just chose to vote that way. We usually did, because we often weren't here on the actual day, although I did once vote in person over at the Community Center. It wasn't a particularly memorable event: I was the only person there at the time and, because I had previously voted by mail, I had to cast a provisional ballot in order to make sure that I hadn't also voted by mail (and somehow forgotten that fact?).

But a few years back, the state of Washington decided we could just all vote by mail, and so we do. About three weeks before the election, you get a ballot and its paired return envelopes and a state-prepared ballot explanation/statement, to offer explanations of initiatives, which we always have: that quality we share with California. My view is that an initiative is almost always worth voting against. I can imagine another possibility but the initiative people have to convince me that they're the one. You do your mail balloting by pen (black or blue ink) and then you get it postmarked by election day. The last mail goes out of Pt. Roberts at 3:15 p.m., so here at 3:34 p.m., the vote is over.

We voted a couple of weeks ago, so today is, in that respect, not much of a ceremonial event. I drove down to see a friend today and passed maybe a half dozen signs for Obama. Well, four signs for Obama and two signs against McCain/Palin. The Ron Paul signs that used to adorn many telephone polls are all gone away by now and weren't replaced by Bob Barr signs. So, from Washington, which nobody thinks is a state that might go for McCain, to the rest of the country: We're done. Take it away.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Beach Life

The newspaper this months brings another host of problems to us here in Point Roberts. The newest one is the county’s shoreline management amendments. As I previously mentioned, Washington seems to give ownership on waterfront property clear down to the low tide mark. However, it makes up for it, happily, by requiring something of those who own that property. Currently, it is defining buildings/structures/houses/etc. within 150 feet of the water (not clear to me whether that’s high water mark, low water mark, or some midline) as ‘non-conforming structures.’ And, as ‘non-conforming structures, they need to have special permits if the owners wish to rebuild or add to the building/structure/etc., if the addition has a value in excess of $5,781. (Such a nice, precise number, no? You do wonder where that came from.)

Local waterfront owners are, the newspaper reports, up in arms, although it may also be local realtors who are feeling bad. Some waterfront property owners have filed a suit against the county on the grounds that the County Council is not following proper procedures in making these changes, but the unhappiness is all about property rights. You might think that if you were lucky enough to have a piece of beachfront property in Whatcom County, you’d be willing just to count your blessings. But here in the land of libertarians, people surely do feel that they have pretty much an absolute right to do whatever they want on their own property. Lots of luck when the Washington State Department of Ecology AND the county are on the other side of the court.

The unhappy lawsuit filers have declared in their suit that these new rules are excessively restrictive. I wonder if they get the same people to quantify ‘excessive’ as the County gets to quantify the allowable addition’s value? And what would that line of work be called? Excessively restrictive seems a little like overkill to me. Excessively inconvenient to the owners, doubtless. But they seem about as restrictive as they are.

Nevertheless, the litigants maintain in their suit, according to the All Point Bulletin, that this excessive restrictiveness must be stopped because, if it is allowed to go forward, their waterfront property will ‘be rendered virtually valueless .’ Is virtually valueless much more than actually valueless? That statement itself seems excessively hysterical, I’d say. Perhaps I ought to make an offer to one of the beachfront owners. I'd be willing to offer a quarter of the assessed value of one of these places. After all, if they’re ‘virtually valueless,’ a quarter of the assessed value ought to be a terrific offer which would be quickly taken up. And then I too would be lucky enough to live on the beach, even if in a ‘non-conforming structure,’ and could worry about my rights being violated.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Grey Sky. .

…and an empty sea. There’s almost always a ship, a sailboat, a barge, a something out in the Strait of Georgia when I walk down there, but not today. Everybody’s home thinking about the future, maybe. This summer, the number of cruise ships going by, both in Point Roberts, out of Seattle, and in Roberts Creek, out of Vancouver, has been impressive. Some of them look as if they could easily be hauling small towns around…2,000 passengers, at least. That could be an interesting community activity, I suppose.

I’ve never been on a cruise. It seems kind of self-indulgent to me, I guess, or it requires me to be more indolent than I am comfortable being. It also doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that people like me do, despite the fact that I have many friends, who are indeed in many ways like me, and who go on cruises and have good times. But I doubt if I would. Jackie O goes on cruises, the Astors go on cruises, movie stars (say, Fred Astaire) in highly romantic movies go on cruises. The military also goes on cruises, of a sort. All things being equal, I’d rather work in the garden. Of course, by next year, maybe nobody will be going on cruises, maybe everybody will be working in their garden whether they want to or not.

I was looking at an old cook book of my mother’s the other day, one that I fancy she received as a wedding present since it dates from then. What can it have been like to have started out a new life as the Great Depression was just beginning but the direction was clear? Of course, she probably didn’t know it was the Great Depression at the time, just bad economic times. Her parents lost all their money in that great crash, but she and my father didn’t have any money, so they didn’t have anything to lose, and they both had jobs, although she quit hers shortly afterwards.

But the thing about the cookbook is this: Although, first published in 1930 (with 1931, 1933 editions), it was written in the 1920’s, when everyone was flying high, when people who never before had had money had suddenly become people with a lot of money, people who had big houses and went on cruises and gave dinner parties. About 50 pages of this relatively small book are devoted to explaining how to handle servants and how to entertain guests at meals: what the servants wear and when they change attire (butlers wear different attire before and after dinner, e.g.). A great deal of advice is provided on how many different pieces of silver are to be arranged at each plate, what kinds of foods go together for an ‘informal meal’ as opposed to a ‘formal meal.’ What to serve at a formal tea, and where to serve it. And on. In addition, there is a special section on how infants and children are to be introduced to food.

Clearly, this book is intended to bring people up to speed in some higher social class than they started out, to make them feel more confidence in their new position. Maybe going on cruises is like that, designed to make people feel better about having enough money to go on a cruise. My guess is that the cookbook’s instructions would have just made them feel more intimidated, and maybe a cruise as well, but then I’m not so interested in cruises or dinner parties. I mean, look at the Astors: did it do them any good? At least, not after the first part.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Canadian Cut-Ups

The Montreal comedy team pranksters who lured Sarah Palin into thinking she was on the receiving end of a phone call from French President Nicholas Sarkozy are operating in an honorable Canadian tradition, although when it happened in the 2000 election, it didn’t get any U.S. coverage that I ever saw. What could account for that?

In 2000, Rick Mercer (of the Canadian equivalent of Saturday Night Live) tracked down George W. Bush at a campaign event in Michigan and managed to get close enough (with a camera team) to tell him that ‘Prime Minister Poutine’ of Canada had endorsed him. Bush got an ‘oh, shucks!’ look on his face, and allowed as to how, as I recall, he was ‘very flattered.’ Of course, Prime Minister Poutine would most accurately be translated as the Prime Minister of french-fried potatoes with cheese curds and gravy, but we could scarcely expect Bush to have known that. Although we might have thought he would know that the Canadian Prime Minister was Jean Chretien and that he might even conceivably know that the probability of a Canadian Prime Minister endorsing anyone in a U.S. Presidential campaign, let alone him, had a probability of somewhat less than Absolute Zero. But there Bush was, looking dumb as a stick to the few Americans who saw the clip.

Ms. Palin did not look quite so wretched in today’s prank but one certainly is struck by her apparent view that the President of France might call her up to discuss hunting, his fondness for killing live animals, and his wife’s sexual temperature in bed. Palin responded with a comment about Sarkozy’s ‘lovely family,’ which--given that his wife divorced him about an hour after he was elected and he very quickly married a model—leaves one wondering exactly which family she had in mind. Well, she’s not part of that crowd, so it is possible that she was just sitting there thinking, ‘What kind of people call you up and talk like this?’ Her mother taught her to be polite, and she was, and the McCain campaign taught her to get her talking points out, which she did.

But, what have we wrought? A Republican V.P. candidate who declares with apparent sincerity how much she admires the President of France: none of those ‘Freedom Fries’ for Sarah, I guess. I don’t know how the right wing of the Grand Old Party will take that.