January 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

In the fading light of a Friday evening in mid-April, I completed a final recon from the safety of the sundeck and surveyed the territory behind my humble castle. It was a mess. The backyard was hospitable only to moss, weeds, slugs, and flying things (everything else got muddy feet). Trees around the perimeter blocked sunlight so that, except for a few hardy clumps, the lawn was dead. The fence resembled a drunk’s attempt to walk a straight line and rainwater, with nowhere to drain, turns the exposed topsoil into a boot-sucking slop until the August dry-spell. Then it becomes a surface resembling a dried lakebed in Utah. It was time to launch an aggressive assault in an effort to reclaim my land. It might take all summer but failure was not an option.

On Saturday morning I entered the conflict zone with my weapon of choice – an electric chainsaw picked off a bonspiel prize table more than ten years ago. The campaign would begin with an evergreen dug in against the back fence. More of an overgrown shrub really, an ugly conifer of indeterminate lineage, it resembled a wilted bouquet. The wrist-sized branches sprouted fifteen feet out of the thick base and sagged limply over both sides of the fence. I stared down my adversary for a minute and then, my chainsaw buzzing like a jar full of wasps, I slashed through the nearest limb. It felt so satisfying.

Phase One was over before the tree knew what hit it. The branches succumbed with little resistance, leaving a naked four-foot stump. I dismembered the casualties and filled the box of my pick-up. Later I celebrated the initial victory with a tankard of ale and a nap.

The next day, flushed by success on Day One and, assuming a quick end to the operation, I began Phase Two -THE STUMP MUST GO. I added a shovel and an axe to my arsenal, with the chainsaw in reserve. The strategy was to dig around the stump cutting off it’s base of support until it surrendered but, as any weekend warrior will tell you, nothing goes as planned.

A thick network of roots prevented the shovel from penetrating more than a few inches so I swung the axe into the tangle for a few minutes until the handle snapped. I swore under my breath and retreated to the local Home Depot for a new weapon, choosing a 2.2-pound beauty with sturdy hickory handle. I returned to the fray and attacked a thick root with my new purchase. Three solid blows later the haft came away from the head, which remained stuck in the target. I returned to the store and, assuming that it was just a faulty piece of equipment, exchanged it for the same model. This one survived five or six mighty whacks before the handle broke. Angrily, I threw it into the mud and used a few favourite expletives.

Discouraged I made a third trip into town and picked out a hefty 3.5-pounder with an unbreakable handle.

By the time I returned to the trench, it was late afternoon so I called off the attack for the day and slogged back to the manor for refreshment and sustenance. I sought solace from the lady of the house but was rebuffed for the final time that day.

Heavy rains kept me off the battlefield until the following Saturday. Rejuvenated but anticipating a day of close-quarters struggle, I added a hand trowel, a hatchet, and a mattock/pickaxe to my weaponry. As foreseen, progress was slow and tedious but the trench around the base slowly grew in depth and breadth. Kneeling on the mud rim I chopped and dug up roots of various sizes but the stump showed no signs of weakening. It remained solid and stoic. Late in the afternoon, in an effort to test it’s resolve, I chained a hand-winch to the base of the birch tree across the yard, hooked the cable around my adversary, and tightened the line until it sang under the tension.

It refused to concede anything, even with the encouragement of an eight-pound sledge.

I called off the struggle for the night with a kernel of doubt growing in my mind. Maybe, despite my tools, hard work, and superior intelligence, I couldn’t do this on my own. Maybe reinforcements and heavier equipment were necessary. I sought comfort and sympathy in two tankards of ale and the house madam, but only the beer cared.

Part Two

On Sunday morning, aching and weary, I donned my filthy, sweat-stained togs and faced the stump.

“It’s do or die day, you worthless pile of cellulose,” I snarled with unconvincing bravado, “and I’m not the one going down.”

It declined to respond to the taunt, apparently confident that the fence’s rearguard protection meant that I’d never sever the backside roots. I couldn’t swing the axe in the tight space. It was even too tight for the chainsaw. I exposed two solid roots with the hand-trowel but they angled acutely into the earth. How was I going to cut them?

I felt victory within my grasp. I couldn’t give in now. I walked away and pondered my predicament. For a moment I pined for the good old days when dynamite was the fun and effective method of removing a stump. What I needed was a saw that operated in close confines. What else did I have? And then it hit me. What a dolt. Of course, the big reciprocating saw, armed with a Bushwacker blade, tucked away in the shed. Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier?

I plugged it into the extension cord. Confidence and adrenaline surged through me. I tightened the winch-cable and revved up the saw. It sliced through the first root like a butter knife through a good steak but the stump conceded nothing. Not a fraction of an inch. I could only see one more anchoring root so I laid into it with the saw screaming at maximum. It passed through easily and…. the stump moved with a satisfying crack as it’s final anchor failed. Elated, I rushed to the winch and my foe slid out of the trench with every crank of the handle until it flopped lifelessly in the mud.

It doesn’t look so tough now, I thought in my moment of triumph.

Later in my quarters, I rewarded myself with a pint of the house’s finest ale and bragged to the madam of the house but she appeared unimpressed by the achievement, “What about the fence and the grass? What’s taking so long?”

I left, shortly thereafter, and joined some fellows at the local pub. Still feeling good, I told them of my four-day battle with a stump. One of the men asked why I hadn’t just rented a stump chopper.

“It probably would have chewed that thing down to the ground in less than 20 minutes,” he smirked.

Curse you, curse you Don, for trampling my last shred of self-satisfaction.





The tool I should have used.




April 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 


British Columbia is a land of mountains and valleys. In those vales and fjords is the water that sustains the land, the wildlife, and the people. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project frightens me.

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A Halloween Story

October 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 


It was a mistake. I know that now. It was all in fun until I allowed my dear sons to open a portal to a place we shouldn’t have gone and my own curiosity exposed the boys to something sinister. A better mother would have seen the danger coming.

 It all started innocently enough and, as the youngest daughter of Hungarian immigrants, I assert Gypsy ancestry and grew up in an atmosphere of superstition and mysticism. From an early age, I accepted that our universe was not one-dimensional, linear, or fully explained. So a Ouija board sold by Hasbro seemed harmless enough.

 My first experience with the game was at a party with some girlfriends. Nora Jean explained how to use it.

 Two people placed their fingertips on the heart-shaped planchette thingy. It had a view-port through which you could read the words, letters, and numbers printed on the surface of the board. If you concentrated hard enough, a spirit or ghost would take control of the planchette and communicate with the living world by moving it around the board, spelling words, using numbers, or sliding over the words YES, NO, or GOODBYE. It was fun whenever it moved but I was suspicious that some of the girls might be pushing. Nora Jean, though, insisted that it was a real phenomenon. She knew people who had learned the future and talked to dead relatives. She even claimed that bigger objects could be moved with the help of the spirit world.

 It got me thinking about the possibilities. Could we call on specific relatives or celebrities that had passed on? And, if we did get someone on that spectral line, would they answer questions, and tell the truth. I knew who was first on my ghostly contact list – my father. I had lots of questions for him. Like why he beat up my mother when I was five years old, and why he took the wheat harvest money the autumn after he got out of jail and, most of all, what he’d done with that money after settling in Kelowna. Was some of it buried at the property on Fuller Avenue, like my mother suspected? After he died in 1949 and Mama took possession of the house in Kelowna she never recovered a penny of the money he’d taken from us. My older sister, Elizabeth, now lives alone in that house and the treasure might still be there. Darn right I had questions for him.

 So, I bought a Ouija board from Woodward’s and gave it to the boys for Christmas in 1970 or maybe it was ’71. It has been so many years and the passage of time doesn’t mean so much to me any more. Ronnie, my eldest son, must have been fourteen. That would have made Chuck twelve and Bruce ten years old. David, the youngest, would have only been six or so. They were everything to me and Christmas was always so much fun.

 I waited until the other gifts were open and the living room floor was buried under toys, new clothes, torn wrapping paper, and happy boys in flannel pjamas. I hadn’t told my husband about my special gift. Mel did not approve of anything that resembled witchcraft or the occult. His negative feelings about things like Ouija were so strong that one time, at a party, when Nora Jean and Anne were talking with an interesting pirate-spirit from old New Orleans, Mel walked into the room and his negative energy broke the spell and the planchette stopped dead.

 Anyway, he wasn’t happy when he realized what I’d given the kids but I also knew he wouldn’t make a fuss on Christmas day. He was passionate about keeping Christmas merry and no angry words or dissonance was allowed in his house over the holidays. The boys were excited to give a try, despite their father’s disapproval, and took to it like ducks to water. I tried it as well, without much success, so I let them control the medium they called Weejee.

 At first we made contact with various spirits who only answered basic “Yes” or “No” questions and shared very little of interest. After several weeks, we noticed that some of the spirits made regular contact. A five-year-old boy who died in the early 1900’s and a old man from 1800’s England. They were a bit chattier but the detail was still sparse and inconsistent. If the past, the little they revealed, was hazy then asking the spirits to show us the future was a total flop. Nothing they told us came true. Once we asked for the time of arrival of my father-in-law, who was driving up from Victoria. I think my husband’s guess was closer than any of the wild guesses from the other side. Maybe they just didn’t care about our world any more. Maybe we just bored them or maybe we contacted only the evil and mischievous. It didn’t bode well for my quest, and in the end, I never did learn anything from the spirits claiming to be my father. Either that, or it really was him, and he was a bastard, even in hell.

 After a few months, the boys stopped calling on the Weejee but were still fascinated by their ability to move the planchette with a light touch of their fingertips. Ronnie speculated that they were actually moving it with some sort of brainpower. I didn’t believe this and maintained my position that it was a supernatural power. It was the only thing that made sense to me but when the kids started making other objects move, I started to wonder what was really going on. Ronnie and Chuck could just brush the rim of a plate and it would move easily over a smooth counter or tabletop. Sometimes, I swear, tableware skittered here and there with fingertips just hovering over the surface.

 I was both mildly concerned and enthralled by their new skills so, at their urging, I finally agreed to experiment with something bigger. I have to admit that part of me hoped that the effort would flop thus ending the whole Weejee phase of our lives. Besides, Mel was increasingly upset by the things he heard and witnessed around the dinner table, and he blamed me for introducing black magic into his house. So one late October night while he was out of town on business, the boys and I decided to make an attempt on the coffee table. They moved it onto the linoleum of the dining room and knelt ’round. I was on a chair behind Bruce, facing Ronnie at the other end. Chuck was on the side to my left across from little David. They placed their hands, palm down, on the tabletop. Ronnie checked everyone to ensure that their thumbs were visible to ensure a true test.

 The room went silent and for a couple of minutes they concentrated, summoning a power we couldn’t explain. Finally it twitched tentatively, not sure where to go. After another moment of hesitation it rotated clockwise between my sons. It picked up speed and stopped abruptly before moving back and forth, to and fro, towards each of the boys until choosing David for special attention. It slid in his direction and stopped when he was lying face up on the floor underneath the table. He managed to keep his hands stuck on top in order not to break the spell though. It felt like an act of aggression and concern began to bloom in my belly but David just giggled and sat up when the table re-centered itself.

 Ronnie said, “Let’s try to lift it.”

 The boys nodded and redoubled their focus. After a long moment Bruce’s end tapped three times. A cold worm of fear slithered up my spine and the back of my scalp squirmed.

 Then the side closest to Chuck lifted off the floor and hung there, unsupported. The boy’s eyes were wide with wonder but they seemed determined to make it levitate.

 I don’t know if the other legs rose as well because an overwhelming terror seized me and I yelled, “Stop! Let it go!”

 They jerked their hands off the table as if it were suddenly white hot and took turns staring at the table and me for a few minutes. Without further explanation, I told them that we couldn’t do that anymore. They’re good boys and as far as I know they never did.

 I couldn’t tell them what I had sensed but I knew, in no uncertain terms, that we had invited a powerful, evil spirit into our house. I could feel a malevolent force cooing and caressing my sons, testing them for ripeness like a housewife standing over a bin of peaches.

 I never forgave myself for exposing my children to such supernatural danger and remained ever vigilant from that day forward.

 They all survived my infrequent lapses of judgement and they’re all grown men with children of their own. I know so much more and have accumulated knowledge that I wish I could share with them. I even know the location of a certain metal box full of seventy-year-old cash.

 If only one of them would answer the call and pick up that old Weejee board.

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